Three types of tea can be experienced for 500 yen per month, and the boundaries of tea are expanding every month. [TOKYO TEA JOURNAL / Mikito Tanimoto]

As collecting small online payments has become cheaper, subscriptions have spread to a variety of industries.

Tea is a product that is small in size, lightweight, can be delivered at room temperature, has a long shelf life, and is highly repeatable, making it a perfect match for subscriptions, and there are many examples of it. On the other hand, there are cases where the services cannot be continued or expanded even after introduction.

Under such circumstances, TOKYO TEA JOURNAL, Japan’s first see and drink tea subscription service, continues to perform well.

TOKYO TEA JOURNAL is a subscription service that provides three types of tea and a 16-page magazine for 500 yen per month. It delivers high experiential value to those, who like tea but do not know how to choose it; those who want to spend a relaxing tea time; those who want to know various things related to tea; and those who want to enjoy tea at a reasonable price. 

In this interview, we asked Tanimoto-san, the creative designer, about the story of how they continue to provide high value experience  for an affordable monthly price of 800 yen (500 yen plus 300 yen for shipping).

Mikito Tanimoto

Mikito Tanimoto is a director and creative director of UCY ALTER DESIGN/green brewing. He is also the director and creative director of Tokyo Saryo, the world’s first cafe specializing in hand drip Japanese tea; Senchado Tokyo, a single origin sencha specialty store, and Maruzen Tea Roastery, that offers tea based on different roasting temperatures.

Subscription to enjoy a variety of teas every month.

Q:What kind of service is TOKYO TEA JOURNAL?

Tanimoto: We started it in 2017 as a subscription service where tea and a booklet are sent once a month. To be more precise, three teas of 4g each and a 16-page color booklet with tea recipes and articles will be mailed to your mailbox each month.

Our users are those who buy a lot of tea but cannot drink it all, who  want to drink a variety of tea every month and who want to drink delicious tea at home.

Although it is a subscription service, it has no restrictions and can be easily canceled or skipped.

Inside Senchado Tokyo.

Additionally, we have a shop called Senchado Tokyo, in Ginza, that is designed to provide a rich brand experience.

Tokyo Saryo – the world’s first cafe specializing in hand drip Japanese tea.

We also have a Japanese tea cafe, called Tokyo Saryo, to enhance the tea experience. With so many choices of drinks, we are running this cafe with the hope that it will be a unique experience for people to realize the goodness of tea and want to drink it.

The world of tea is a deep one, and it can be difficult to find a tea that you like. The trick is to try  different teas each month through subscription, and if you like it, you can purchase it at 15% off at the online shop.

The idea is to expand this triangle of subscriptions, physical shops, and online shops.

Q: What is at the center of the subscriptions, physical shops, and online shops triangle?

Tanimoto: Me, the director, and Tomoji Aoyagi, the president, are not tea farmers by birth. We are merely consumers, but if we are going to be on the side of providing tea, what stance should we take? I believe the answer is to go beyond deja vu.

The president Aoyagi (left) and Tanimoto (right).

This does not mean that we will not do what other companies are doing. If we can offer something better than the other companies doing it, we will do it. It just means that we do not do it randomly by copying what we see.

We run our business with a desire to do something new and something that will impact many people.

Running a company can be quite a hassle, and honestly, there are moments when we wonder, why we are doing it. But I find pleasure in expanding the boundaries of the tea industry.

2 Experiences, not things: Why enclose a 16-page booklet with your tea leaves?

Q: The TOKYO TEA JOURNAL is unique in that, in addition to the tea leaves, you receive a 16-page booklet. Please tell us about the idea behind this booklet.

The booklet, which arrives monthly with different content, is also an enjoyable part of the program.

Tanimoto: We are a player that does not do primary production, so we need to add some other value to the tea to make it worthwhile. If it is only about the delivery of tea leaves, then direct delivery or factory direct delivery would be better. The value we can add to it is clearly in the experience. We believe that people will not start drinking tea unless we can deliver an experience, so we are very focused on this. For example, if someone asked a user, “What kind of service is TOKYO TEA JOURNAL?” and they could only answer that it is a tea delivery service, the service probably would not grow..

This is the July 2020 booklet. It is so cute that you will want to collect the back issues as well.

On the other hand, if the service is something that makes you want to introduce it, like “It is like a bar where you can compare teas”,  “Since I started using this service, I enjoy drinking tea on the weekends”, “I could taste tea for the first time” or “I think I understand tea a little better”, listeners will find it attractive.

Selling experiences, not things. We believe that a booklet is a must for such a service.

With limitations becoming more creative.

Q: In addition to sencha, there are other types of Japanese tea such as matcha and hojicha, but at TOKYO TEA JOURNAL, subscribers were basically receiving sencha. But it seems that from around 2023, the range of tea has expanded beyond sencha. What is the reason behind this change?

Tanimoto: As you mentioned, we have been consciously increasing the number of teas beyond sencha since last year. This is because we feel that we have already been able to fully demonstrate our creativity, which was only possible by setting a constraint that we will focus mainly on sencha tea. Since we have deepened our sencha business, I think it is the right time to branch out to Japanese black tea, oolong tea, and Chinese tea.

Not only they are particular about their tea leaves, they are also particular about their tea cans. Each of Senchado Tokyo’s tea cans is unique.

This development is  very interesting for me. I feel that the world of tea is really wide, and I feel that I have finally opened the door to other areas of the world beyond sencha.

Q: Why have you focused mainly on sencha until now?

Tanimoto: Because we were conscious of brand building. We believe that a high degree of specialization means that we have a deeper understanding of the subject.

For example, if there are several brands that make leather bags, the brand that can finely classify the quality of leather is more reliable. In this sense, Senchado Tokyo wants to be the brand that can classify the quality ofsSencha in the most detailed way.

If the subdivisions were only sencha, genmaicha, and kamaicha instead of sencha A, sencha B, and sencha C, the depth of the tea would not be fully conveyed. That is why we focused our target on sencha.

All of our staff can easily explain about all the tea leaves when they are laid out in front of them, A, B, C, D, E, F, and G, saying that this tea is this is this kind of tea.

This is the value we have cultivated over the past six years, and that is probably why TOKYO TEA JOURNAL customers accept it even if they only receive three types of sencha.

Q: As a designer, why did you choose tea as your theme?

Tanimoto: I like tea and have been drinking it for a long time, but at the time it was an area where there was not much design and there were a lot of tacky parts, so I thought there might be a chance.

Senchado Tokyo’s mid-year gift box features a character known as Rikyu within the company.

Also, when I work in design, I often feel that my roots are in Japan. In order to create value that is uniquely my own, I thought it would be good to work on something that would speak to my background. This is one of the reasons why I decided to work on this project.

It is not easy to make a move even if you want to. That is why it is so challenging to be a part of the tea culture.

Q: What is the mission of the TOKYO TEA JOURNAL?

Tanimoto: A cool way to say it is to connect tea to the next generation. We exist as a step in the long history of tea. We want to make sure that the history of tea will continue and that we do not lose any part of it.

The larger we become, the more tea leaves we buy and the more we can support the tea industry. Now that we are finally growing in size, I feel that we are starting to contribute a bit more to the industry. We are not there yet, though.

Q: What is your vision for the future of TOKYO TEA JOURNAL?

Tanimoto: We do not have any concrete plans at this stage, but we would like to eventually make this a global service. We would like to consider creating overseas offices and a global community.

However, if we are going to do this, we need to come up with a new way that is uniquely our own. Unless we can do something that transcends deja vu, there is no point in doing it, and I think we will lose to others.

There are many people who are far ahead of us, so I think we need to fight in a way that is like creating a thick undiluted solution and dripping it to create ripples.

Q: Are there any areas or fields that you are currently focusing on?

Tanimoto: Secondhand clothes. This is because I think vintage clothing and tea have something in common. Vintage clothing is a culture of discovery, of finding items in past archives or items that happen to be left over and saying, “This is it!”.

There is a lot of archived knowledge and past enjoyment of tea, and there seems to be a lot we can learn from vintage clothing. If we can incorporate this culture into the world of tea, it will bring in new people and deepen the enjoyment of tea. I am currently researching this idea.

Q: What is Japanese tea for you?

Tanimoto: It is something larger than myself, something that I cannot move even if I try to push it. Japanese tea is so big that nothing will move even if I get involved with it, so maybe that is why I can challenge it as I like. I can try various things within my reach. Bbut it is so big. I find that interesting. That is how it is.

Q: What do you think the future of the tea industry will be?

Tanimoto: I am not in a position to say anything, but I think that “continuing” is a part of the common understanding we all can share.

Tea itself will not disappear, but there will be many aspects of the tea industry that will be disrupted in the future. Energy and manpower are limited, so I do not think it will continue to exist in the form it has in the past.

What will remain in the future will be what makes people want to belong to and contribute to this community. That is why tea that can perform the essential act of properly conveying something good will survive.

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