Happy new years eve everyone! I thought I would end off the year with one final post for what has been one of my favorite new series to write for since I re-branded the blog earlier this year, which is my Insights Into The Japanese Tea Industry series. I’ve had so much fun putting together this series and introducing you all to amazing tea brands that champion Japanese tea. I’ll definitely be carrying on this series throughout 2022 so please do leave the names of any Japanese tea companies you would like to see interviewed in the comments so I can add them to my list.
For this instalment, the featured company is Tezumi Tea and their instalment will actually be in two parts, one today and one tomorrow, as I didn’t want the post to be so long you wouldn’t get chance to appricate their amazing and detailed answers to my questions.
Those of you who follow me over on Instagram will recognize the name Tezumi Tea as earlier this year I purchased my very first houhin from them and I’ve not stopped talking about how much I love it. The Tezumi Tea team are David, Michael, and Ryan—three tea enthusiasts who want to share their love of Japanese tea and teaware with the world. The Japanese word tezumi (手摘み), meaning ‘hand-picked’, is used to describe the select few teas that have been carefully picked by hand, rather than by machine, resulting in the highest grades of tea. They chose this name because they put the same care and patience in selecting their teas and teaware.
Q1- 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- I think the first Japanese tea I had ever tried was a matcha-iri-sencha (sencha dusted with matcha) tea bag from Ito-en when I was in high school. Having grown up exclusively with English teabag tea softened with a splash of milk, this was quite different, and sparked my curiosity about tea as a whole.
However, it was a few years later, during my second year of university, that I really began getting into tea seriously: exploring loose-leaf tea, gongfu brewing, etc. Around the same time I started to become interested in Japanese culture, so naturally I was curious to try a proper bowl of matcha. My first usucha was a real eye-opener as I had never encountered such powerful umami or savoriness in a drink before. Though it was cheap and bitter culinary grade tea whisked in a rice bowl with a Chinese chasen, it was my first real taste of Japanese tea. Although matcha was my introduction to Japanese tea, it was really sencha, and its many sub styles, that got me hooked.
Q2- Why did you start Tezumi Tea? I would love to know more about the story behind the company and how it began vs where it is now.
A- Tezumi began with the mission to bring affordable and high-quality Japanese teaware to tea enthusiasts around the world. One of my struggles as a college student getting into tea was finding affordable teaware, especially kyusu and chawan, that I could keep and cherish for years. I’m a firm believer in spending a little extra in the short term to get something that you can love and use on a daily basis, and cherish for a lifetime. This is the type of Japanese teaware that I wanted to make more easily available.
Ever since we started, however, we always planned to focus on working with small tea farmers in Japan to share unique, high-quality, and rare teas. There are a lot of amazing and creative teas being produced that are harder for people outside of Japan to get their hands on. We want to bridge that gap, and help bring these great teas to overseas tea enthusiasts.
Q3- 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?
In Japan, there is a rather strict set of objective guidelines for grading tea that emphasize greenness, umami, appearance, etc. I think it’s incredibly important to understand that though a tea might be ‘objectively’ good, that doesn’t mean that you’ll like it. Your tastes might not align with the established grading system: you might prefer the simple, refreshing nature of ‘low-quality teas’, such as bancha, houjicha, and genmaicha, over the more intense and complex high-end sencha and gyokuro. I suggest trying the widest variety possible so you can find what you like and what you don’t like.
Generally speaking, however, Japanese green teas are best enjoyed within the year that they are harvested, so I’d advise avoiding greens that are over a year old, unless they are deliberately aged or matured in cold storage.
Great advise! When I got into Japanese teas I found so much joy in trying as many different things as I could to find out what I did and didn’t like, it was like a choose your own adventure book searching through everything and learning along the way. In doing so I discovered that Japaneses teas were my thing and hence why I now focus so much on them and they make up most of my collection. To this day I am still trying new things and the new and interesting experiences never end. – K
Q4- What do you wish more people knew about Japanese teas and the people that work hard to create them?
One of our goals at Tezumi is to showcase the wide variety of tea that Japan has to offer, capturing both the cutting edge of innovation and the most well-preserved traditions. There’s so much more to Japanese tea than just sencha and matcha, and even within those categories, there is immense variation and subtlety. From cultivars and terroirs to shading and steaming, sencha itself is an immensely diverse whole world to explore.
Outside of green teas, I wish more people knew about the innovative and experimental oolong, black, white, and white-leaf teas that more and more farmers are producing with ever increasing quality and variety. I’m very proud to offer some amazing examples of these interesting teas on our site. In order to help people navigate this variety, I sought to capture most styles of Japanese tea and the relationships between them in this chart:
(I also wrote this blog post to go with it, explaining each type)
Another thing that I think more people should know about is all the work the farmers do before harvesting to affect the taste of the tea. In other tea producing countries, such as China, there is an emphasis on shaping taste and aroma through processes such as withering, oxidizing, and roasting. In Japan, however, sencha, gyokuro, kabusecha, etc., all undergo more or less the same post-harvest processing, which is on the whole more transparent, with no withering and virtually no oxidation. This means that a lot of the flavour and aroma is shaped through cultivation. This includes more obvious things like shading, but also the less ‘glamorous’ work of fertilization, trimming, and weeding; along with terroir properties, such as soil type, elevation, drainage, fog, slope and direction of hill, etc. All of these factors have very noticeable impacts on the final tea.
It’s incredible just how much work goes into creating the teas we all know and love isn’t it, most of it I think many people do overlook, but learning more about it over the years has just heightened the amount of respect i have for the people within the industry as a whole. – K
Q5 – Out of all the teas that you currently sell, which one is your personal favorite and which do you drink the most? Often when I ask people who run tea companies this question their favorite 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- Choosing a favorite from our current lineup of teas that we’ve selected to launch with is really difficult as I’ve fallen in love with all of them. At the moment, however, I think my favorite is our Saemidori matcha from Yame, which is shaded with the traditional honzu straw method, hand-picked from shizen-shitate (un-trimmed) plants, and aged as tencha for over two years. All of which means it kneads up into an exquisite koicha: exceptionally smooth and balanced with just enough character. While I do drink the occasional casual koicha, I typically reserve this matcha as a treat for serious temae practice and to serve ceremonially to friends.
Normally, my go-to tea is Matsuba, which is a classic Honyama Yabukita sencha, but recently I’ve found myself reaching for our Takamura, a great Kumamoto kamairicha that expresses the wonderful aroma and smoothness of this often overlooked style.
Part two of this Q&A is coming tomorrow so make sure that you come back to continue learning more about Tezumi Tea and see what there answers were to the second five questions of this Q&A. I’m beyond thankful that they took the time out of their incredibly busy schedule to put so much time into answering my questions in such detail. You won’t want to miss tomorrows post so make sure you have your email reminders set up and WordPress will notify you when the post goes live.
In the mean time should you want to check out any more of my work the best places to follow me are Instagram and TikTok both of which are @kimberleyskyusu. You can learn more about Tezumi Tea and shop their phenomenal range of teaware and new range of teas here.
Until tomorrow, Happy Steeping & Happy New Year – Kimberley