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Tea Lovers' Heaven - Chado Newsletter February 2024

Tea Lovers' Heaven - Chado Newsletter February 2024

Big, Cold and Full of Tea.

A Sumo wrestler on a skiing holiday?- no, find out below.

We were speaking to a customer recently who was running short of a tea they liked and wanted to know if they should buy more of this year’s tea or wait a few months for the new tea to arrive in late April or early May.

There is no doubt that when new tea arrives – Shincha – the first tea of the year from the spring harvest in Japan, it's a very exciting time if you enjoy Japanese Tea. It is an exciting treat to try that first tea and see how it is.

The first tea arrives in springtime in the northern hemisphere. It is also akin to seeing the first daffodils or smelling the first cut grass – it is a sign that new life is bursting out of the ground and, hopefully, sunny days, in more ways than one, are on the way.

When it comes to tea, modern processing and storage methods now allow us to offer premium teas all year around.

When we visited Japan in October last year – that seems so long ago already, we had the chance to visit farms and processing plants where tea is produced.

Farmers grow tea, till the soil, plant the new tea plants in nurseries, wait several years for the plants to mature and then transplant the nursery plants to the tea fields where they can expect the tea to produce a harvest for up to 30 years. The cycle never ends; each year, new plants are developed, old ones are removed, healthy plants are harvested, and tea is produced.

Most small farms only have the equipment and resources to do the growing and harvesting. When the tea is picked, it is usually steamed as quickly as possible at the farm, using steaming equipment that belongs to the farm or that is nearby. The rest of the production steps to produce the different types of teas are now mostly done at large processing plants. These plants have sophisticated machines that roll, dry, separate the leaves from buds etc, depending on what type of tea the individual farmers wish to produce.

When the tea is ready, a few things can happen. The farmer can get the finished tea back and can package and sell the tea. Most of the tea is auctioned. We were pleased to be able to visit a large tea auction house on our trip.

The auction house is run by the union of tea producers – each auction house in a prefecture can only auction tea produced in that prefecture – there are some special dispensations made for particular circumstances for the auction of external teas, but the majority is kept within the prefecture where it is harvested. To participate in the auction, the buyers must be registered in the prefecture.

The auction itself is similar to a Dutch auction – the tea is prepared for the buyers to try – the preparation is made with boiling water irrespective of the type of tea. As we know, boiling water is not great for many Japanese teas, but by doing it this way, experienced buyers are able to determine the tea quality on a consistent basis. The buyer places a bid for the tea, and the highest bid wins – there is no starting low and working up; if a buyer wants a tea, they have to guess what others will pay and bid more – it’s a tough game.

Once the tea is purchased, it is typically stored in climate-controlled warehouses and remains in that environment until batches are sent to distributors, tea shops and other outlets. The auction houses typically have vast warehouses as part of their service. The one we visited had such a facility, and we were lucky enough to be allowed in; the warehouse is effectively a massive freezer with airlocks and very sophisticated temperature-controlling equipment. The one we visited was truly massive – it felt a bit like Star Wars, with row after row of 50ft high shelves holding large packages of tea – all placed and subsequently moved by huge forklift machines, some fully automatic and some human-driven. The warehouse is close to tea lovers’ heaven but not quite – it is far too cold.

The best answer we could give our customer is that the tea currently available has been well looked after and will taste as good as it did when first picked; the tea that is coming in a few months will be a treat and will be worth the wait – so our advice, with absolutely no self-interest in our part, would be to buy both and enjoy.

Refrigerated Storage Warehouse solely for tea

Sencha Teas

We sell lots of different sencha teas.

Sencha is by far the most common Japanese tea. As we have mentioned many times before, processing tea is a multistep process, and getting Sencha from the harvested leaves to the finished product takes a lot of steps and a lot of hard work. When we visited the farms recently, we hand-rolled some leaves and made sencha, and it is a long process. Designing machines to roll, dry and separate the tea to automate sencha making must have taken a lot of ingenuity.

We like Sencha because it is, in some ways, the quintessential Japanese tea – it has nothing added, it is usually just the leaves – formed into needles when processed– no additions, no roasting and yet the variety of tastes from one to the next is wide.

Sencha Kirari

This Sencha KirariI is harvested in The Enshu district of Shizuoka prefecture and received The Platinum Award in a Japanese tea competition in 2022. We obtained this for the first time in 2023 and are looking forward to it again in 2024.

The delicious taste is present the moment the tea hits your taste buds. The Sencha has a well-proportioned rounded edge - a truly satisfying taste and we believe deserving of the award.

Organic Sencha Super Premium MORI

This tea is fast becoming one of the most popular Sencha we offer

This is a lightly-steamed, Fukamushi, Sencha also from Shizuoka Prefecture.

This tea comes from an organic farm that is at an altitude of about 400m in a high mountainous area where the clouds hover over the crop, thus reducing the amount of direct sunlight. The climate at the farm provides optimum conditions for tea cultivation.

This popular Yabukita cultivar contains rich umami sweetness processed by deep-steamed Fukamushi method which suppresses astringency and bitterness. The beautiful green liquor - with a hint of blue has a very rich, full-bodied Umami sweetness, one of the truly great teas we offer.


Is The Bubble Back?

Here is some random news from Japan this month.

A while ago, we talked about how popular bubble tea has become. Well, we are talking about a different bubble this month—the Bubble Economy.

Between 1986 and 1991, the Japanese economy was pumping on all cylinders, especially in the big cities. Corporations in Japan were doing very well. We visited Japan in 1989 and everywhere you looked people were spending money and times were good.

Japan hit a bit of a wall around 1991 and has been working ever since to get its economy thriving again. Our last trip was not reminiscent of the Bubble, but things looked like they were on the up. Tourism from all over the world was thriving. The stock market in Japan is now almost back to where it was all those years ago in 1990, and we wish Japan well and hope they are in for a long stint of good times and prosperity.

Back a bit further to 1980 brought us the TV program Shogun. Apple TV has just released a new version, and a lot of it was shot in Vancouver. We watched the stars interviewed the other day on local TV, and they said Vancouver was chosen because it looked a bit like Japan but mainly because there were few overhead wires to get in the way of filming - who knew?

After having a bit of a dig at the Japan Space Agency for landing a moon ship on its head, we give them kudos this month for launching a project to utilize wood to build spaceships and satellites. Many of the satellites that have been sent into orbit for the last 50 years or so are coming to their end of life and headed back to Earth. Most burn up in the atmosphere, but some do not - one only this week failed and scattered debris on Earth. Well, Japan has decided to do something about it and is planning on launching satellites that are made of wood (Magnolia came out top after extensive testing hanging on the outside of the International Space Station in tests) and will burn up in the atmosphere. So well done to the space scientists in Japan.

Artist's rendition of a wooden space satellite - Phono from Kyoto University


Some men in Japan are bald. What better way to address this issue head-on than to celebrate baldness and have a tug-of-war with rope stretched between two bald heads and suction cups to the skull? This recent event, organized by the Japanese Bald Men's Club, proved so popular that the club would like to make it an Olympic event.

Happy tea-drinking where you are.