World O-Cha festival 2016

Three weeks after the end of this great tea event that happens once every three years in Shizuoka, this is my little “report”.
However, I could not provide a very complete report as this year, for the first time, I participated as an exhibitor with Thés du Japon. Alone on the first day, accompanied by only one tea friend (a Chinese woman, yes, French and Chinese selling Japanese tea!) to help me over the next three days, I have to say that I have hardly had time to visit the others Exhibitors and multiple conferences.
However, compared to the last two editions, it seemed to me to see a much better general level. Far more exhibitors offering quality teas prepared in teapots, not too much instant, tea bags and other cheap bottled drinks. Always a lot (too much?) of black and semi-oxidized teas, but at the same time, on this type of teas, the level has improved a lot in recent years. This does not prevent me from thinking that Japan must above all put forward the green tea, steamed in particular, true particularity of the country. The black spot remains a weak presence of exhibitors from non-Shizuoka producing areas.
Nevertheless, with Thés du Japon I offered 12 teas, five of which were from Shizuoka, but also two from Uji (the Oku-midori from Dôsenbô and the very refined Saemidori from Wazuka), the Kôshun from Asamiya, probably The best “pearl” this year (everything was sold during the festival), the Ryôfû in Mimasaka (again a tea that greatly fascinated the curiosity of visitors), two teas from Ureshino (kama-iri Benifûki and tamaryokucha Tsuyuhikari), a kama-iri cha of Gokase (Mine-kaori). Regarding kama-iri cha, I also proposed the Fuji-kaori from Fujieda, and I can say this type of tea, very little known and unusual, were also very popular during the festival.

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This is not limited to this event, but I notice that during tastings evant or seminars, kama-iri cha always find an excellent echo among customers or visitors here in Japan. Indeed, many doesn’t know these teas yet excellent, easy to prepare, and relatively cheap in general, so tasting provides a fresh and seductive experience. It is also notable that this type of tea is quite difficult to find, so for amateurs knowing kama-iri cha at least by name, an event related to it is always a good opportunity.

Anyway, to return to the festival, I proposed and strongly recommended the sencha from Ôma by Mr. Nakamura, a Yabukita and a wonderful Yamakai. On Saturday, I was even very surprised to see Mr. Nakamura arrive in my booth where, for two or three hours, he prepared his two teas for our lucky visitors. It was a great moment, a big surprise because this initiative on his part was completely spontaneous.

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Regarding the teapots, besides a few banko-yaki pieces by Shimizu Jun, I proposed a beautiful selection of Shiraiwa Taisuke and Itô Gafû. I wanted a “young” selection. If the works of Taisuke have attracted much attention from the curious (foreigners), the Japanese have especially shown interest in Gafû, the latter being particularly appreciated by tea lovers and even more Chinese tea lovers. Nevertheless, this festival is still not the ideal place for the sale of this type of object.

 

In addition to the exhibitors, the festival offers many demonstrations (tradition related to tea in various countries, temoni-cha, etc.) and conferences and seminars. There was one that I wanted to see absolutely, concerning the “vintage” sencha.
If the idea of “hine-cha”, voluntarily aged tea is common and known in Uji, essentially for gyokuro and tencha (matcha), this very rarely exceeds storage for one to two years. Here, the samples of sencha presented in the examination method, two teas of Hon.yama and two of Tenryû, were each in their vintages of 2002, 2003 and 2004. Simple storage in sachets under nitrogen at 3 ° C. All Yabukita, for simple comparison.
This seminar presented the result of an experiment carried out voluntarily by two tea professionals since 2000. After two years, inevitably appears this characteristic odor of oxidized tea, outdated, called “hine-shu”. Yet by letting another two years pass, this smell begins to disappear, and even ends up completely disappearing. This is the first incredible conclusion for the Japanese tea professionals, while this “hine-shu” smell has always been synonymous of “end of life” for a tea. But there is another important point. For experiment, one of the teas (a 2003 Hon.yama) was part condition in 5Kg bag, and another part in 50g bags. This is the other conclusion: the tea preserved by 5 Kg, had very clearly this characteristic odor of oxidation, whereas stored by 50g, the same tea was always very good. It is thus conditioned in small quantities that one can obtain a long storage and Japanese steamed green tea “vintage”.
Nevertheless, it seems to me that it is really more adapted to speak of “vintage” than of “maturation” or “aging”, indeed, the teas appear always fresh and good, with many aromas, but with less body, very soft . In short, we must not wait for an evolution, a radical change.
One of the messages that could be heard then, an idea that I found particularly interesting is that under these conditions, these “vintage sencha”; Rather than becoming new products for tea merchants, become a new dimension for the consumers themselves. Storage in small packaging, 3 ° C, the refrigerator’s vegetable sieve does the trick (the temperature itself does not seem primordial, at room temperature the process is only faster, but the refrigerator keeps a constant temperature) : In clear, why not store a great tea for many years as one would do with a great wine? For example, a Tôbettô of the year of one marriage, open 10 years after to celebrate marriage anniversary ?
The unknown remains of course with which teas it will work or not? It is obvious that a quality tea, with very good drying is an indispensable condition.
Finally, I only regret that the teas were proposed only in examination mode, and not in teapot, with several infusions. I understand that it would have been difficult given the number of participants.

It was in any case four dense and rich days, a moment of happiness and meeting around / thanks to the tea. I regret that this event takes place only once every three years. In fact there is no other large-scale event about tea in Japan, which is quite significant of the crisis that is happening with tea in Japan. There will be a tea exhibition next year for the first time in Tokyo, but it will be held in the framework of a “coffee shop and drink” fair reserved for professionals. Thus, it is very likely that rather than “real tea”, will be mainly presented products made with tea, like teas bags, latte, etc …
Thus, with its somewhat hybrid format aimed at both tea-loving consumers and professionals, the World O-cha Festival is indeed the only significant event presenting tea in a serious way. So, see you in three years!

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3 replies

  1. I have a question about Uji’s hine-cha. This aging that they do with the tea, is this what is known as the ‘traditional way’ of aging tea?

    For example, this one shop I order from in Uji, they advertise that they age their sencha and gyokuro in the traditional manner, which consists of storing the leaves (I have no idea in what form) in clay jars or wooden boxes exposed to air, packed to over 120% capacity (in order to keep excess air out), at room temp or slightly below. Also, various other measures are taken to ‘wake’ the tea, though I’ve never been able to ascertain what those are.

    This shop orders really bitter or astringent teas, and through this process they become very sweet and thick later in the year. That’s all I really know about it.

    I was just wondering if you knew the exact details of this method, and why it isn’t used more often or at all, as far as I know, outside one or two tea shops that sell Uji-cha. Obviously, one reason would be that most tea shops probably value consistency over the changing of taste that happens when using this method.

    • Thank you for your comment.
      In most of the case, aging is made at low temperature (between 3 and 8°C), in sealed package (vacuum or not). And the taste is enough different.
      Aging at ambient temperature (over 30°C the summer with high moisture level) allow no control on the aging, and after one year, most of the teas, especially shade ones, get oxide (which give an “acid” scent) even sometimes on better condition storage. I would be curious what shop are doing this “traditional” method.

      • The shop is called Horaido. And yes, I do believe he doesn’t age it for more than a year (like other shops, I take it he sells the current year’s harvest for that year only), though I could be wrong.

        His email as listed on his site is horaido@kyoto-teramachi.or.jp

        I’ve asked him about the method before a few times, and if you’re curious he’ll probably answer any questions you have. I wrote to him in English, and I suspect if I knew Japanese I would have been able to get more information from him.

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