HOW I ENDED HOOKED UP ON JAPANESE TEAS!
My tea journey began when I was around twelve years old without me even noticing it. I did not enjoy the taste of coffee so I begged my mother to get some tea for me instead. Tea, coffee and chocolate was my favourite book at the time, I loved the way they described the production of all these popular products. My copy was translated into Spanish. However, the original book was written down in French for anyone who might be interested in getting the original book.
Tea was at the top of my list of favourite things. My mother purchased cheap CTC teabags at the local supermarket, we did not know better at the time. Plus in the small town we lived in, there was no such thing as a tea house or tea shop of any kind. Letting alone the fact that tea wasn’t as popular as coffee back then.
I started working when I was fourteen years old, so I got used to having a cash flow to spend on whatever I wanted. With my first earnings, I went to the mall in the capital city and purchased expensive gunpowder tea. From China, loose-leaf in a small blue and green metallic tin with a golden label and a black letter O painted looking like a brushstroke. The brand has actually survived until this day even though they no longer have this type of tea. Since I did not know how to prepare it, I hated its flavour the first time I tried it. However, I gave it more than one chance and in the end, I managed to get a pleasant brew. Anyhow, gunpowder was not my favourite type of tea so I started buying different types of teas, flavoured and orthodox. This is how the transition from tea bags to loose leaf tea began for me. And I am truly thankful for it since usually, tea sold in tea bags is not of the highest quality.
Everything I knew about tea changed the moment I tried a type of tea that I have never seen before. The world opened wide in front of my eyes. I was enrolled in a Japanese language course at the Foreign Language Centre in my city, we used to throw mingling parties between Spanish and Japanese students. In one of these parties, I met Marika from Kyoto. She studied chado (茶道)at the Urasenke (裏千家) branch in Kyoto, one of the biggest tea schools in Japan and had brought some nice ceremonial matcha to brew for us during a tea ceremony. My taste for tea changed forever during this event.
The moment the brewed matcha touched my tongue, a flavourful explosion took place inside my mouth. Not bitter, not sweet, not similar to anything I had tasted before, a feast for my taste buds. Even though in chado each guest can only get tea once, I asked her for a second round since that was not a formal ceremony. Such an impolite thing to do but such a beautiful aroma, colour and taste! Instantly, it became one of my most favourite flavours from Japan. Just in a split second, my taste buds and my wallet were ruined forever. Marika was so pleased with my reaction upon tasting matcha that she left all her remaining matcha stash to me when she returned back to Japan. Several cans of delicious matcha, all for me to enjoy. I was delighted!
So I celebrated it! I threw a matcha tea party at my home and prepared matcha latte and matcha sponge cake for all my friends. At the time, my knowledge about tea was limited and matcha was neither that popular, nor easy to find. Little I knew that the tea my friend had left for me was of the highest quality, ceremonial grade matcha from a well known and highly reputable Japanese matcha manufacturer. I discovered this later on during my tea journey. I still laugh sometimes remembering how the highest quality ceremonial grade matcha was used during a far from an orthodox tea party at my place. But we all enjoyed it and in the end, is what counts.
First time I travelled to Japan was in 2008. I went with some of my best friends to attend a Japanese friend’s wedding. We got served Japanese green tea (ryokucha 緑茶) during our flight to Japan, it was really good. Thinking about now that I have more knowledge of Japanese teas, it was probably konacha (粉茶). It still tasted wonderful. And we got a full bag of the tea from the flight attendant upon arriving at our destination.
As soon as we arrived at Shizuoka, we got the largest and most delicious matcha ice cream I had ever seen. The girl at the ice cream parlour was so amused seeing our over-excitement trying matcha ice cream in Japan for the first time, that she added an extra scoop for free. It was delightful! We drank plenty of tea during our trip and also tried everything matcha, from yoghurt to cream, to pastries. Everything you could possibly imagine and much more.
After that trip to Japan, my palate became much more selective and refined. I ditched flavoured teas altogether and only drank selected loose-leaf teas mainly from Japan with the exception of Darjeeling which I still drink from time to time. Sourcing Japanese green tea in my city was a mission impossible, the ones available were not of the best quality and it was not easy to convince the local tea house owner to source Japanese teas of the highest quality since the market for them was really small. At least we had a tea shop in town now.
In 2010, I relocated to Glasgow, Scotland to study Photography. Even though finding Japanese tea there was not easy, traveling within Europe was really affordable so I visited the Netherlands ontravelling multiple occasions. The Netherlands has an outstanding tea culture, for this reason, I was able to purchase Japanese teas at several locations during my travels. I also kept trying different brands I found in Scotland which sold Japanese loose-leaf teas, yet I always found the best Japanese teas in Europe travelling within the Netherlands. My time in Glasgow came to an end in 2014, then I relocated to Berlin. First time I prepared tea in Berlin I spat it out. It tasted disgusting. The high-quality kabusecha I intended to enjoy after a long trip got completely ruined by the super chalky German water. A shiny oily film was formed on top of the tea and it tasted like if I was licking some sort of rocks. It is not that I have ever licked any rocks (maybe when I was a small child) but this is how I have always imagined the rocks would taste if I dared to lick them. I tried filtering the water using a filtering jar system yet I was not pleased with the results plus I had read before bacteria can grow on the active carbon filters. I could not find a proper solution, so I started using low calcium mineral water to prepare tea. It was really annoying having to look for the water at the supermarkets since not all of them carried the brand I used plus carrying it home was obnoxious yet I did not want my tea experience ruined by such hard water. So I gave in, I paid for the bottled water and carried it home every week.
In 2015, I decided to move to Munich where I found one of the best assortments of Japanese tea in Europe along with the Netherlands. I was really pleased since they had lots of different types of Japanese teas, from multiple regions, organic and non-organic. It was great! This allowed me to expand my already extensive knowledge of Japanese teas. Munich was the place I also found special paper filters to improve the quality of the extremely hard German water to prepare hot drinks. For a while, I was using the filters to improve the water at home and at work. Yet people did not care as much as I did, so the kettle at work ended covered by a white hard rock layer on a daily basis. I had to clean it with vinegar in the mornings if I wanted to enjoy good tea. I have had enough. At this point, I drank so much Japanese tea every day that I decided to invest in a water boiler to have it at my desk at work to prepare tea right on the spot. Since I did not want to clean the boiler daily, I went back to low calcium mineral water and carried the bottles to work everyday. My co-workers thought I was crazy. And I agree I am crazy for high-quality every day Japanese tea so crazy that I even took chado lessons from the Urasenke school in Munich for a while. My knees disagreed with such choice of leisure activities screaming in agony, so in the end, I was forced to quit.
Then I decided to visit some tea regions in Japan, Shizuoka, Uji, Wazuka, Kagoshima… I took a tour through a Japanese tea field close to Kyoto and fell in love with the region. I took part in a Japanese Tea Master course and also in a Tea Study trip organized by the Japan Tea Export Council. I got to meet many tea farmers, tea sellers, tea traders, teaware makers, even amazing tea heads like me. I tried lots of different products with tea as an ingredient, from beer to chewing gum. During this time, my knowledge about Japanese teas deepened so much that subtly it became my passion.
I realized that even though matcha has become truly popular in the Western world, plenty of people still do not know how to choose good quality matcha or how to brew it properly. Letting alone other types of Japanese teas that are unusual, rare or difficult to find around Europe. For this reason, I decided to go full in into Japanese tea and spread the word around. I want you to taste delicious and well-brewed Japanese teas so you can enjoy them as much as I do. This is why I am here today, to share both my passion and knowledge about the beautiful world of Japanese teas with you.
If you have reached the end of the article, thank you very much for reading me! I wanted to share my tea journey with you since I believe that is important to know more the person behind a brand or a business.