Japan – Week 2

Phew, what a weekend – glad to get back to the guesthouse for a rest! And I survived a weekend in Kyoto on my own!

The second week of the course started with some proper study! The Science of Tea!

The first session started with a brand new tea – Sun Rouge – which is a purple tea where the green chlorophyll has a red component, like seaweed – lovely made into jelly!

Tea of course is 99.4% water, and 0.6% tea, so the water also is significant.

We talked at length about the catechins, theanine, vitamins, caffeine, and their health benefits, with some crazy experiments!

We visited some other tea farms, with a focus on traditional and modern farming methods, particularly organic and natural farming, and these photos below are of a tea field belonging to Ryo-san, who left a job in Tokyo as a computer programmer, to buy a tea farm in Wazuka, growing organic teas. He is developing new teas for Japan, all organic,  and he gave us all a sample of the most delicious white tea – when you drink it, you can taste the way the field smells! You can really taste the freshness of the tea, the smell of the leaf, and you can feel the heat and the humidity! We have a very small amount in the shop, not for sale as yet, but we will be tasting it at the July tea tasting session at the end of the month. I don’t think he’s shipping outside of Japan at the moment, but I’m desperate to get some more of that for you to try.


Machine picked and hand picked bushes

Everywhere you go in this area of Japan, you smell this lovely toasty smell – which turns out to be Houjicha, a roasted green tea which is regarded as a Welcome Tea – so you get it free with meals in lots of places, you get samples of it in shops, and we had it constantly throughout each of our classes! Cold brew most of the time, but hot when it was raining. It made me realise that the quality of the houjicha in the shop isn’t particularly great, and as soon as I tasted the Natural Houjicha, I had to get some for the shop. Natural growing methods mean no fertilizers, pesticides, and the whole process actually goes beyond organic in many ways. This particular one is also ‘sand-roasted’ which keeps the leaf flatter. We actually had the opportunity to roast some of our own, using the same method as people use in their own homes – one day we’ll get this for the shop!

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Slo-mo Houjicha roasting!

Wednesday was a long day out – in the rain – we were catching some of that typhoon which caused all the damage in Japan.  We visited a tea auction, then a very high spec matcha factory which saw us all dress up in white PPE – hats and masks and lab coats, and covers for our shoes – not sure if this was for our benefit or for the matcha. I think this visit brought it home how big the matcha business is in Japan, they buy most of the tencha in the area, and produce huge quantities of cooking and ceremonial matcha – sadly no free samples of matcha here. After this we went to the opposite extreme – a bamboo garden and museum where we met a man who makes chasen, the bamboo whisks which are used for matcha. You could feel the stillness and serenity of this place.

There are very few chasen makers left, and most of the time they pass the knowledge to their children, but this man is 62, and has no children.

From this evening, there were warnings about the weather, and I think we were impressed by the way the Japanese deal with these natural crises – loudspeaker messages keeping people updated, the whole built area is designed to take water away as quickly as possible … in this video clip, the part with water isn’t usually filled with water, but this was the run-off from the hillside, and the pond for when it overflowed.




Japan 2 – End of the First Week

The first week of the course ended with me feeling exhausted, and really needing a quiet and restful weekend, but the reality was very different. We had no accommodation at the guesthouse for the Saturday night, so I’d booked a ‘pod’ at the Millenials hotel in Kyoto – one extreme to the other, but of course,nobody does this kind of thing better than the Japanese.
I started off by going to Uji first. The tea from the Wazuka area is classed as Ujicha, so Uji is very
much the historical capital of the area, with thee oldest tea house, as well as some world heritage sites.
They were of course utterly stunning, to think that these predated cameras, so photogenic! I realised mid afternoon that I was really hungry, so found a cool little restaurant in the tea area, quite modern but with a good vibe to it, where I had my first coffee for a week, iced, but oh boy was it good!
The metal jug holds ‘gum syrup’ which is a sweetener
I then caught the train on to Kyoto Station, caught the bus from there in the general direction of my hotel, checked in, and had a mooch around the area, finishing off at what was a vibrant area after dark. I’m not a city person, so finding a bubble tea bar, and a cat cafe just blew my mind!!
Houjicha Latte Bubble Tea! And the ‘bubbles’ were the proper black tapioca ones, not the fake flavoured ones that you get in the West, that explode flavour in your mouth – you had to chew them!
Japan is a country of contrasts, and Kyoto was full of them. Kyoto Train Station is huge – 7 floors I think, and seems to be a place that people meet, get filmed, have conventions, and there are so many shops and restaurants that you need never leave!
I spent the night at The Millenials, which is a Capsule Hotel. This is a brilliant concept, inexpensive, basic, but has everything you need. I really liked the minimalist approach, the space you have is the size of your double bed, everything from the lighting, the fan, the position of the bed – bed or sofa – is all controlled by an iPhone (only an iPhone 5!) which you get given when you check in – The Millenials is an app on this phone! The showers are amazing, plenty of them, plenty of toilets, there’s a big communal area, with kitchen, working space, and lounging areas. You find it by going into a shop, in which there is a lift, and The Millenials is on the top three floors of this building!
I was looking for teaware for the shop, but didn’t want to spend a fortune, so managed to find some nice pieces, for matcha mostly.
I’d also sat in a couple of places having a drink, and this has inspired me in terms of what I’m going to do in the shop, although whether it works in Conwy I think will depend very much on the way we market it. I think one thing I’m getting from the course is just that, ideas about the direction for the shop, and the business.
Cold brew sencha, avoids the bitterness and astringency that you can get, and you can taste the sweetness of the tea.
The weather has continued to be very hot and humid, but I seem to be coping better with it now, sleeping better generally, although I think the diet is getting to be more of a challenge. Someone sent a link to a weather forecast this morning which says there’s a typhoon on the way, and by this afternoon the weather has changed, cooler, more windy. The rain here when it comes is spectacular, we had a huge thunderstorm yesterday, just after coming down from the fields, but luckily we were in a processing factory at the time – although I do love a good storm and would have loved to be able to see it, not just hear it! Tomorrow we have to travel an hour to a tea auction house, and I suspect it’ll be through rain.

Japan 1 – Being there –

I arrived in Wazuka on Sunday evening after a long journey – very long, very smooth until arriving at Kamo station, late because of a delay at Hong Kong, and there were no taxis around. I was so tired by the time I got to the guesthouse that all I did was shower, and go to bed. I say bed, but those of you who have stayed in Japan, in a traditional ryokan (guesthouse) will know that the bed is a mat on the floor. The first couple of hours sleep was deep, but after that, painful, too painful to get much consistent sleep, waking regularly with painful hips, thighs, shoulders. It was a shared room, and I always worry that I snore!
I woke the next morning, curious to explore my surroundings, feeling very much the new girl, but I’m happy enough exploring on my own, and was rewarded with the most amazing scenery, which I’d missed completely arriving in the dark. The bird song was the first thing that struck me – I swear they sing in Japanese, with the most melodic, loud, almost metallic musical sound – maybe a familiar sound to those who have travelled, but this is my first time in Asia. This wasn’t the only new experience , breakfast was unexpected to say the least! I’m not one to take photographs of my food, but this warranted a photo to be sure! Then managing chopsticks! Fortunately I’m very happy to laugh at myself, and I sure did that, aware that the space under my bit of table was the messiest. I was also hopeful that this would a help me to lose weight here!
So to the start of the course …
We are ten people from all over the world, all tea heads, tea geeks, whatever you want to call us. Three of us are in direct retail, with shops or cafes, others online, some just seem to be travellers with a focus on tea, but what we all have in common is a thirst for knowledge about all aspects of tea, and a depth of knowledge and experience which we all seem very happy to share with each other. Seibiant started very small without a massive financial investment, but I’m stunned by some of these businesses, and I’ll put links to those that I can in this blog or the next.
Two weeks is nowhere near long enough for a course to call itself a Tea Master course, but this is providing a good introduction to tea production in Japan, but I’m thinking of it more as a tea buying/sourcing trip, and to find the stories which help me to sell tea to my customers. I’ve drunk more tea already in the first three days than I normally drink in a month, I haven’t had a coffee since Saturday morning, and I’m coping fine without, although I’m looking toward to a first coffee in Kyoto on Sunday morning – I hope I’m not disappointed!
What else have I done for the first time … I’ve eaten sushi and sashimi and liked them, I’ve had all sorts of things fried in tempura batter – apples! I’ve had matcha ice cream, all sorts of biscuits with matcha, bento box lunches when every part has tea of some sort in it, I’ve picked tea from the field, brought it back to the factory and processed it into black tea, quite a rare tea as it’s from a shaded field, like sencha or tencha, then processed as a black tea.
it’s just over half way through the first week, and so far, it’s been everything I hoped for, and more, I’ve already learned so much, and have amazing additions to the shop tea list, direct from the farmer, which is what Seibiant was aiming for at the start.