As Rob prepares to leave South Korea we continue our journey around the tea world as part of series of #60partners60days stories. Our next destination is Japan the fascinating country where many of our best loved teas are produced. We first travelled here in 2009, young, tentative in our exploration fascinated and delighted in equal measure with everything we encountered.
On this first trip we explored the Uji tea region while also visiting Kagoshima, Takayama and the Noto Peninsula >>
..it was also on this trip we first experienced chanoyu at cultural centre in Kyoto
Returning in 2012, again to Uji, we focused on learning more about Japanese tea in order to gain a greater appreciation for the history of tea here and its modern interpretations >>
Exploring the uniqueness of what Japan has to offer was to be a key part of the most recent sourcing trip in 2017. With more contacts and Japanese friends willing to help us, this was the most in-depth of our trips here and included trips to some stunning tea houses in Kyoto. The friends below are the people you will meet through the pages of our book >>
A little history : You can read more detail in our book and of course in the wide range of literature on Japanese tea and the history of Japanese tea. But to whet your appetite here is an extract from our book
Extract from tales of the tea trade : 'Japan holds a special place in the history of tea and, as with China’s story, there are many different tales to tell, far too many to detail here. We will instead focus on the key moments that shaped this wonderful country’s tea culture, and ultimately the flavour in your cup.
The first record of tea is found in the Heian period in the 815 writings called Nihon Kôki (‘The Chronicles of Japan’) and concerned the scholar and monk Eichû, who, alongside fellow monks Saicho and Kukai, accompanied Japanese envoys to China. Eichû returned from Tang dynasty China with tea seeds and knowledge of the production method for tea. Eichû is said to have offered tea to the Japanese emperor, who then decided to encourage its drinking in the imperial court. This had limited success, due to a decrease in desire by the Japanese to imitate the Chinese, the fact that access to tea was limited to monks and noblemen and, ultimately, that it did not taste that good. However, this all changed after 300 years when the first major step towards what could be called a tea culture was made with the help of another Zen monk called Eisai (1141–1215). On returning from China in 1191 the planted tea seeds in the Sefuri mountains in what is now Saga Prefecture in Kyushu. This is thought to be the first tea grown in this area. More importantly, he also gave seeds to the Kazanji temple in Kyoto. The high priest at the time, Myoe, greatly appreciated the gift and when the seeds grew he replanted them in Uji, which was more suited to tea growing. These transplanted seedlings became the basis for tea production in Uji, which became the traditional hub of tea growing in Japan.....' read more here
Our most recent trip to Japan saw us focus more time on the island of Kyushu visiting the areas of Yame and Kagoshima in Kyushu which are highly respected & produce teas quite distinct from the more traditional style teas of Uji. Yame and Kagoshima are considered to produce stronger tea than Uji, particular in the umami character. This is the so-called ‘fifth taste’, after sweet, sour, bitter and salty, and is a highly desirable savoury, brothy taste. Nothing can prepare you for the first experience of true umami, but if you enjoy Japanese green tea, that’s what you crave – it’s the unique element of Japanese tea. Ask us more about this and experience it for yourself when you visit us at the Tea Houses
Modern Day Japan : Many of the growers we have visited and work with share how younger generations in Japan are turning to coffee. Domestic consumption is declining leading to a growing awareness of the need for the development of foreign and alternative markets. This is perhaps not as simple a task as we might think as we in the West are less familiar with the the taste or brewing style of Japanese green teas and the range available to us.
At Comins we believe that an education of what to expect from this country’s unique styles and flavours of tea, how they became that way – and also how to brew them – go a long way towards preparing the consumer for the experience. With this educated approach and the right partnerships we see a bright future for Japanese teas. This is clearly demonstrated by the vibrant series of events we held in partnership with Kyushu prefecture last year - you can read more about those on our >> blog and also learn more about preparation techniques shared during them >> here and browse our collection of Japanese teas >> online. We have also been extremely fortunate over time to welcome those more widely involved in the culture surrounding tea to the Tea House - you can read more about the visit by Mr Wake here >> who brought his wonderful Wagashi to Comins in Bath and also features in the book. You can see photos from that event here on our facebook page