Christmas in Japan = KFC On the Table

VIDEO: Kentucky Fried Chicken markets their meals as a holiday tradition.

photo courtesy of ABC News/Japan

On my recent trip to Japan I was surprised and slightly puzzled to see Christmas decorations in shop windows, bakeries, hotel lobby’s and some restaurants. Christmas music, too, seeped quietly from everywhere that public music can seep without bothering others in Japan.

KFC’s popularity can be traced back to a highly successful marketing campaign that began nearly 40 years ago.

At the time, the Christmas holiday wasn’t as widely celebrated in Japan.

One of my colleagues explained that while Japan does not celebrate Christmas as a Christian holiday, it celebrates it in the spirit of gift-giving, and good times with family and friends. And eating Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas dinner.

What? KFC in Japan…for Christmas? Yes, indeed. Apparently “kentakkii,” as KFC is it’s popularly known began to market fried-chicken-for-Christmas in Japan in 1974. It caught on big time in Japan, a country that does not raise or sell turkeys, and where households do not own ovens large enough to cook a turkey. So, chicken – fried chicken – to the rescue as a holiday dinner treat.

My colleagues told me that they make reservations at KFC for their Christmas dinner.  “What, I exclaimed? You go to KFC on Christmas day?”  “No, they explained.” “The reservation is to be able to walk in an pick up your food at an appointed hour and avoid the sometimes 2+hr wait in line.” So sensible!

In fact, KFC fried chicken is so popular in Japan, the fast-food chain recommends customers place their Christmas orders two months in advance. KFC is proud to day that “Our holiday sales are five to ten times higher at Christmas than in other months. In Japan, Christmas equals KFC.”

image courtesy of KFC Co., Japan

Stories like this are what I love about our experiences surrounding tea, food and travel. These experiences and those that we meet along the way are gateways into conversations about their lives, their family and country customs and sometimes, yes, even holiday traditions.

Merry Christmas to all of our tea enthusiast customers around the world! May all of your tables be set with the foods that you hold dearest and most special at this magical time of year!

And may there be a very special cup of tea awaiting you after the meal.

2012 Japan Shincha has Arrived!

Our Position on 2012 Japanese Green Tea

With great joy we will be supplying our shelves once again with spring harvest green tea from Japan. Among these new 2012 teas, look for old favorites as well as tasty new teas from Uji and several regions on Kyushu Island (Kagoshima and Kame).

As fans of our Japanese tea know, we immediately cancelled plans to import our usual supplies of Japanese tea last spring when news of the disaster at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant became known. Instead, we quickly arranged to purchase as much tea from the 2010 harvest as we could. Because of the good keeping qualities of Japanese tea, that decision served us and our customers well.

Our actions, as it turned out, may have been somewhat premature, as much tea from the 2011 harvest tested negatively throughout the year for contamination. But, as this was a serious matter we believed that caution should prevail, and we did not waiver from our original decision.

Now, a new tea season is beginning, and we look forward to expanding our selection of safe and clean Japan green tea. We have contacted our suppliers, made our initial choices, and will receive tasting samples once the teas are harvested and manufactured (this will be around the end of May until the middle of June depending on the location of the tea gardens). At the same time we will evaluate the testing results for those teas that we are interested in.

Our growers and producers are confident that their upcoming teas will pass the test with NO CONTAMINATION DETECTED. The majority of their teas tested well in 2011, and the numbers should be even better this year. We will rely on Japanese testing to be our guide in these matters. Why? Because Japanese standards are MORE STRICT than those set forth by the US.

For example, test results for cesium radioactivity in food is expressed in becquels per kilogram (Bq/kg). Japan bans the sale of food products emitting more than 500 Bq/kg. But testing conducted in the U.S. according to Food and Drug Administration regulations permits foods registering up to 1,200 Bq /per kilogram to be sold.

We will make our final tea selections from among those teas that test NEAR or AT ZERO for contamination. The first tea from the 2012 spring season is our HASHIRI SHINCHA from Shizuoka Prefecture. Its test results are very clean – less than <2BQ/kilo – which is about as close to AT ZERO as we think it is possible to attain.

We promise to do the best we can to provide transparent information – all of the test results from our 2012 Japanese green tea will be posted on-line and available in the store for those who are interested.

Of course, purchasing Japanese tea is a personal matter and we respect each customer’s decision. We will do our best to help you make an informed decision, and to feel comfortable purchasing Japanese tea from us.

2012 New Harvest Tea versus ‘New’ Tea

It’s the time of year when fresh tea from the new harvest in China and India begins to show up in the US. It is also the time when some tea vendors add new teas that are not from the new harvest. So it is important for tea enthusiasts to pay attention to harvest dates and know what they are purchasing. Some of you may know this information, many of you will not, so it is worth repeating.

It is helpful to know in what part of spring certain Chinese teas are made: some teas are made from the end of March into early April; many teas are made in mid-April; and others are made from the end of April into early May before the spring tea season comes to an end.

Tea production times follow the same pattern each year, so this information tells us that it is not possible to have certain teas ahead of their usual production dates.

The only 2012 China spring teas available now in the US are a handful of Pre-Qing Ming ( Ming Qian ) green and black teas ( tea plucked before April 5th ) that have been air-shipped over to a few eager tea vendors like Tea Trekker.  Teas from the 2nd seasonal plucking time (April 6th to April 20th) such as white teas, yellow tea, some black and early oolongs will be here soon.

2012 green teas from Japan and Korea have not yet been made – the tea harvest in these countries begins in late spring. These teas (with the exception of Japanese Shincha) are still 4+ weeks away from being harvested (depending on the region and location of the tea gardens).

Right now many tea vendors are introducing ‘new’ teas to their store and websites, and tea wholesalers are looking to move out last years tea at reduced prices. The important thing to realize about that is this – simply because a tea is ‘new’ to a store or website does not mean that it is new tea from the 2012 harvest, and tea enthusiasts should not fall into the trap of thinking 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 teas are still tasty. 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 harvest teas are so close to being available.

Tea vendors who bring new harvest spring teas over in early April send this tea by air so that the tea arrives when it is just days old and super-fresh.  (Shipments of these same teas sent via sea cargo arrive at the historic ‘normal’ time in late July and August). Any tea lover who has had a chance to drink tea this fresh knows what a thrill it is!

So plan your tea purchasing accordingly and make sure that you understand what you are purchasing regarding the dates of harvest.

At Tea Trekker we have begun to list the season and year of the harvest on our green, white, yellow, and oolongs, and some black and Pu-erhs, too. We believe that when dating matters, it matters alot, and that tea enthusiasts who know what these differences mean are better able to make the right choices when purchasing premium tea.

Our first 2012 China teas have arrived!

Yesterday the delivery man lugged 5 large boxes of tea into the store. When he asked us what was in them, and we said TEA he looked unimpressed. I didn’t have the heart to tell him how many more of these boxes he will be bringing us in the next few weeks.

So, now, finally, the long winter wait is over! The China spring tea harvest is beginning in earnest.

In Western China teas from Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces are coming to market quickly and in great abundance. Eastern China tea regions are beginning to buzz with energy as the demands of the harvest increase each day.

Our first teas to arrive again this year are from Yunnan. Our ever-popular, fresh, sweet-tasting,and slender Yunnan Spring Buds are back (did I mention reasonably priced ? ) and this year we will have a sweet, flavorsome modern-style Yunnan Bai Mudan white tea once again. This is one of the prettiest we have ever had, and something delicious for the fans of last year’s Yue Guang Bai. We have missed this tea so it is good to have it back again.

2011 Winter Taiwan High Mountain Tea

High mountain oolongs or gao shan are Taiwan’s most distinctive teas. These teas yield rich, juicy, full-flavored and high-fragrance teas. Gao shan teas are hand-plucked and grow in high-elevation tea gardens (4,000 to 8,000 feet ) located in the mountains of central Taiwan.

There are two seasons for gao shan tea: spring and winter (winter plucking begins in October). Tea from each season brings its own delicious characteristics to the cup; spring begins the new harvest year and winter tea brings it to an end. Spring teas possess the vigor of renewed growth at the time of bud-break and winter teas reflect the rich maturity and high-fragrance of the final crop of the season.

The yield for gao shan is small, due to the high elevation, thin air at high altitudes, and the small size of the tea gardens (under 5 acres). Also, each pluck is comprised of the complete stem end of the branch with 3 or 4 leaves attached. This style of plucking effectively eliminates the ability to pluck a greater yield or to use different leaf plucks to make other teas. This combination of factors, coupled with the difficulties of farming on nearly vertical, steeply-sloped land, and the challenges of a short growing season is not conducive for large outputs of tea.

But happily these conditions are conducive for crafting small-batch teas from tea bushes that are well-adapted to their environment. While gao shan does not have a long growing season, it does have, more importantly, a long dormant period. Dormancy, or winter hibernation, provides essential rest for the tea bushes. Rest is necessary for the plants to adequately absorb minerals and nutrient from the soil, and to gather plentiful energy before the growing season begins anew in the spring.

Careful cultivation, and an enviable terroir ( the effects of soil composition, weather and micro-climates on flavor and aroma ) yields teas brimming with concentrated, abundant, sweet flavors and intoxicating, floral aromas.

The Signature of a Good Gao Shan

These teas are comprised of the complete stem end of the branch with 3 or 4 connecting leaves attached. These clusters can be strikingly large, and the presence of stem and their connectivity is one of the signatures of a good gao shan (do not remove the stem!). Our teas are clean and whole, and do not contain broken bits. The amino content of this leaf is high, giving each tea a rich, chewy mouth-feel and a persistent, pure, clean vegetal taste.

Winter gao shan is believed by many to be the finest, purest, most concentrated expression of this style of oolong.

 

Comparing the Flavor Characteristics

Comparing different gao shans from these famous tea mountains is an astonishing way to understand the effects of terroir.While gao shans have much in common one to another, each region and each tea mountain produces a unique tea.

We are thrilled to offer our tea enthusiast customers the opportunity to taste a well-chosen selection of gao shans from Taiwan’s famous tea mountains:

  • Ali Shan
  • Li Shan
  • Li Shan, Da Yu Ling   ( a region of Li Shan)
  •  Shan Lin Xi .
  • and a delicious new Tung Ting, too, for good measure.

Please also note, a comparative tasting of these teas will give you a very true picture of their flavor characteristics and personalities as the tea is all from the same plucking season. Also, we have asked for un-roasted, or modern style teas, which allows the fresh, natural vibrancy of the flavor and aroma to be savored. This also keeps the comparison within the same parameters.

It is not often that such a choice selection of gao shan is found in the US – even in Taiwan a selection of gao shans can be difficult to source. Despite the small production and the high cost, many tea farmers have waiting lists comprised of tea lovers hoping for a small quantity from the next seasonal batch. Sometimes people wait several years before someone drops out and they are able to purchase some tea.

We suggest purchasing a 10-gram pack of each tea ( or a larger quantity if you wish! ) and share the tea drinking experience with your most enthusiastic tea loving friends.

Each 10 gram sample will yield multiple pots of tea, in quantities varying depending on the size of the teapot and the amount of leaf and water used. But essentially, each 10 gram packet, re-steeped accordingly, will yield about 90 ounces of tea. See the detail page for each gao shan for steeping instructions.

Visit www.teatrekker.com to view our selection of gao shan and to order from our limited supply.