Wagashi (Japanese sweets) are usually served before drinking matcha (powdered green tea) during a traditional Chanoyu gathering. Wagashi can also be enjoyed with good quality Japanese steeped green tea (sencha).

Some of the first dry sweets made with sugar came to Japan with the first Portuguese who arrived in the 16th century. During this time tea masters like Sen Rikyu used dried fruits, such as persimmons, and various nuts as an accompaniment to tea. Sugar was very scarce during this period so its use was limited to the upper class and a select group of Kyoto sweet makers. Seasonal sweets began to be made and used by tea masters in Kyoto during this time.

Today in Chanoyu, sweets made from beans and sugar, as well as various rice flours and other starches, are the basic ingredients for traditional wagashi. As the season changes so does the look and taste of the various sweets. During the winter, steamed cakes similar to the Chinese bun, are served. The outside is made from either wheat or rice flour and sugar and the inside from sweet bean paste called an. Zenzai, a sweet bean soup made from adzuki beans, is sometimes served during the colder winter months.

There is a variety of sweets called kinton that are made from filaments of bean paste layered around a ball of bean paste usually made from a different variety of bean. Color is added to the outer bean paste to reflect the feeling of the season. During the spring the colors range from pink, calling attention to the opening blossoms, to green which can show the transition from spring to early summer. Various autumnal colors are used during the fall season. White is a favorite color during the winter to reflect the beauty of snow.

Summer sweets use starches such as kuzu (kudzu), sugar and bean paste and are often served chilled or wrapped in bamboo leaves. Kanten (agar agar) is another popular ingredient for summer sweets that can be chilled.

The host in a Chanoyu gathering usually makes the sweets that will be served. Careful consideration is given to the theme of the gathering and what the guests will enjoy. Eating seasonal wagashi, accompanied by Japanese green tea, is a truly wonderful experience.


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