Matcha Magic

Before going to Japan last year, we’d had some matcha – or so I thought – in the shop, but sadly I had no idea how to prepare it or what it should taste like that I was selling people some absolutely rubbish stuff – I apologise unreservedly for this, and if you were one of the people I sold it to, please forgive me and call into the shop so that I can show you what matcha should be like.

When I say what matcha should be like, let’s face it, I only spent two weeks there, only had a few cups of matcha, and a few sweets made of matcha, so I can’t call myself an expert. But I do know more than a fair few people in the area, and I’m ok at wielding a chasen these days. So, I guess it’s worth calling into Seibiant to have a try of our range of very fresh matcha.

There are a few secrets to keeping matcha – once you’ve been brave enough to buy your own. Make sure that you keep it in the fridge, in an airtight jar, and use it within three months. The date on our packs is 12 months, but after three, I think the best you can do with it is make cookies or ice cream, or use it in a smoothie.

At Seibiant, we have three different matchas, and the cultivar makes a huge difference in taste. My personal favourite is Gokou cultivar, which is smooth, creamy and has a distinct broccoli taste. We also have Samidori, which is described as having a flavour of banana and rosemary, and then we have an organic matcha. At the moment we buy our matcha from Obubu Tea Farms, but the as Obubu don’t farm organically on the whole, the organic matcha comes from the Nakai farm, which is also in Wazuka. Organic matcha has a less intense colour, due to the farming methods.

Matcha Ice Cream recipe

360ml whole milk

165g caster sugar

1/4 tsp salt

2-3 tbsp. matcha

480ml whipping cream

Much of the method depends if you have an ice cream maker or not, I don’t so simply put my mixture in a container in the freezer, taking it out from time to time to stir. If you have a machine, then follow the instructions for your machine.

Combine the whole milk, sugar and salt in a medium sized saucepan over a medium heat. Do not let the milk come to a boil, stir until the sugar dissolves. Turn off heat.

Sieve the matcha into a bowl. Transfer half a cup of the warm milk to a small container, add matcha and whisk vigorously until incorporated. Pour this mixture into the rest of the warm milk. Pour in the cream and stir to combine.

If you are using an ice cream maker, you will have had your bowl in the freezer for 2 hours. In the meantime, cover and refrigerate your mixture for at least two hours. Place your frozen bowl in the base of the ice cream maker and turn it on. Give the chilled mixture a good stir, before pouring it into the frozen bowl. Churn until desired consistency.

If you’re not using an ice cream maker, put your chilled mixture into a container in the freezer, taking it out to stir from time to time.

Serve, sprinkled with some sifted fresh matcha!

Matcha and White Chocolate Cookies 

This is the perfect recipe for matcha which is less fresh – the one you bought because it was cheaper, or you thought might be good for you, but which has been sitting in your cupboard for ages!

250g plain flour
1 tablespoon matcha 
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
220g soft brown sugar
170g unsalted butter, melted
100g caster sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
270g white chocolate chips

Prep:15min › Cook:10min › Ready in:25min
Preheat oven to 160 C / Gas 3. Grease baking trays or line with baking paper.
Sift flour, matcha, bicarbonate of soda and salt together in a bowl. Beat brown sugar, butter and caster sugar together in a large bowl using an electric mixer until blended; beat in vanilla extract, egg and egg yolk until light and creamy.
Mix flour mixture into creamed butter mixture until dough is just blended; fold in chocolate chips using a wooden spoon. Drop cookie dough, 1 heaped tablespoon per cookie, onto the prepared baking tray 5cm apart.
Bake in the preheated oven until edges are lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool cookies on the baking tray for 2 to 3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.



Is Tea Drunk a Thing: Tasting Sheng Pu-erhs

Those who are interested in tea, beyond the English Breakfasts and Earl Greys may have heard of the concept of ‘tea drunk’, maybe even ‘tea stoned’. This doesn’t involved alcohol or drugs, no tea cocktails or tea infused spirits. Some people think it involves caffeine, and may be related to the caffeine buzz that you get, but this isn’t even to do with that, so let’s have a bit of a biochemistry lesson.

Tea produces a number of amino acids and neurotransmitters which work together to give you certain effects. Yes, we have caffeine, which we know about, and which gives you that buzzy feeling, energy, makes you feel a bit wired  (that’s wired, not weird). For some people this isn’t a pleasant experience, especially if you experience anxiety, or heart problems. You may experience nausea, dizziness, shakiness.

Add to this caffeine though, the amino acid called L-theanine. When used on it’s own, the L-theanine induces a calm and even sleepy state, and as a drug, it’s used for managing anxiety and stress. It crosses the blood/brain barrier and affects dopamine receptors, leading to you feeling relaxed, better mood and arguably generally more creative. When taken with caffeine, they work together to keep you alert, but also calm and meditative.

Let’s add to this combination the fact that L-theanine causes the brain to produce more GABA (technically it converts to GABA).  While ingesting GABA is not a very effective method of increasing GABA levels in the brain, L-theanine causes the brain to produce more GABA itself. This is much more effective and is the reason why tea does not give as harsh a caffeine buzz as coffee. GABA is a sort of brake on the nervous system, so works to manage pain, as well as to relax you, and improve the way your brain functions generally. Some teas naturally contain greater levels of GABA, and some processing methods can increase the level of GABA.

The fourth element in tea is Catechins, which bind to endocannabinoid receptors, which gives you a further ‘feel-good’ boost. I’m saying no more about that here! Suffice to say it’s entirely legal.

So all in all, tea contains things that stimulate and relax you at the same time, they work together – or synergistically – and this is the sensation we were seeking, to see if tea could make us feel different.

Over two tea tasting sessions, we introduced guests to three young sheng Pu-erh teas, all from 2018, spring and summer, and then moved on to an aged sheng. The young shengs all came from Jalam Teas, a tea sourcing and retailing business co-founded by Jeff Fuchs. His prizewinning documentary film The Tea Explorer is worth a watch. Jeff combines his love for tea and the mountains, and sources teas from small farmers on the Tea Horse Route from Yunnan to northern India, and Myanmar via the Himalayas. His Instagram account @jefffuchstea is filled with accounts of his teabreaks with Sherpas, and the farmers he meets, stunning photography and great tea stories.

With only two hours to pass, we limited ourselves to 4/5 infusions of each of the young shengs, each of which would have gone on much longer if we had the time. With each subsequent infusion, the buzz in the shop became palpable. At our first tasting, things got louder and more giggly, conversation increasingly silly. This differed from the second session, where people were more focussed on the odd experiences, visual and sensations, that they were getting. The session was less loud than the first, but certainly odder and more bizarre! People described sensations such as time slowing down.

After 4 infusions of the three 2018 shengs, we moved on to the 2003 sheng, of which I had recently bought two tuos. One had been bought by a customer a couple of days previously, so this one is particularly precious. More details of each of the teas will be given at the end of this post.

It was immediately apparent that this tea was having a dramatically different effect – the room became silent, meditative, I found myself just leaning on my hand, telling people to pour their own tea! It was a strange reflexive kind of effect, which others were clearly also experiencing. The second session was different, with people opening up about their experiences.

I warned people about taking care driving home, Iwan who hosted the first session with me said that the had felt quite odd driving home, and I know I’m always very aware of the quality of the light, particularly electric lights!

So here are the teas we drank. These are not on sale in the shop as they are from my private stash, but call in, and you may well be invited to partake in a cup r two of sheng with whoever is working.

  1. Spring 2018 Bada Wolf Sheng – Harvested from 100-200 year old tea trees from the Bada region in Spring of 2018, by Hani cultivators and tea makers
  2. Summer 2018 Mang Ngoi “Orchid” Old Tree Sheng
  3. Spring 2018 – He Kai Old Tree Sheng
  4. 2003 Ji Nian ‘Memorial’ Sheng

A Tasting of some First Flush Spring 2019 teas

Last week we had our long awaited April Tea Tasting, which was of five first flush teas

hoto from Yunnan Sourcing,
Zhu Ye Qing

Welcome to our Flight of Teas, which included 5 very special, very fresh teas, all first flush teas, and all harvested in the Spring of 2019. These teas have been sourced by Seibiant from sellers in India and China, and were presented on this evening, eagerly anticipated!

We started off the evening with a white tea,

Early Spring Snow Flower Bi Luo Chun

This early Spring white tea is made from newly sprouted buds – hence the masses of little hairs, which give an amazing mouthfeel. A special varietal grown in Mojiang county of Simao. Picked just twice a year, in spring (mid February) and in autumn for a three day period. This tea was gentle, and delicate, as you would expect from a white tea, but the smell of the tea field was apparent – as you know, this is absolutely what I love about fresh teas.

Beautiful green colour when brewed, malty with hints of fruit and cane sugar, brew at 4g/200ml at 80° for 1 minute – normally you would brew white tea even cooler than this, but we found that this tea can cope with much hotter water, bringing out more of the flavour.

Source: Yunnan sourcing
In this photo of the Bi Luo Chun you can see the little downy hairs

First Flush Mao Feng Yunnan Green Tea

The second tea was Mao Feng Green tea from Yunnan, a large leaf varietal. This tea is not rolled, and the leaves and buds stay largely unbroken. The flavour is bold and nutty, and if not overbrewed, is smooth and satisfying. This is the highest grade of Yunnan Mao Feng available.

Taste-wise, very tender and tippy with a vibrant umami and sweetness that both soothes and stimulates! Green and vegetal with notes of green chestnut and fresh flowers. Sweet aftertaste and nice mouthwatering effect.

Small batch, hand processed, harvested late February

5g/100ml at 60° water. Multiple infusions possible. Brew loose so you get the little hairs from the buds, which adds to the mouthfeel.

Zhu Ye Qing

A green tea from high in the mountains of Simao, processed in a similar way to the small leaf varietals elsewhere in China, but as this is a large leaf varietal it retains the distinct characteristics and bolder taste. It is high in catechins which give it a penetrating vegetal aroma and strong umami flavour which coats the mouth and throat.

Best brewed in a tall glass or chahai which shows off the tendency of the leaves to line up vertically, some floating and others sinking.

3-5g/100ml at 70° water for 2 minutes. Multiple infusions possible. Green tea from Yunnan, a large leaf varietal. This tea is not rolled, and the leaves and buds stay largely unbroken. The flavour is bold and nutty, and if not overbrewed, is smooth and satisfying. This is the highest grade of Yunnan Mao Feng available.

5g/100ml at 60° water. Multiple infusions possible. Brew loose so you get the little hairs from the buds, which adds to the mouthfeeln

Pure Bud Bi Luo Chun Yunnan Black tea

Source: Yunnan Sourcing

This exquisite black tea is made from first flush spring harvest tea leaves, harvested in March. The buds are processed with great care to produce this lovely rolled Bi Lo Chun. The name means ‘green snail spring’.

Legend tells of its discovery by a tea picker who ran out of space in her basket and put the tea between her breasts instead. The tea, warmed by her body heat, emitted a strong aroma that surprised the girl.

The taste is potent but smooth with hints of sugarcane and milk chocolate.

This tea was probably the favourite of the Chinese teas, those warming flavours of chocolate and malt are well suited to the chill evenings of spring.

4-5g/100ml at 90° water.

Singell Morning Mist – Darjeeling FTGFOP1 2019

Micro-batch tea, from the first flush in the third week of March. Carefully hand picked dried leaves consist of the most tender leaves and an abundance of silvery buds. The leaves have been given a gentle roll to preserve the full leaf appearance.

Fruity and floral, the infused liquor is light gold in colour, suggesting that the leaf has undergone very little oxidisation, so offering a light cup with all the hallmarks of a pure Darjeeling First Flush.

Picked from trees that are around 150 years old, in the Heritage section of the Singell Tea Estate.

2-3g/200ml at 90° for 3-4 minutes. Multiple infusions possible

The Big Step!

Since we opened Seibiant nearly 3 years ago (really???) we have been steadily moving towards having as tiny a carbon footprint as we possibly can. We even got to be a finalist in the Green Business of the Year at Conwy Business Awards last year! We’ve always composted our organic waste, so all our tealeaves, coffee grounds, food waste, gets composted either by us or by our friendly allotmenteers. Paper we recycle, plastic we recycle – milk cartons are fortunately effectively recycled locally. We even have a couple of Ecobricks on the go! Tetrapacks for our non-dairy milks are recycled. Lots of us are doing the same thing – and these numbers are growing daily. We reuse and recycle everything we can, from those hessian coffee sacks to pallets that our kit arrives on, and as you know, our counters are all made from upcycled scaffolding planks!

Made by Laura

Our biggest bugbear though has been single use cups for takeaway coffees and teas. Now we don’t sell hundreds of takeaway drinks, we’re not a café after all, but we were very much aware that our specially selected compostable cups and lids, were ending up in standard bins around Conwy. Now we’ve effectively composted these in our own compost bins, and in summer they really do break down completely in 12 weeks, but we found it really frustrating seeing our proudly stamped cups in the bin! Did you know that only 1 in 400 (0.25%) of the estimated 2.5 billion plastic coated coffee cups used in the UK each year are recycled. 4%, approximately 500,000, are littered every day. The rest (95.75%) go into landfill. We should be truly ashamed.

This has motivated us to take The Big Step – and we are now a no more single use takeaway drinks shop. Our customers have known for a long time that we were working towards having no single use takeaway cups at all, and we used our very last one yesterday. We may lose some custom, but we at Seibiant think that this thing is bigger than just us, and we have to a) set an example and b) give you a bit of a kick up the backside to do the right thing.
So does this mean that you can’t have a takeaway drink from Seibiant? No of course it doesn’t. But you do need to be more prepared – how many of us have at least one reusable cup at home (I’ve got 3), or in the car, but forget to bring it, and end up getting a single use cup of coffee?

We are going to make it easier for you though, and have three options when you want a takeaway coffee or tea
1) Come prepared with your very own cup – we absolutely don’t mind what this looks like – we already fill a huge variety, from the prettiest china cups from Blush, to a selection of bamboo cups from Blink, to fancy metal cups from Vinomondo. We also don’t mind if it’s dirty from last time – we will give it a quick rinse if you want, but don’t mind if you don’t!

2) You can buy one of our bamboo cups, with our own logo on it – to remind you where to get your coffee from. These are £4.50, your first drink is free. The cups come from our friends Sional in Llanfairfechan We will also have a more expensive range of reusable cups over the next few months.

3) And if you’re one of these people who has a cupboard full of reusable cups which you keep forgetting (shame on you!! – I have three, I feel your pain!) you can rent a cup from us for the same price, but you don’t have to keep it – and you get your rent back in full when you bring the cup back to us! We will then wash the cup, and it’s back on the shelf for the next person who wants to #rentacup!

Now, we have a transition period, during which we have no single use cups, and we have no bamboo cups to buy or rent as yet. So what’s the plan?
If you’re a regular, you’ll know that we have a lovely selection of mugs in the shop that you can rent for £1, bring it back, and get your quid back – or if you choose not to, you’ve got a lovely mug for £1! The mugs all come from charity shops, so everybody gains! Any £1’s left over in the pot at the end of the month goes into one of our charity boxes in the shop, so to Idlewild Animal Sanctuary or OneHeart – the homeless charity in Bangor.  And if you fancy doing a Marie Kondo KonMari on your mug cupboard, to paraphrase Emma Lazarus “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, so long as they’re unchipped and unstained – we can give give them a new life!



Tasting Organic and Biodynamic Teas … or did we?

Gong fu brewing

So we started off last evening’s tea tasting by confessing that this was going to be as much a conversation about organic and biodynamic teas, and where they actually fit in the tea story – ours personally, our customers’, and where they fit in within the context of tea, from daily tea to speciality tea.

Iwan and Carissa spent the summer picking grapes in Germany, on a natural vineyard, lots of bugs, wildlife, and the resultingly amazing different wines, that had nothing added – not even yeast, and nothing taken away – seriously clean farming. I joined them after the harvest and got fired up about how this method of farming also applied to tea.  After my trip to Japan, I was already getting more into the idea that we should be moving towards organic farming, but really knew very little about it. So we started off last night confessing our ignorance, and hoping that the people who had come along, might be there because they’re interested in organic and biodynamic farming, and could add to our knowledge.

Yes, it really is that cloudy – just like cloudy apple juice

Tea as a crop is thousands of years old, originally growing as trees in forests of tea trees probably in Yunnan, and families would tend to their own trees, picking leaves, and making their own tea, mostly for medicinal purposes. In fact, the story of the origin of tea as a drink is of the man who sat down after battle, boiled some water, and a leaf fell from the tree into his hot water, hence the first cup of tea! The story of how tea came to be a worldwide drink has many versions, one being that tea plants and seeds were smuggled out of the country, and eventually were grown in other countries. The British were a significant factor there and established huge plantations in India and Africa with commercial production of tea in India beginning with the arrival of the British East India Company, at which point large tracts of land were converted for mass tea production.

Non-organic tea field in Wazuka, Japan

So tea went from being a wild plant, living in a biodiverse environment, where the geography, climate, other plants, in other words, the terroir, resulted in a very different drink each year, and on different sides of the same mountain, to a monoculture, where consistency and volume were the main requirements. In order to achieve the maximum crop, tasting exactly the same from one harvest to the next, it was necessary to eliminate all those things which create the difference. The only way to do this is by controlling the environment.

We started by welcoming guests with an organic chai from Assam, which we buy direct from a small farm.  The next tea was Russian Caravan, overall a fairly consistent, generic tea blend, which we have tended to buy from a wholesaler in our usual quantities, so we assumed that this was produced in a fairly standard way. We had also managed to source an organic Russian Caravan, so served them together, so guests could compare – in general, people preferred the organic.

Organic Assam Masala Chai

We then moved onto another of our direct trade Assam teas, a whole leaf Assam from the same farm. We found this farm while searching for small growers and co-operatives, who could prove that they were providing their pickers with good pay and living conditions. We were impressed with the transparency of this farm – they even have an Airbnb on the farm, and you can get as involved as you want with the farming. The farm has always been organic, and farmed according to Ayurvedic principles, which we found as being similar in motivation and techniques as biodynamic farming. The Assam from this farm is certified as being organic, but they also supply us with a Darjeeling from a farm which farms organically but does not have certification. Part of the issue is the cost of certification, which prevents small farmers from achieving this, even though it is likely to increase the saleability and price of their tea.

Queen of Assam

We then tried Da Wu Ye, an oolong from a tea grower who we contacted via various social media platforms. Again, we have no certification, but they market their tea as being organic based on the fact that the village is far from any areas of pollution.

Wild Tea Trees

Taking our teas full circle to the way tea was originally grown, we moved on to Pu-erh teas, initially drinking a Sheng Pu-erh, from my personal collection. This was a raw Pu-erh from 100 year old trees, which I get from a tea subscription from a tea explorer who has invited me to visit Yunnan with him when he goes to source teas. This again has no formal certification, but the trees are wild, growing in inaccessible areas. One of the teas we drank is described as orchid-heavy, so clearly influenced by the other plants growing in the area.

We talked of many other teas and the impact of being farmed organically on the flavour, particularly matcha, where the flavour is often negatively impacted by being shaded but with fertilizer not being used, and of teas grown in the UK, with the difficult conditions for tea growing.

If you want to try more oolongs and Pu-erh teas, please book for the tea tasting at the end of February.

Who picked my tea? The problem with Assam …

Regular shoppers and people who follow Seibiant will know that we care passionately about our teas and coffees, and a big part of what what matters to us, is that we need to be as confident as possible that the people we buy from are taking care of the environment, the workers and us, you and me.

Nestled in the north-east of India, bordering Bhutan and Bangladesh, the state of Assam is almost synonymous with tea. Around the time of India’s independence in 1947, Assam was one of the richest states in India, but today it is one of the poorest. Assam’s rise and fall can be explained in part by the development of the tea industry, first by the British colonial power and later by the owners of the tea estates and the big brands they sell to.

Today, around 52% of the world’s tea is grown in Assam. Nearly 1 million workers and their families are directly dependent on the tea industry for their livelihoods. Most of the workers who pick tea are women.

Last week, we attended a talk which was organised by Traidcraft Exchange, about the conditions that tea pickers in Assam are having to endure, and what we as tea drinkers and tea suppliers can do to help make sure that they are getting a fair deal.

The focus isn’t on Assam by accident, there are good reasons for the focus to be on this region currently.

  1. Poverty: Assam is one of the poorest states in India, and tea workers in Assam are amongst the lowest paid in India. An Assam tea worker is paid R137 – (£1.51 a day), minimum wage for an unskilled agricultural worker in India is R300 (£3.30) . Additional ‘in-kind’ benefits include services such as housing, sanitation, health facilities, and primary schools, and subsidised food rations, but Traidcraft’s research suggests that these are either not delivered at all, or are delivered poorly. Women have to use their cash wages to pay for services which should be provided by the estate, so have to make choices between educating their children, eating properly, accessing health care, repairing their homes. Many find themselves in debt.
  2. HistoryMost of the people working on the tea estates are descendants of tribal communities such as Adivasi who were brought into Assam by the British in the late 19th and early 20th century. They live in designated settlements called ‘labour lines’. The Plantations Labour Act 1951 gave tea estates a special status under Indian law, whereby the owners of the tea estates were required to provide services to their workforce which would elsewhere be provided by the government. Times have changed however, and the government is reviewing this Act, but in the meantime the workers are still reliant on the estate for their most vital services. Tea estate managers control worker status – whether someone is designated a permanent worker or not, or will get temporary work when available, work environment and working procedures, housing, water and sanitation, creche and primary schooling facilities, health facilities on the estate, access by independent organisations, and access to credit.

For us at Seibiant, there is a big question that must be asked here … Is this actually modern slavery?

What can we do? What is our responsibility?

It is not our role at Seibiant to criticise other tea companies, but we can tell you that Traidcraft have a campaign called “Who Picked My Tea” which is directed at the Big 6 UK tea brands, PG Tips, Twinings, Tetley, Yorkshire, Typhoo and Clipper, which together comprise 70% of the UK tea market. They all use tea grown in Assam. Unilever, Tata and Twinings are significant global players, estimated to account for 20% of the world tea market, so they clearly have a huge, significant influence.  Traidcraft want the Big 6 to publicise which tea plantations they source their tea from, so that drinkers can be confident that the pickers are being paid a decent wage and are treated with respect.

If you want to get involved in the Traidcraft campaign, call into the shop for a postcard to be sent to one of the Big 6, or take a look at their website

What we have done so far at Seibiant is to write to our own suppliers, where we are not buying direct, and asking them how close they are to direct trade, and if they are able to influence their suppliers. We are also attempting to source direct trade tea in Assam from the smaller  tea gardens and co-operatives, which are paying their workers properly, as well as often growing their tea using more sustainable methods.  By buying direct, we are demonstrating to the bigger tea plantations that it is possible to work in a different way to their traditional ways.

If you have any questions about this, our approach, or about the Traidcraft campaign, please don’t hesitate to get in touch


We Got Chai!

You can tell that  Autumn is in the air … people are asking for chai in the shop, and Carissa’s drawing pictures of fungi!

Chai is something we’ve tended to limit to this time of year in the shop, partly because it seems to fit better, and we like to emphasise the seasonal nature of what we do – our teas and coffees are only available at certain times of the year, and we should respect that – and extend it to everything else we eat to be honest! I’m finding that the more I’m connected with the farmers who supply us, the easier it is to be aware of what’s available when – there’s no chance of Chaenmorifuku’s white tea now until next summer!

A few weeks ago, we found that everyone was asking if we had chai, but at that time we didn’t – after all, we still thought it was summertime! By now, we have 6 diifferent chai teas, all absolutely delicious, and all very different to each other.

Three of our chai’s are caffeine free, with either rooibos or honeybush, the other three are black tea based.

There is of course a proper way to prepare chai, and our October Tea Tasting is going to be just about that.  We will also be selling proper chai from the shop at Conwy Feast on the last weekend of October. Proper chai is made with the fullest fat milk you can get, and has a spot of honey or sugar to sweeten. I make it at home by brewing my tea strong in a teapot then I pour that stewed tea into a saucepan, add the milk and sugar, and bring it up to the boil, tradition has it that the milk has to come up to the rim of the pan three times. You whisk that creamy skin and foam back into the milky drink. Then, you can wrap yourself in a fluffy blanket, and snuggle on the sofa with your loved on … the dog. Alternatively, make it your break from gardening on one of those autumn days, when all the leaves seem to find themselves into your garden, or put it all in a flask, and take it out into the hills.

Take a look at the webshop for all our chai teas

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!

IMG_7013 (1)

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.