3 times for 300 yen! Morning Bottle that can only be purchased in the morning, utilizing a filter-in bottle [mirume Shinryoku Sabou / Soma Matsumoto]

Tea is a liquid. To drink it, you need a container.

The bottled tea consumption has continued for more than 30 years since its invention in 1990. Up until then, tea used to be enjoyed by sitting in a tea room and pouring it from a teapot to a teacup. However, with the advent of plastic bottles, it soon became possible to drink tea anywhere.

The innovation of bottled tea has made it common to drink tea in a bottle, and the range of bottled tea has further expanded with the introduction of high-end tea in wine bottles in 2007 and filter-in bottles that extract tea leaves inside the bottle in 2012.

Mirume Shinryoku Sabo, which we will be introducing this time, offers a new service called Morning Bottle that utilizes bottled tea. It is a service that provides freshly brewed tea in filter-in bottles to customers commuting to work or school between 8am-10am on weekdays, and asks to return the bottles to the store when they are returning home.

This allows the user to enjoy the aroma and taste of freshly brewed tea despite the fact that it is in a bottle. And it does not create the problem of disposable plastic bottle waste. Also, once the tea is finished, the bottle can be refilled with water up to three times in total.

We spoke to Soma Matsumoto from mirume Shinryoku Sabo, that has opened up new possibilities for bottled tea using filter-in bottles.

Soma Matsumoto

Soma Matsumoto is the owner of the Japanese tea specialty shop mirume, a third generation Japanese tea farmer and a Japanese tea instructor. He was born into a tea farming family and wanted to pass on Japanese tea to the next generation, but he also had a sense of crisis in the Japanese tea industry, where 60% of consumption is by people in their 60s or older.

Mirume is a term used in the Japanese tea industry to refer to young buds or quality buds. They are striving to create a shop in Nakono, Nagoya City, where quality Japanese tea can be enjoyed by people of all ages.

Available for purchase between 8am-10am! Buy in the morning and return in the evening – the unique Morning Bottle service.

Q: Please tell me about the Morning Bottle service of mirume Shinryoku Sabo.

You can rent an entire filter-in bottle.

Matsumoto: Morning Bottle is an authentic Japanese tea takeout service. Filter-in bottles filled with tea leaves and water are available for rent between 8am-10am for 300 yen each. Filter-in bottles are then returned in the evening.

Q: Can you drink Japanese tea in the morning bottle as many times as you want by adding more water?

Yes, you can. When you run out of tea, please refill it, and you can drink it three times in total.

Q: Is there any chance that the filter-in bottle will not be returned?

Matsumoto: Thankfully, we have had almost 100% returns. But when we do appearances on TV or other media, there have been times when we did not receive 1/4 returns (laughs). Basically, most of our purchases are made by commuters, and I think the return rate is high because they pass by the shop on their way to work every day.

Q: Is the service called Morning Bottle because the bottles are sold in the morning?

Matsumoto: Actually, at first we were planning to develop the service under the name Bottle Pass. Bottle Pass means a commuter pass for bottles. We were thinking of the service as a kind of subscription for Japanese tea in bottles.

I told the designer who had been helping me about a new bottle pass that I was thinking of starting. He advised me that subscriptions are for people who are already in the habit of using something to reinforce that habit, and if we wanted to deliver Japanese tea to people who did not normally drink it, it would be better to start with a one-time delivery. 

I thought that was right. So we decided to name it Morning Bottle because tea was served in a filter-in bottle only in the morning.

Q: The value of each bottle is 300 yen. Is this expensive or cheap?

Matsumoto: One bottle per day costs 300 yen. At first, I thought it was cheap considering it was enough for 3 doses. Even though each serving costs the same as Japanese tea in plastic bottles sold at convenience stores, you can drink Japanese tea brewed with real tea leaves.

But then I thought it would be a good idea to calculate how much it would cost if someone were to use the Morning Bottle for a while, so I calculated how much it would cost if it was bought every day, assuming 20 workdays a month.

It was 6,000 yen.

I thought, 6,000 yen is quite expensive. I wondered what we would do next if customers also thought that it was expensive. If it were me, I would probably buy tea bags.

I believe that not that many people continue to use the Morning Bottle, and in fact, many quit. However, I wanted to increase the number of people who continue drinking Japanese tea in some way, such as buying tea bags or tea leaves to brew at home, rather than quitting Japanese tea altogether.

The fun of Japanese green tea for beginners.

Q: Please tell us about mirume Shinryoku Sabou.

Exterior view of the shop. Distinctive gray shelves where bottles are prepared in the morning.

Matsumoto: We want to bring Japanese tea to people who do not drink it, we want to reach beginners. We would like to deliver Japanese tea to people who have no interest in Japanese tea at all, and those who are just starting to get interested.

While valuing Japanese tea as a traditional item, I would like to remake it into something new and deliver it to people who are new to Japanese tea. Therefore, while we value the use of tea leaves in our Morning Bottle service, we also try to make it in a format that is easy to deliver.

Q: What does mirume – the name of the shop, mean?

Matsumoto: Mirume is a word used in the Japanese tea industry to describe young and soft tea buds. The name was chosen to express our desire to bring high-quality tea leaves to young people and beginners.

Please pay attention to the logo painted on the ceiling light. Doesn’t it look like the mark used for new drivers in Japan?

Our logo is shaped like a leaf and actually looks like the mark used for new drivers in Japan.

We want to reach beginners, of course, but we also see that often there is a hierarchical relationship in the Japanese tea industry. So we also include the nuance that everyone should enjoy Japanese tea together at the same level.

Q: Is there anything you are conscious of or value at mirume Shinroku Sabou?

Matsumoto: We are conscious of and value the idea of delivering high-quality products at reasonable prices to people who do not usually drink Japanese tea.

Q: Why did you decide to open your shop in Nagono, Nagoya?

Matsumoto: Originally, my father opened a Japanese tea cafe near Nagoya Station, where I worked at first. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 we had to close the cafe and I decided to start my own business at that time.

When I was looking for a place to open my own shop, I met the owner of the building that now houses mirume Shinryoku Sabou. I was drawn to him and decided to open the shop in Nakono to work with him.

Japanese tea is like a family. That is why we wanted to take on this challenge. The determination of the third generation.

Q: What does Japanese tea mean to you – a third-generation tea farmer?

Matsumoto: For me, tea is family.

I was once asked “Do you like Japanese tea?”.

I could not answer that question immediately. I had never thought about whether or not I liked Japanese tea and that was a great shock to me.

Matsumoto-san picking tea.

A little off topic, but I once saw a program on TV where an old man was interviewed about his late wife.

In response to the question of what his wife was like, he said that she was a gift from God. It was an arranged marriage, so she was not someone he chose, but someone who was chosen for him. But it was a very good marriage, and he was happy with the time he spent with his wife. So he considered her a gift from God.

When I saw this, I thought that my feeling about tea was similar to this. Although I did not choose to be born into a tea farming family, I am very grateful for it. I cannot decide whether I like it so much or not, but it is something that is better to have and something that I cannot do without. That is what tea is for me.

Q: Please tell us about the mission of mirume Shinryoku Sabou and your own personal mission.

Matsumoto: I want to preserve the tea fields, so I place great importance on increasing the number of people who drink Japanese tea. So, I think both for me and mirume Shinryoku Sabou the mission is to raise interest in Japanese tea.

Q: Do you think you have a sense of duty because you were born into a tea farming family?

Matsumoto: Well…maybe it is because Japanese tea is a family business, but in any case, I have always had a sense of duty, which I do not mind. Even if it just so happened that Japanese tea was given to me – I was born as the third generation of a tea farming family, and I do not want it to end with my generation.

Q: Do you plan to get involved in tea production in the future?

Matsumoto: There are no plans for that at the moment…

Originally, when I joined my father’s company, I was planning to work in production. However, coincidentally, at that time, the manager position at the Nagoya shop became vacant, and I raised my hand to go, so I was assigned to the Nagoya shop instead of working in production.

After that, the shop was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and I started my business, which led me to where I am now. While I think it would be better to get involved in production, it would take many years to learn about it…

I have one acquaintance who is involved in livestock production, and he is traveling around the country to promote domestic Japanese meat. That person told me, that while people often say that you are great when you make things, and that you are not, when you do not, you should just do what you are good at.

When you think of it, I was not involved in Japanese tea production. But I am good at what I am doing now, and I want to popularize tea. So it seems this has been the right direction for me.

Matsumoto-san sometimes goes out to the tea fields himself. His love for tea never stops.

The difficulty of Japanese tea is closely linked to its enjoyment! We want to increase the options of enjoying Japanese tea in a fun and casual way.

Q: How do you want mirume Shinryoku Sabou to be in future?

Matsumoto: I would like to create a shop with a floor space of about 1 to 2 tsubo that would serve as a point of contact with Japanese tea in daily life.

Q: 1 to 2 tsubo is a pretty small shop, right?

Matsumoto: That is right. When you think about why the number of people drinking Japanese tea has decreased in the first place, I think it boils down to the fact that Japanese tea is not part of people’s daily flow.

Let’s take the example of office workers. I think that for many office workers, the only chance they can encounter Japanese tea before they go to work and come home is at a convenience store. For coffee there are KALDI or coffee shops, but not so for Japanese tea.

So, first of all, I would like to increase the number of contact points with Japanese tea. I would like to open a shop near the station where you can buy some Japanese tea. If you just want to buy tea, a shop space of 1 to 2 tsubo is enough, but if you want to experience tea, you can come to mirume Shinryoku Sabou.

I think it would be great if we could create a flow line like that.

Matsumoto-san (left) happily explaining tea to customers

Q: Why are you thinking of opening a real shop instead of e-commerce?

Matsumoto: I think e-commerce is a bit distant. In the real world, if there is a shop within 10-20 minutes by car or train, people will go to the store to buy something. I believe that people would buy more if there was a shop within their daily life or the line of movement, and this can even become a habit. That is why I am trying to increase the number of places where people can easily buy delicious Japanese tea.

Q: Please tell us about the difficulties of working with Japanese tea.

Matsumoto: To begin with, I feel it is hopeless that the Japanese tea market is in decline. In the current Japanese tea industry, people in their 60s and above probably account for about 60% of consumption, and the focus has not been on younger generations. This bleak future is one of the difficulties in working with Japanese tea.

I think another reason is the high barriers for new entrants. Physically acquiring tea fields and building tea factories are very costly. I think this is a difficult problem.

Q: What do you think the future holds for the Japanese tea industry?

Matsumoto: The reality is that it will continue to decline to some extent. As the number of drink options increases, the demand and consumption of Japanese tea will definitely decrease. Therefore, I believe that from now on, it will be important where to stop the decline and how to convey the appeal of Japanese tea. It will be important to spread Japanese tea to places where it has not been consumed in the past.

I think it would be great if more people could freely choose their drinks and ideally, Japanese tea would remain one of people’s drink choices. Throughout history Japanese tea has been associated with authority and existed as something exclusive. That is why Japanese tea is so difficult. The image remains that the threshold is high.

The temperature and amount of hot water can change the taste. It is pretty delicate. That is why people often say it is difficult. But that is the interesting thing. I think it is two sides of the same coin.

I believe that because we have imposed so many “correct” ideas such as “This is the correct way of drinking it” and “This is the correct way of storing it”, many people have turned away from it and that this has led to a culture that has not been nurtured.

I want to pick up on that and expand it. That is why I would like to bring Japanese tea to those who do not have Japanese tea as an everyday beverage choice.

I would like more people to enjoy Japanese tea more casually, and I would be happy to see a future where Japanese tea is a natural beverage choice.

*All photos by Mirume Shinryoku Sabou