Channeling ‘Tom Brady’s Wife’ in a Tea Meeting In Japan

Two years ago when I was in Japan on a tea buying trip, I had a series of meetings with several different tea companies to assess their respective teas for a possible purchase. Most of the meetings went well, with translators present to help both sides talk about details of purchasing the tea. I met some interesting men and women that day and tasted both good and lackluster tea.

Every meeting was set up to last 20 minutes and they followed the same course. Introductions via a translator, a presentation by the tea folks, questions by me, and then a taste of one or two teas that they had brought with them for me to consider.

One particular gentleman and his nephew really did not have any tea that I was interested in. This became clear after about 4 minutes into the scheduled 20 minute meeting. As we all just sat there looking across the table at one another without much to say, the Uncle finally looked at me and said in halting English…..”Tom Brady”.

He followed that with two thumbs up and a big smile. I realized that he understood that I was from Massachusetts, so I responded with “Red Sox”. That got an even more enthusiastic thumbs up and a big, big smile from his nephew. We went back and forth like this with the “Celtics” and the “Bruins” until we ran out of this “conversation.”

The Uncle was beginning over again with another “Tom Brady” thumbs up, so I had an idea how to pad out the remaining time. I grabbed the lap top that I had brought with me, and I put the name Gisele Bundchen (Tom Brady’s wife) into the search. I knew that she was beautiful and exotic-looking and might just be the ice-breaker that we desperately needed to add another dimension to this conversation.

It only took me a few seconds to find a photo of her, fully-clad and simply gorgeous. I spun my lap top around and watched the looks on their faces when I pointed to the image on the screen and said “Tom Brady’s wife”. Or I should say that my translator said that for me. She asked me what his wife did and I explained that she was a fashion model. I’m not sure what she told the men, but at first there was not much reaction. Both men seemed stunned.

I feared that I had offended them in some way that I could not possibly imagine. But just a few seconds later they both began to grin with delight and got very chatty with one other and the translator. After a few Japanese OOHS and AAHS I realized that they were both writing down the URL on the screen and her name. They both seemed quite approving and I believe that Tom Brady got another couple of ”thumbs up.”

The meeting was just about over and we parted ways with a lightness of spirit that was missing from the earlier part of the meeting. Later that evening, at a cocktail party for all of the tea sellers and buyers, I noted the Uncle cruising towards me with a big smile on his face. He sauntered past me flashing two thumbs up and gave me a knowing “Tom Brady.”

It felt like we were friends for life now – bonded by a shared knowledge that would be difficult to put into words. He seemed more animated than he was earlier in the day, and tea was no longer on the table as a point of discussion. As I turned to watch him walk away I imagined he was thinking about something other than “Tom Brady.”
Gisele Bundchen

2014 New Harvest Tea versus ‘New’ Tea

This post is a re-post from last year. Because many new tea drinkers may not know how to evaluate some of the claims of ‘new tea’ that are being touted this time of year, we hope this will help. As well as be a good reminder to those of you who know this but need a little re-fresher on this topic.

Soon the earliest plucks of fresh tea from the 2014 spring tea harvests in China, India, and Japan will begin arriving in the US. In fact, Tea Trekker has already received 3 new 2014 season teas from Western China.

News Clip ArtConfusingly, it is also the time when some tea vendors add ‘new teas’ to their inventory that are not from the new 2014 harvest. So it is important for tea enthusiasts to understand what they are purchasing by paying attention to harvest dates. Some of you know this information, many of you may not, so it is worth repeating:

In the next two months, simply because a tea is advertised as ‘new’ to a store or website does not mean that it is new tea from the 2014 harvest, and tea enthusiasts should not fall into the trap of assuming that it is.

If the tea is not dated, it may be last year’s tea (or tea from anytime, really) that is simply ‘new’ to that merchant or tea vendor. Which does not mean that last year’s teas should be avoided – that is not the point.  Some of last year’s green teas are still tasty; but many are not.

But my point is two-fold:

  1. one should be an informed consumer and not assume that a ‘new’ tea is fresh, new harvest tea unless that tea is clearly identified as such
  2. do not  stock up heavily on last year’s green, white or yellow tea unless that is what you mean to do. Some of these teas will keep quite nicely for several more months or even a year if the weather in that place of production had all of the right elements going for it. But in general, one does not want to purchase large quantities of green, white or yellow tea when the new season teas are just around the corner.

It is helpful to know in what period of spring premium Chinese green, black and white teas are made:

  • a few teas are made from the end of March to April 5th ( pre-Qing Ming teas)
  •  most teas are made in mid-April (Yu Qian)
  •  some teas are made from the end of April to the end of May (Gu Yu and Li Xia teas) when the spring tea season is over

Tea production times follow roughly the same pattern each year with slight allowances for weather, and there is an order to when tea factories make certain teas. It most often depends on when the leaf is the right size on the tea bushes to achieve the characteristic appearance of the tea, and that the flavor components of the fresh leaf is properly developed.

So awareness of when certain teas are made will help tea enthusiasts determine if it is possible for a certain tea to have been made in the new tea season or if it must be from last year’s harvest (or older!) For instance, spring high mountain oolong from Taiwan is not plucked until May, so any spring tea of this type being offered now is from last winter or last spring as it is too soon for 2014 high mountain oolong from Taiwan to be in the marketplace.

Our 2014  eastern China teas ( a handful of pre-Qing Ming green, yellow and black teas ) will be arriving as early as next week, followed soon by an early round of 1st Flush Darjeelings.airplaneOnce the season is underway our tea deliveries arrive fast and furiously.To appreciate the absolute fresh goodness of these tea we will air-ship them to arrive at our store as fast as possible. (Watch your in box for email alerts that the tea has arrived – some sell out quite fast each year!)

Tea from the 2nd seasonal plucking (Yu Qian -April 6th to April 20th) of black, white and yellow teas, oolongs and Pu-erh will follow along as their production season arrives.

The 2014 green teas from Japan (with the exception of Japanese Shincha which will be available sooner) are still 4-6 weeks away from being harvested, depending on the region and elevation of the tea gardens. Weather depending, production in most regions will begin at the end of April or in early May. Which puts arrival of 2014 Japanese green tea to our shop about the middle to end of May. ( Again, watch your in-box for emails).

IMG_7473-1So plan your tea purchasing accordingly and make sure that you understand what you are purchasing regarding the dates of harvest. Tea enthusiasts who know what these dates and differences in freshness will end up with fresher tea than those who are unaware of what they are purchasing.

Hooray for spring and happy fresh new tea drinking!

Gaiwans and Houhins

Perhaps no other tea steeping vessels that we sell generate as many questions as our Chinese gaiwans and Japanese houhins.

Gaiwans Houhins

These small, glazed, handle-less porcelain vessels are often mistaken for something meant for children. Many tea drinkers cannot imagine using such a small vessel to steep their tea. And, admittedly, they bear little resemblance to the traditional notion of ‘teapot’.

So when we explain how these tea vessels work and why they are important – no, iconic – in their respective tea cultures, quite often tea enthusiasts realize that they too might benefit from using one of these to steep certain teas.

Both gaiwams and houhins perform the same function as a teapot – but their small size is designed to accommodate the ratio of tea leaf to water that is necessary when steeping and re-steeping certain types of tea. For gaiwans, these are oolong, Pu-erh and other Heicha; and for  houhins it is the needle-thin leaves of Sencha and Gyokuro

Gaiwans are useful tools, and can be used to steep both the most costly or modestly priced tea. Gaiwans are perfectly acceptable in the best teahouses. While one can spend hundreds of dollars on an un-glazed Yixing clay teapot which will ‘influence’ the flavor of the tea steeped in it, a gaiwan is commonly used in China for steeping those same teas. In fact, some tea enthusiasts prefer gaiwans that are made from glazed porcelain which imparts no influence on the flavor of the tea.

A Japanese houhin is just right for one or two servings when one is looking for just a little ‘taste’ of tea or when steeping tea that is particularly costly. Japan, too, produces wonderful glazed and unglazed teapots – such as our selection of Japanese teapots from Tokoname – that are expensive and the construction of which sometimes influences the flavor of the tea steeped in it. But for practicality and effectiveness of use, a houhin is a great choice.

As with Chinese teas, the serving size of tea is small but the flavor of the tea liquor is rich in dimension and full in the mouth because more leaf and less water has been used. And the leaf is steeped several times, showing a different facet of flavor with each re-steeping.

For some, learning to use a gaiwan is tricky business – it is a one-handed operation and requires a bit of dexterity to become comfortable using it. There is no strainer and no handle – when the tea has steeped and is ready to be poured out, just cock back the lid, grab the gaiwan by the top edge, place the knuckle of your first finger securely on the top of the lid to hold it in place and pour out the tea into a small pitcher …without allowing tea leaves to exit with the tea liquor.

Conversely, a houhin has a lid, a fine strainer built into the nose of the teapot, and a pouring lip. You place your fingers along side of it and rest your hand on the top of the lid to keep it securely in place. This is easier for some to manuver than a gaiwan and a houhin can also be used to successfully steep Chinese oolong, Pu-erh and other Heicha; whereas a gaiwan does not work very well with fine leaf Japanese green teas.

Whichever you choose, these are versatile and simple vessels which are a PERFECT and REASONABLY INEXPENSIVE way to steep many Asian teas as they would be steeped  in China, Japan, or Hong Kong.

Shop our selectiom of Gaiwans and Houhins

                                                                                                 

Mount Fuji

This is an image of Mount  Fuji that I took on a perfectly clear, cool and breezy fall day. We were told that one does not often get such a glorious view of Mount Fuji because it is usually obscured in clouds. In fact, just  the day before this we arrived to Shizuoka in a rain and wind storm that nearly diverted our aircraft to another airport, so no eyes fell of Mount Fuji that day.

We had our view of Mount Fuji from the top of this mountain – Mt. Awatake – which overlooks the Higashiyama region tea fields.

It does not look like a very high mountain, but it is. Can you see the character for the word ‘tea’ spelled out in cypress trees near the top of the mountain?  It must have been quite a project to cut away the trees from the slopes to shape this character. This character stands to let the world know how important tea is to this region. And I would add to that, how utterly delicious it is, too.

What I do in Japan when not buying tea

The life of a tea buyer is not all work – with some serious tea buying meetings looming large in the next two day, today was a day for goofing around.

Somehow, much of it still involves tea!

Eat some yummy grapes

Admire beautiful flower arrangementsSinging along with snow globe Santa

Eyeball-to-eyeball with a bowl of matcha

Take on a matcha challenge with my friend Yousef, the tea buyer for Harrods in London

Uhmm…..so good

Uh oh…….everyone wins and goes back to Edo period!  This is what happens when you drink too much matcha!