Japanese tea continues to be popular abroad. But where can you enjoy it in Japan? It might be surprising to know that here tea houses and tea rooms are not that prevalent, and it can take some effort to find a really special place. One such place we would like to introduce today is Sakurai Tea in Omotesendo – one of the busy shopping districts of Tokyo. Opened in 2014, Sakurai provides a rare chance to experience Japanese tea and get away from daily worries. It is a beautifully designed space, where every detail is thought out. But don’t get deceived, Japanese tea is the main focus here. You can try a variety of teas from different regions and different producers. The most popular way to enjoy tea here is to try one of Sakurai tea courses. Each course invites to try a few different kinds of Japanese teas, that are paired with matching sweets or savory bites. Some of the teas may be bended or roasted right in front of you. Dedicated and knowledgeable staff is here to guide you through the experience. The menu is updated regularly to include seasonal specialties and find new tea combinations. So every time you visit Sakurai Tea you may be surprised with something new. Next time in Tokyo, save some time for a relaxing and refreshing tea experience.
It comes as no surprise to many that when you leaf through books on Japanese tea, you more often than not encounter only mention of green teas: sencha, matcha, bancha, gyokuro, etc. We mostly associate Japan with green teas. What is not such common knowledge, is that Japan actually has quite a chunk of black tea production history as well. To dive into the history of Japanese black tea, we must navigate through a complicated and dynamic history timeline, as it includes the forced opening of Japan’s self-imposed Sakoku isolation, the independence of the United States of America, a spying/knowledge-gathering mission by Motokichi Tada, the Japanese occupation of Taiwan and many other factors that contributed to the fate of Japanese black tea. Tea came first to Japan around the early 9th century CE, through monks studying Buddhism in China and bringing tea back along with them. True tea culture is thought to only have geared up a few centuries later when, at the end of the 12th century, monk Eisai -also called Y¬osai- brought back tea seeds from China accompanied with the knowledge of how to grow and process them. The style of tea that was introduced to Japan was the then fashionable tea from China (at the end of the Song Dynasty): whipped or beaten tea. These were dried tea-leaves that would be ground up into fine powder and then with a bamboo whisk whipped into a frothy drink. In the 16th century Japanese tea growers discovered the effect shading tea trees had on the resulting tea and developed the shading technique that laid the base for what now is matcha. In China the popular style of drinking tea changed over the centuries and where whipped tea was the dominant style of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), by the Ming
We would like to introduce you to a type of Japanese tea that is so rare that nowadays only 7 farmers produce it: Go Ishi Cha. A fermented tea from the area of Otoyo, Kochi, on the beautiful island of Shikoku, Go Ishi Cha meets its origins all the way back to the Edo era at the beginning of 1600. Its method of production has been passing over from generation to generation until 1975, when the production declined sharply and only one single farmer was left to make this peculiar tea. He stubbornly kept the tradition alive and passed it down to his own son. Against all odds, in recent years the production increased again and a handful of farmers learnt again how to make this precious tea. Every year in summer, those tea farmers gather to the single one that kept the knowledge and tradition to get the straw mats that will be used for the first fermentation of the tea and that contain the endemic microbes essential to this one tea (exactly a “microbial terroir”, according to fermentation experts David Chang and René Redzepi definition). Leaves are harvested up to the length of one meter (!!), from Yabukita cultivar or Zairai. Despite not having organic certification, the cultivation methods follow strictly the rules of no pesticides, because the bacterias would not do well in their presence. Diversity and almost tropical vegetation of this area contributes to the tea’s character. After plucking, the leaves are steamed and placed on the mats – covered – for a primary fermentation process. The following step is pressing the leaves in wooden barrels, covered air-tight and left for a few weeks. When the fermentation process is considered to be completed, the leaves are chopped into small squares (that resemble the oriental game of “Go” – hence this tea’s name) and left to
Frost came to tea fields in Wazuka Kyoto.
Wazuka is a small tea producing town in Kyoto Prefecture. However, it boasts a long tea cultivation history of over 800 years. Every years to celebrate the end of the harvesting season, Wazuka holds Teatopia Festival. It usually takes place on the second weekend of November and lasts two days. In 2018 the festival took place on 10th-11th November. The weather was cool, but beautiful, and it is estimated that over 12,000 people joined the festival – that is more than double of the town population! Here you can find tea grown locally as well as in other regions of Japan and around the world! You can also try various tea related activities such as tea hand-rolling, tea blind tasting, tea scoop carving, tea cup decoration as well as hiking trips in the tea scenery and many more. And most dishes served in the festival are flavoured with tea. In 2019 Teatopia festival will be held again, so if interested please keep an eye on the festival homepage.
These days in Japan tea is mostly harvested and processed with the help of machinery. Long gone are days when hand-picking and hand-rolling were used for commercial production. Not to forget the traditions, however, each tea regions usually has a Tea Hand-Rolling Preservation Association. These associations normally hold and participate in community events as well as take part in tea hand-rolling competitions. There is even a National Japanese Tea Hand-Rolling Competition. Most recently the national competition was held on 14th November and 31 teams competed in it. It is common, especially for larger tea producing regions, to have regional competitions first to select 1-3 teams to represent them in the national finals. The regions with the most teams – 3 each were: Shizuoka, Mie, Kyoto, Aichi, Fukuoka. The competition usually starts early in the morning and rolling itself takes about 4 hours. One extra hour at the beginning is usually spent on preparing the rolling table – hoiro as well as the tea leaves. If hoiro has been used for a longer time it will likely have cracks and tears in the washi paper surface, that can be fixed and smoothened with corn starch. The tea leaves used for national competition are harvested in spring and frozen to preserve them until the competition day. On the competition day they first need to be defrosted and dried from extra moisture. From then on the tea leaves are constantly handled and massaged in 6 different rolling steps. The rolling begins lightly and goes harder and harder to press the tea leaves and push the inside moisture out. When tea leaves have lost a considerable amount of moisture they are straightened and shaped in to beautiful individual needles. When finished, the judging committee evaluates the shape and colour of the dry tea leaves
Exactly one year ago our ideas of spreading Japanese tea took better form and the Global Japanese Tea Association was decided to start. All these past months we had been thinking, planning, talking, sharing and announcing around to tea people and at tea events about this. At long last, the official opening event took place last September 13th in Madrid! Matsu san and Simona flew all the way from Japan to reach Anna, already in Spain, and gather together for a fun and nice evening of tea in the cultural hub and book shop of “Tipos Infames”, in Madrid city centre. Some 25 people joined and together we shared our vision: Japanese tea is our passion and we want a brighter future for it. Tea farming in Japan is facing a decline trend due to the fact that less young people take up agriculture as a job. At the same time, tea is seen by young generations as an old habit and has become less popular in recent times. On the opposite, around the world Japanese tea is gaining popularity and every year more and more people appreciate it. However, we see so often there is lack of proper information outside Japan on tea farmers, tea sellers, tea production, tea properties, brewing, storage and so on. Our dream to overcome that and to connect people in and with Japanese tea started from Madrid on that very first event! Why did we choose Spain? Because it is one of the places in Europe with less tradition and appreciation for tea and we don’t like things easy. Also because Spanish people, despite not following tea too much, show a warm welcome and are usually pleasantly surprised at tasting Japanese tea for the first time. Tea could not be missed, of course: what
At the end of September 28 tea professionals and enthusiasts from all around the gathered in Shizuoka. They all were drawn here to get to know Japanese tea. They all joined a Japanese Tea Study Tour organized by the Japan Tea Export Promotion Council. Japan Tea Export Promotion Council was established to encourage and support Japanese tea export around the world. Their activities involve information gathering, support for tea producers and tea producing regions, PR and marketing assistance. As part of their activities they have been organizing Japanese tea study programs that have gotten quite competitive over several years. This year there were over 80 applicants for 30 places (2 selected participants unfortunately could not attend due to visa issues). These programs are usually organized in collaboration with several tea producing prefectures, that arrange and provide the content for the tour. Shizuoka and Kagoshima, as the largest tea producing prefectures in Japan, are the most likely program collaborators. This year too, most of the program (5 out of 8 days) was created by Shizuoka Prefecture; and Kagoshima Prefecture arranged the remaining part of the program (2 out of 8 days) The program lasted 8 days and the focus of it was on encouraging the development of business relationships between tea producers and providers in Japan; and tea professionals and enthusiasts around the world. One of the key activities on the program was a business matching session, that was held both in Shizuoka and Kagoshima. During the session in each prefecture participants could meet around 10 local tea producers and wholesalers in a speed dating format – 15min. conversation with each. Some gave out their catalogs, some shared some samples, some showed their pricelists. In addition to that the program also included visits to tea producers where participants could see their