One thing the English (I’m from England) and the Japanese share in common – other than constantly talking about the weather – is a love of tea.
Last year I was asked to write about green tea and interview Masamitsu Takau, a registered “tea sommelier”. When I checked out his website I was surprised and pleased to find his green tea shop, Shigetsuen” within walking distance of my home. He is the third generation of his family to run the shop.
As well as selling tea, Takau runs tea classes in his shop, researches the brew and travels the world lecturing on tea. He told me he’s been to the US four times, Europe four times and Taiwan eight times. He’s also written several books.
As Takau explained to me, the tea he deals in isn’t the rarefied brew of the tea ceremony. He makes and sells the ordinary Japanese cuppa. “I’m involved in something that is part of everyday life: how to enjoy tea.”
This is bancha, a lower grade green tea.
This is some of the good stuff. Hand rolled.
The tea in his shop is shrink-wrapped on the premises.
We chatted a little about green tea around the world. One fascinating thing I learned was that at the time of World War One, Americans actually drank more green tea than black tea – albeit they drank it just like black tea, ie with milk and sugar.
Meanwhile, in Japan, what is now everyday green tea (sencha) was too precious for anything except export.
As you might expect, Takau was pretty scathing about the popularity of PET bottle tea (“It all tastes the same”). Sadly, people simply don’t have time or the patience to brew up any more.