Insights Into The Japanese Tea Industry – Postcard Tea Q&A

I can’t believe we are at this point in the year already it really seems like this year has gone by in the blink of an eye compared to 2020, before we know it Christmas will be here and we’ll be making our way into 2022 but until then there are many more Fridays which means many more instalments of my Insights Into The Japanese Tea Industry series. So far we have had Spilled Tea Brooklyn and Senbird Tea join us and for this weeks post our featured tea company / guest is Postcard Teas.

Postcard Teas sell a lot of different teas and don’t just focus on Japanese tea, but whenever I ask any of my tea friends their favourite places in the UK to buy Japanese teas they always point me in the direction of Postcard Teas, and simply from checking out their website and Instagram it is obvious to me that the team behind postcard teas clearly have a passion for high quality tea and want to be able to make it available and accessible for as many people as possible. It’s easy to see all of the hard work that they do and their passion for it so I wanted to make sure that I featured them in this series and could find out more about them for myself before I make my first purchase with them when I lift my tea buying ban.

The team behind Postcard Teas are English, Japanese and Chinese. Over 20 years of tea travels have enabled them to introduce two key concepts to tea: provenance and small tea. They pioneered provenance back in 2008 when they became the first tea company in the world to put the maker’s name and location on all 60 of their teas including the blends. More recently they introduced the idea of small tea which is tea from small producers who farm less than 15 acres.

They work with farms that produce small tea in 6 countries across Asia because they believe small producers of less than 15 acres are better for people, places, and planet than the larger producers who supply 99% of all the tea sold in the West including the teas sold as rare, fairly traded or beneficial to the environment. As with provenance, they are the first tea company in the world to sell tea exclusively from small farms. They have a brick and mortar store based in London and you can also purchase them online.

Q- When did your love for Japanese tea begin? Do you remember the first Japanese tea that you ever tried or the tea that inspired you to start your business?

A- Around 1993 when I went to Kyoto to study Japanese and my homestay family introduced me to loose leaf tea including great green tea for the first time. That said I often just drank inexpensive Kyobancha and Hojicha which remain personal favourite teas of mine.

Q- Why did you start Postcard Teas? I would love to know more about the story behind the company and how it began vs where it is now.

A- I opened Postcard Teas in 2005 but I had been visiting tea growing areas across Asia since the 1990s and started my first tea company with a friend at London’s Borough Market in 2000. The idea of Postcard Teas was to extend the range of teas to include teas from beyond East Asia so teas also from India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. We were also committed to full provenance (the maker’s name and village/town). When I was joined by my wife Asako who is Japanese and Lu Zhou my Chinese colleague and friend they allowed us to go deeper than before and work with almost everyone we wanted to in China and Japan.

Q- Could you give some good suggestions on how to choose the best Japanese teas. What are the most important things to keep in mind when buying tea?

A- Japanese teas are great as the high quality machine processing makes really good Japanese organic teas affordable and there is so much choice especially today with wonderful green and black teas widely available. I don’t know what to recommend except find out what you like and try and find good naturally farmed or organic teas as it is better for the people and areas that produce them. As I mentioned before roasted teas like Hojicha, Kyobancha and Kuki-Hojicha are great if you like roasted teas and often very inexpensive!

I have to say I 100% agree with the suggestion of trying out roasted Japanese teas, they have been a personal favourite of mine since I start tried them and because most are very inexpensive so you can try out a good amount of them and find out what you like moving into other Japanese teas from there. -K

Q- What do you wish more people knew about Japanese teas and the people that work hard to create them?

A- Japan offers a really good chance to compare similar teas made by similar processes but from different cultivars and different producers. It is possible to compare similar senchas from Yame, Uji, Asamiya, Honyama and Kawane in an interesting way that you cannot really compare green teas from different Chinese regions for example. Many Japanese producers are very dedicated to their craft and their family tradition which makes trying their teas fun!

I agree with this I definitely find I can do more in depth comparison tastings with Japanese green teas than I can with other green teas from places like China. While Chinese green teas can also be fantastic I think when I comes to green tea that Japan does it best and it would be hard for other places to take that accolade from them. -K

Q- Out of all the teas that you currently sell, which one is your personal favourite and which do you drink the most? Often when I ask people who run tea companies this question their favourite tea they sell and the tea they drink the most are different so I always like to see if each company owner I interview is the same.

A- I love Japanese black teas (Wakocha) and have been selling quite a few for over ten years. Supernatural Black by Matsumoto san in Kumamoto is both one of my favourites and probably the Japanese tea I drink the most because it is so versatile – as delicious light as it is strong and with milk. Its unusual plum taste is also addictive.

You can’t beat a fantastic Wakoucha Japanese black tea, it’s highly under appreciated and over the next few years I would love to see it shine and garnered the love and attention it truly deserves. Japan has such a long history when it comes to black tea and it would be great to see a resurgence and see that develop more in technique to produce even better black teas. -K

Q- Where do you see the Japanese tea industry heading within the next five years?

A- Hopefully both strengthening domestically and through increased exports. Tourism to Japan has had a big impact as people discover Japanese tea like me during their time in Japan and want to continue enjoying great quality tea in their home country. I think there will also be more direct selling inside Japan and to overseas which relates with the next question.

I would definitely love for the industry to continue to develop over the next few years as well both domestically and through exports. I would also love to see more people take notice of Japanese teas outside of green tea and hopefully inspire more out of the box experimental processing with things like black tea, white tea, dark tea and oolong. -K

Q- What do you think are the hardest challenges that the Japanese tea industry specifically has to deal with? Why do you think that these challenges don’t affect other tea industries around the world are are specific to japanese tea

A- The problem for the Japanese tea industry is that the price most tea is produced for RTD tea products is too low and that the quality leaf tea market is still decreasing as are specialist tea shops many which have shut. Also with small tea farms many cannot make enough money by tea alone so have to do other things or abandon their farms as many have done.

Q- Since starting your business what would you say is the most important thing that you have learned about tea?

A- That there is also so much new to learn which is why I love tea and tea culture because I can learn something new everyday!

Tea is such an ever learning subject and I’m surprised each day by just how much I am able to learn about tea. Just when I think I’ve come to my limit something new always pops up and I go back down that rabbit whole again. There is such a wealth of knowledge you can gain from learning about tea and not only on that subject either. -K

Q- When it comes to the preparation of Japanese teas, are you embracing the modern methods that have been becoming much more popular recently or do you stick with tradition and recommend others embrace those age old methods as well?

A- After writing two books on brewing including one in Japanese in 2009, I am in favour to all kinds of brewing methods with good tea. In fact in the past there were many different styles to brew tea so now is less diverse than before. However I dislike high tech tea brewing, it should be simple and inexpensive without the need for expensive equipment so you can spend more on good tea!

Q- If money was no object what dream product would you love to create for your tea company?

A- Since we already imported a high grade hand-craved granite stone matcha grinding machine manufactured for our specifications to grind the tencha we buy direct from organic farms in Uji and Aichi, I can’t think of anything else expensive we need, maybe another beautiful tea bowl!!

Another great Q&A session to add to this growing series, the answers from Postcard Teas were so interesting and it was a great way to get to know them a bit more. As someone who has been waiting to purchase from the for the first time It was a great way for me to get to know them on a more personal level before doing so.

Just like both other companies previously featured they answered all of my questions perfectly giving insights into the Japanese tea industry and how they themselves view it while also being part of it. A huge thank you to Postcard Teas for taking the time out of their busy schedules to answer these questions, after my tea buying ban is over you’ll probably be the first tea company I order from as I can’t wait to experience your teas for myself.

Until next time, Happy Steeping – Kimberley

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