Insights Into The Japanese Tea Industry – Tezumi Tea (Q&A -Part 2)

Happy New Year Everyone! I know I only posted yesterday and it been a hell of a long time that I’ve posted two days in a row but today I wanted to follow up on yesterdays Insights Into The Japanese Tea Industry post and get the second half of my Q&A with Tezumi Tea out to you all as soon as I possibly could. Yesterday in just the first five questions of ten we were already able to learn so much about Tezumi Tea and get an insight into their opinions on the Japanese tea industry.

Today’s post is the second five questions and brace yourselves, you’re in for another post jam packed with amazing answers from the team at Tezumi. If you missed the first part of this Q&A yesterday, be sure to go and check that out before you start reading this part. Just a quick not anything you see that is in italics and marked with a K is my comments on the answers from Tezumi tea. I realized that I never put that into yesterdays post and I didn’t want to confuse any of you.

Let’s get back into these questions now shall we!

Q6- Where do you see the Japanese tea industry heading within the next five years? 

A- I think that we’re at a rather pivotal point for the industry for a few reasons, so these next five years will probably have a lasting impact for decades to come. I think we’ll see a greater focus on export, particularly to the US where the market for Japanese tea, especially matcha, continues to grow. Domestically, however, the industry is in need of some revitalization. Sales of loose-leaf Japanese tea continue to fall, as younger people are drinking more coffee, imported tea, and bottled tea; and brewing tea in a teapot is increasingly seen as old-fashioned.

Simultaneously, the average age of tea farmers in Japan is on the rise, and more and more are retiring without someone to fill their shoes, so we’re likely to see a further decrease in the number of tea farms and farmers. I hope that we’ll see more young people, including those who have personal and family backgrounds outside of tea or agriculture, decide to start, or take over, tea farms, and bring with them new energy, creativity, and innovation. (I won’t lie if money were no object and my health was much better I would move to Japan right now and have my own tea farm that I would run with my family -K)

The next five years is also when a lot of the country’s yabukita tea plants will reach the end of their useful lifespans, and seeing as dozens of promising cultivars have been developed since these bushes were planted, I think we’ll see a big shake-up in terms of tea cultivars. I doubt yabukita will be replaced as Japan’s favourite cultivar any time soon, but I think that variety, rather than consistency will be the theme of this next chapter in Japanese tea.

Along with the increase in cultivar selection and variety, I think we’ll see a growing interest in experimentation and innovation when it comes to processing. We’re at the point where Japanese black, oolong, and white teas are no longer mere novelties, but are world-class. Similarly I think we’ll see more of the lovely, floral withered senchas or ichou-sencha (萎凋煎茶) that are beginning to grow in popularity. All of which suggests that there may be an ongoing shift away from a hyperfocus on umami, towards sweet, refreshing, and floral aromas.

Another sector of the industry that I think (and hope) will grow in the next five years are the organic, low-pesticide, and natural-farming producers. A lot of Japanese teas’ signature taste comes from heavy fertilizer use, and while many high-quality teas use organic fertilizer, certified or otherwise, most of the mass-produced teas do not, which can have a lasting effect on the surrounding environment. While there is certainly demand for organic teas abroad, there is also a bit of a stigma against it among tea enthusiasts who have had negative experiences with organic teas. Producing tea organically, especially Japanese green teas, to the same quality standards as conventional tea in the same price range is quite the challenge. 

Q7- 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- Japan is one of the richest and most developed tea-producing countries, which means it’s challenges are somewhat different than those faced by other tea industries. While areas such as East Africa and India continue to struggle against tea picker exploitation and colonial power structures, Japan’s high standard of living and increasing urbanization mean that fewer and fewer young people are interested in continuing their family’s tea farm, meaning that the number of tea farmers in Japan is steadily declining. Though the mechanization of tea picking and processing has greatly increased yield while keeping costs low and quality consistent, this alone cannot solve the issue. 

There are some people who go against the pattern, moving from the city to the country to start or take over a tea farm, and bring new blood and fresh ideas to the industry. One such person is Ryo Morisaki of Chaen Morifuku, who produces our Japanese white teas. He was a system engineer for five years before deciding to move to Kyoto and become a tea producer.

Another challenge unique to Japan is the dominance of bottled tea (such as Oi Ocha) over loose leaf tea. The decline in domestic consumption of loose-leaf tea is due, at least in some part, to the immense popularity and convenience of bottled tea. Since 2007, domestic sales of bottled tea have outstripped loose-leaf sales and now make up around two-thirds of tea expenditure. Reports from MAFF (the Japanese Ministry for Agriculture, Forestries, and Fishing) also show on average, only people over the age of 70 spend more on loose tea than bottled tea. In other countries, such as India and China, where the vast majority of tea produced is consumed domestically, this isn’t an issue.

Q8- Since starting your business what would you say is the most important thing that you have learned about tea? 

A- Anytime I learn anything about tea, it only makes me realise how much there is to learn. One could live a life steeped in tea and still not know all there is to know about it. From the various histories, cultures, and philosophies associated with it, to its biochemistry, cultivation, and consumption, tea exists in near infinite and ever growing complexity. You can find Tezumi’s list of recommended tea books here.

Tea itself has also taught me lessons. My practice of chanoyu (茶の湯 – the Japanese tea ceremony)—specifically the Ueda Sōko school, a warrior tradition—has introduced me to the incredibly rich spiritual, philosophical, and aesthetic side of tea, through which I have gained greater and more profound understanding, both of myself and of some of chanoyu’s core values. While some of these concepts, such as wabi, hyouge, or suki, are a little harder to grasp, one very popular tea phrase that I think everyone can resonate with at some level, especially given the past few years, is ichi go ichi e (一期一会): one meeting for all eternity. Tea teaches us to treasure each encounter, each moment as the unique and singular event that it is, for it will never happen again.

Though we all embark on our own tea journey, be it as small as joining an online forum or as big as deciding to receive formal training, tea has the power to bring people together and teaches us to cherish these friends and connections.

Q9- 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- For the most part I personally prefer traditional preparation methods and traditional teaware. Not only do I enjoy the aesthetics, history, and craftsmanship of handmade Japanese teaware, I think that using these nice pots and bowls turns the menial task of making tea into an enjoyable experience. I also find I’m much more relaxed, focused, and present in the moment when brewing tea or whisking matcha traditionally. Additionally, a lot of traditional teaware can actually help make your tea taste better. For example, the porous clay of Tokoname-yaki and Banko-yaki kyusu can soften the astringency and bitterness of senchas. 

I’m completely the same and I will prepare my tea traditionally with the specific teaware because doing it in such a way is a complete meditative practice for me but my health problems and chronic illnesses stop me from being able to prepare that way and I will then turn to more modern methods that allow me to still have tea even though I am in pain – K

When it comes to brewing loose leaf teas, I do often make use of modern tools such as digital scales, temperature control kettles, and timers. Some Japanese teas, especially senchas, are very sensitive to brewing parameters, which makes them both very versatile and adaptable, but also somewhat finicky to brew exactly to your liking. With a bit of practice, experience, and experimentation, you can brew these teas intuitively, but to get it right every time, or for beginners, I recommend using these tools if you have them.
While I usually stick to traditional methods, I absolutely encourage people to experiment and bring new ideas to the table. One area that has long been understood in the specialty coffee world and is finally re-gaining attention in the tea community is water science.

After all, a cup of tea is primarily water. Many of the old tea texts of Japan and China speak to the importance of using good water when it comes to making great tasting tea, often recommending using water from near where the tea is grown. In chanoyu we even have a special temae (点前 – the various tea making rituals) when using water from well-known wells. Today, we have the scientific knowledge to explain how water chemistry affects tea brewing and can not only help us decide what water to use, but also allows us to develop water mineral recipes to ‘create’ our ideal tea water. For example, Japanese green teas benefit from very soft water, with total dissolved solids (TDS) of around 20-30ppm, which is roughly equivalent to the water found in Kyoto. Living outside of Japan can make finding good water a bit of a challenge. For example, London tap water has a TDS in the 200-300ppm range

Q10 – If money was no object what dream product would you love to create for your tea company? 

A- While there are a lot of great resources for tea beginners, there is so much information about Japanese tea and tea culture that is only available in Japanese, so one of my goals with Tezumi is to make this intermediate and advanced information more readily available for the English-speaking tea community. In addition to our online guides and blog posts, I’d love to compile this knowledge into a book or two, along with some longer videos and films exploring Japanese tea production and tea culture.

This is such a fantastic idea! I would love to see more blog posts and guides for English speakers that want to learn everything there is to know about Japanese Tea. A book would be such a great tool to have and I would deffinelty add it to my ever growing collection. I think a Tezumi Tea podcast would also be a great way for you all to share you love and knowledge – K

My beautiful Houhin from Tezumi Tea – you can more content featuring this on my socials – @kimberleyskyusu

I feel like I couldn’t have finished 2021 an started 2022 in a better way than with a two part Q&A with a company that clearly has so much passion for Japanese tea and the Japanese tea community. Again I’m so thankful for the time and effort that was put into answering these questions in such detail, I can’t wait to get to know Tezumi Tea more throughout this year and hopefully try out some of their new range of Japanese teas at some point this year. Should you want to learn more about them yourself you can do that here.

If you also want to keep up with my content and all of the tea stuff I do outside of my blog the best places to follow me of Instagram and TikTok both of which are @kimberleyskyusu.

Until next time, Happy Steeping – Kimberley

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