I’ve recently joined the Soap Challenge Club, which puts out a new challenge each month. It’s fun having someone else determine what I should make for a change, and the challenges themselves are inspiring and challenging themselves. Do check out the Soap Challenge Club!
This month the challenge was to incorporate drink and food in your soap. The advanced category states that you have to replace all your liquid with a drink and you have to use the equivalent of at least 1/8 of your oils as a food in your soap.
So let me present you:
Chadō – The Way of the Tea
I wanted to created a soap that wasn’t just going to fulfil the demands of the challenge, but a soap that would be aesthetically pleasing and functional at the same time, and would be something people would love to use.
Chadō – The Way of the Tea is a simple, yet sophisticated soap, that symbolises several aspects of Japanese culture: rice and green tea, the rituals of bathing, and simple, pure ingredients. Every ingredient in the soap has both function and meaning.
Advanced category fulfilment: I used rice milk as a 100% substitute for the water in the lye solution. The amount of uncooked sushi rice (100 g) is equivalent to 1/4 of the amount of oils (400 g). The other ingredients are caustic soda, rice bran oil, coconut oil, shea butter, lemongrass essential oil and matcha green tea powder. There are no synthetic ingredients in this soap.
A staple ingredient in Japanese cuisine. There are very few meals that are eaten without rice, and you will find rice in every meal at every time of the day. Rice was of such fundamental importance to Japanese culture, that it was once used as a currency. Many sayings and proverbs are about rice. And even the word for meal ‘gohan’ literally means cooked rice.
The rice in the soap is sushi rice, because of its roundness. The purpose of the uncooked rice in the soap is to massage the skin. The little, round kernels are perfect to achieve a gentle massaging effect, and I’ve tested it, it feels wonderful!
Literally powdered tea, is finely ground green tea leaves and has a very bright green colour, which turns a brown shade in soap. Instead of brewing the tea leaves, the powder is stirred into the hot water to a frothy brew. The meditative act of preparing, presenting, and sipping matcha is the backbone of the Japanese tea ceremony.
The reason I used matcha and not just green tea made from the leaves, is that I wanted the whole leaves in the tea and not just the brewed water. Green tea leaves contain more antioxidants and caffeine, which is what I wanted to put into the soap. Caffeine can be absorbed through the skin and has an effect of stimulating blood flow to the skin, which helps with the general appearance of the skin. It is also said to reduce cellulite and fluid build up.
The matcha in the soap combines both the importance of tea in Japanese culture, but also the focus on beauty. The times I went to Japan, I always marvelled at how much effort they put into the presentation of pretty much everything. Everything had to be perfect and beautiful. From the little sanctuary gardens in the ryokans, the way the food was dished up, and especially your own appearance and the way your presented yourself. This didn’t mean people walked around constantly dressed up, but it meant that you were clean and proper, and good skin care was one of the signs that you were taking good care of your body.
Rice milk – Made of rice (obviously!), makes for a wonderful soft, creamy lather. Rice milk has been used for centuries as a natural beauty aid for its anti-ageing, soothing, anti-inflammatory and skin-whitening effects.
Rice bran oil – another rice ingredient in the soap, is extracted from the hard, brown rice husks. Whereas the milk contained all the beneficial water-soluble components of rice, the oil contains all the oil-soluble vitamins, mostly vitamin E and omega-9. The soap contains 37.5% rice bran oil and with a superfat of 10%, it is highly likely that rice bran oil makes up part of the superfat.
Shea butter – Although not a ‘Japanese’ ingredient, shea butter is well-known in Japan for its benefits to the skin, and is contained in many skin care products. Shea butter has the highest amount of unsaponifiable content (up to 15%), meaning anti-oxidants, vitamins, phytosterols and the like, of all the oils and fats we use in soap making. This is why it considered so valuable in skincare and why I decided to use shea butter, as opposed to another butter in my soap. Shea butter also contributes to a nice, stable, creamy lather in soap and I really like the feel of it in my soaps.
Coconut oil – not widely used in Japan, and the only ingredient that I added for its functionality. Coconut oil brings hardness to the soap and because I don’t use any palm oils in any of my recipes, coconut oil is my substitution.
Lemongrass essential oil – the perfect fragrance for this soap. Lemongrass has a very pleasing, refreshing scent, and is said to uplift and relieve anxiety. Lemongrass is one of my favourite herbs, and I love any dish that contains lemongrass.
You may notice I haven’t added any other colourants to the soap, because I wanted this soap to be as pure as possible and not add any unnecessary ingredients that don’t contribute to meaning or function of the soap.
Japanese bathing culture is rooted deeply in their history and culture and has its own sets of customs and rituals.
Japanese people love to bathe, and it is in Japan that I discovered the true pleasure of bathing. As a western person, I wasn’t used to being (and seeing) everyone naked together, so I did stick to the women only bathhouses. I loved how you scrub yourself clean, and this part takes quite a while and with lots of soap, before you let your very clean body sink into the hot water of the Onsen. There are three areas in the Onsen, the area where you leave your clothes and shoes, the area where you clean yourself, and the hot water pool. There are certain rules you need to abide by, and some funny moments (being the only white, plumpish, blonde woman), but everyone was always helpful and there were lots of giggles. If you ever go to Japan, visiting an Onsen has to be on your to do list!
I hope the fragrance, the silky, smooth lather, and the feel of the rice kernels of the soap will give you the same sense of the bliss I experienced at the Onsen. Arigatou gozaimasu!
Chadō – The Way of the Tea
Makes 600 g soap (roughly 500 ml volume)
33% lye solution (2:1 water to lye ratio)
- 200 g coconut oil
- 150 g rice bran oil
- 50 g shea butter
- 55 g caustic soda
- 120 g rice milk
- 1/2 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of matcha tea
- 100 g sushi rice
- 15 ml lemongrass essential oil
ONE – I weighed out the rice milk (fridge temperature) and added the caustic soda. As you can see, I had to use an ice cube bath for the lye, because the sugars in the rice milk do tend to heat up the lye solution as you can see.
TWO – While the lye was cooling down, I prepared the oils. I melted the coconut oil and the shea butter in the microwave and then added the rice bran oil to it.
THREE – While I was waiting for the lye and oils to cool down, I prepared the matcha. I mixed the matcha with equal amounts of water and then whisked it. The colour looks a beautiful bright green, but unfortunately in soap this turns to a shade of tan-brown, depending the amount you put in. However, the scent of matcha remains lightly in the soap, even after curing, which I was pleasantly suprised by, and it goes well with the lemongrass scent.
Another interesting little suprise I got, is after I made my first batch, as you can see in the middle. The outside of the soap is brown and when I cut it, the inside was green. Unfortunately, it also oxidised to brown in only a short time. I also made several batches of different amounts of matcha, to see what the colour would look like. For the challenge, I ended up settling on a lighter bar of soap. But I would suggest to go with the maximum amount for maximum caffeine benefit!
FOUR – I added the matcha and the lemongrass essential oil to the melted oils and gave it a good whizz with the stick blender. The amount of matcha you add, will depend on how dark you want your soap to be, and how much caffeine you want in your soap. If appearance doesn’t matter, and you’re fine with the dark colour (I personally like it), add the full 1 1/2 tablespoons. If you want a lighter soap, only add 1 teaspoon. I wouldn’t go any lighter than that, because then you might not add any at all for lack of caffeine in the soap!
FIVE – And yet another surprise! This is what the lye looked like when I took it out of the fridge. It looks like the the oils in the rice milk reacted with the lye to make soap! The same thing happened with every batch I made.
I poured the lye to the oils (carefully!) and then mixed with the stick blender to medium trace. I wanted it to be a nice and thick consistency so it would hold the rice kernels in suspension. I didn’t want them to all sink to the bottom.
SIX – Now it’s time for the rice! Initially I added only 50 grams of rice to the soap, but then it didn’t look like much, so I added another 50 grams of rice to it. All the subsequent batches were also made with 100 grams of rice added to it. (That’s why the photo shows 50 grams and not 100 grams!)
SEVEN – Lastly, I poured it in the moulds and let it harden and set overnight. I gelled the first batch (see picture of the loaf bars above), but I didn’t like the look of it, and I suspected it made the colour darker, so I made sure the other batches didn’t gel. Since it’s winter here in New Zealand now, all I had to do is just leave it on the kitchen counter to avoid gel.
The next day I carefully unmoulded the soaps and gave them a quick rinse to expose the rice kernels on the surface. Here are the dark and light options. The dark one is made with 1 1/2 tablespoons and the lighter one with 1/2 tablespoon of matcha tea.
I leave it up to you which one you like best!