I admit at the outset that I am not a fan of black tea. But in recent years, visits to Japan have seen me entering the world of green tea. I love the flavour of it in ice cream and cakes, and I’m growing to like drinking it. I’ve found you can even get green tea latte in Japan!
Green tea is proving to be a journey of exploration as I figure out what I enjoy. There are so many different types of green tea and further differences occur in taste, depending on when they are harvested, and where the tea is grown.
I grew up in a household of black drinkers. It seemed that the jug (kettle) was constantly on the boil for black tea. ”Make me another cuppa, duck?” my father would constantly plead with a smile. I’m not sure why he called me duck. It was a term he called others who were close to him. Like ’dear’ or ’darling’ – duck was an endearing term.
So tea is a strong, enduring and comforting reminder of happy times past for me. It evokes memories of my childhood home, family and my long departed loved parents. Memories of family gatherings around cups of tea – my Aunty’s rock cakes served with tea. She must have overcooked them as they truely deserved the name of ‘rock’. No one else seemed to like them, but me. I loved them, and always looked forward to her rock cakes, even when I abandoned tea for coffee.
When visitors arrived in my childhood home, out came the teapot – black tea or with milk, sugar or none? A few scoops of loose leaf tea, hot water poured over and the brew allowed to steep briefly. Turning the pot a few times was advised by my grandmother. Often the teapot was covered with a hand knitted cover – a ‘cosy ‘- to help insulate the pot and keep the tea hot. You were getting a little exotic if you requested black tea with a dash of lemon juice!
Although tea bags had been invented in the early 1900’s, they didn’t appear and become popular in most Australian homes until in the 1970’s. So thoughout my childhood and early teen years, we used loose leaf tea. We selected tea by brands – Liptons, Bushells. I don’t think we knew much about how tea was grown, or where it was grown. I certainly had no concept of a tea farm, and never saw one until I visited Japan in mid life.
By then, I was no longer a tea drinker. Perhaps I got a mouthful of leaf residue in my cup at some stage – turning me off tea and onto coffee as that became more popular with Australians.
TURNING TO GREEN TEA
I’m still not a black tea drinker, but I have come to the green tea table. My trips to Japan have awoken my curiosity about green tea, and I am now on a journey of green tea – taste, texture, aroma, – and the areas that grow the best tea. Green tea, I find, is a taste to be aquired, explored, and developed – much like wine.
Attending tea ceremonies in Japan heightened my interest in green tea. One of the most wonderful experiences though, was at the small Hineno Museum in Hida Furakawa where the owner served us tea in exquisite tableware that was hundreds of years old. I dared not spill a drop! The cheesecake that was served with the tea was from a 50 year old recipe.
On my last trip to Japan, I very nearly enjoyed tea at a Royal Palace. What is known as the Hakone Detached Palace (旧箱根離宮, Kyū Hakone Rikyū) was once the summer palace for the Japanese Imperial Family, but is now open to the public – and you can drink tea there on the southern shores of the very beautiful Lake Ashinoko on the peninsula between Moto-Hakone and Hakone-machi. Sadly for me, the tea shop was closed and I had planned to return in 2020, timing my visit when it was open.
Another great tea memory was being offered tea at the small Koma glass museum in Gifu prefecture. This tiny place exhibits glass products from the end of the Edo period to the beginning of the Showa period. It has hundreds of nostalgic glass products once used as daily necessities such as Japanese lamps, shaved ice bowls, uranium glass, and glass clocks. We were surprised when the owner urged us to sit at a small table where he brought us complimentary tea. He couldn’t speak English – we couldn’t speak Japanese. But tea brought us together in friendship.
My exploration of green tea has been stymied by the Covid Pandemic, with two planned trips to Japan already cancelled.
However – I’ve been saved a little by my local chemist that remarkably sells quality green tea from Uji – a leading tea growing area near Kyoto. And I can also access good tea on occasional visits to a Japanese supermarket in Perth.
Which brings me to my latest tea discovery that is enabling me to struggle on in my green tea journey. ‘The Tiny Tea Shop’ is a wonderful little shop housed in a heritage stone cottage in the small rural Western Australian town of Nannup. It sells both quality black tea and green tea from choice tea growing areas around the world, and provides advice from its owner – Patsie Smith.
Patsie is passionate about tea and offers her customers some of the best black and green tea in the world. She tries to visit the source of origin – tea farms – when she can, including trips to Japan where she usually visits regularly. Like me, she currently can’t leave Australia because of the pandemic.
Patsie’s Tiny Tea shop is a loose leaf specialist shop, with more than 100 loose leaf teas and blends that includes many Australian certified organic teas.
Her main aim when the pandemic is over is to return to Japan to visit tea farms. She also hopes to visit Sri Lanka to see a particular tea farm there where she sources quality tea. Patsy doesn’t just want to drink tea – she wants to meet the people who grow tea so that she can pass on tea knowledge to her customers.
And I can vouch that she is already highly knowledgeable when it comes to tea! Understanding that I’m still fairly new to green tea, she suggested a second flush harvested sencha tea – loose leaf, of course. She shook her head when I mentioned tea bags! Oops! No, she definitely doesn’t sell tea bags!
Sencha is the most commonly drunk and well known variety of green tea. Patsie was right. I like the tea she suggested very much. And when I next visit, my tastebuds will be ready for a first harvest tea!
While you can’t open her big jars of tea, Patsie does offer sample tins where you can appreciate the aroma of the various teas. And, of course, you can buy a cup of tea at her shop. You can even attend an Asian tea ceremony that Patsie organises from time to time.
Finally – my other source of tea knowledge comes from a young Journalist, based iSarawak, Malaysian Borneo Mei writes a blog on tea – ‘The Floating Tea Stem’. Yes, a whole blog all about tea. I did wonder initially how she could sustain a blog just about tea, but she does it in fine style. A really wonderful talented writer who blends her love and knowledge of tea with the travel she undertakes to sample teas.
Mel is certified as a Nihoncha Adviser by the Nihoncha Instructor Association of Japan, so she knows what’s she’s talking about. The Nihoncha Instructor Association (日本茶インストラクター協会) is a non profit organization with the purpose of preserving and promoting Japanese tea.
This will probably be my only article on tea – so I hand you over to Mei’s very enjoyable blog if you want to read more about tea! Cheers!