(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
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.