I’m back on my blog after almost a month of absence justified by an important activity here. Indeed, the very dense and once again weird season of shincha, which started too early to finish quite late because of delays in refining teas, was added the preparation for the opening of the Thés du Japon store. Everything went very quickly, from the research of the place to the development and moving in, for an open on August 4th.
So here I am installed with teapots and a long list of teas in the Thés du Japon Aozuru-chaho shop in Yanaka, Tokyo. With Nezu and Sendagi, Yanaka form the town that is called “yanesen”, one of the last truly authentic neighborhoods of Tokyo, with many small shops, galleries in its narrow streets, many temples and shrines too. The shop is located in “Yomise-dôri” street, which is at the corner of the famous “Yanaka-Ginza” street, and can be accessed both by subway from Sendagi station and JR Nippori or Nishi-Nippori.
It’s a new adventure, a step that I have been longing for, that will allow me to reconnect with more human contact, to present teas and teapots directly, in short an essential additional channel of tea transmission, well necessary in Japan, where everything remains to be done to save quality teas from being lost. I also hope to make it a place of passage for all foreigner tea fans visiting Japan, often very frustrated to be able to find in Japan quality tea out of the ordinary, as well as satisfactory explanations.
At the beginning of next year, it will be just 10 years since I passed the exams that allowed me to become the 1st French, and one of all 1st foreigners, certified in Japan “Japanese Tea Instructor”. In fact, this new stage, this Yanaka store even comes just ten years after I started studying for the Nihon-cha Instructor exams! Ten very rewarding years on the human level, with many wonderful experiences, but also ten difficult years, with their lot of frustrations and doubts.
10 years ago, the situation in the world of Japanese tea was very different, and if many saw with interest the arrival of a foreigner “instructor”, I was rather seen as a curiousity, and few doors opened. It seems to me that I actually arrived 5 years too early. I remain so very grateful to Maruyama-en, despite the lack of interest in their products, to give me a chance. With Thés du Japon, project launched in 2010, speaking Japanese and then as a certified Instructor, there was no real obstacle for sourcing. Thus the network has grown progressively (and continues to) with encounters and nice discoveries. In 2014, I left Maruyamaen to dedicate myself 100% to Thés du Japon, starting the activities in Japan as well.
And here I am in Yanaka, writing my first article from the shop. It’s a new page, almost white, everything remains to be done. Nevertheless, the online activity will continue as before but with a link to physical activity in Japan, hoping that many of my readers and Thés du Japon users will come to visit me here.
To return to this 2018 season, with very early harvests, due to a too fast rise in temperatures in March and April, it was again a difficult year, with tea bushes growth too fast, sometimes giving teas lacking of taste. At the same time in many cases, one can expect a lot of maturation.
Overall, 2018 remains seems to me a better vintage than 2017. The teas that are particularly close to my heart this year are first of all Asamiya’s Kôshun, which I finally get back after two years. Then, the unshaded Gokô from Wazuka. An excellent unshaded sencha from Uji, and also excellent Gokô, which shows that this cultivar is full of resource and should not be limited to gyokuro, for which it is certainly superb.
There is also the “zaira” from Umegashima, which has evolved compared to the 2017 version, hoping even better next year. Also, from the same plantation, Yabukita is a real treat. Online in a few days, I’ll propose a sencha from Hoshino (Yame), unshaded, rare thing in this region, made with Oku-hikari. Very interesting tea, which allows to taste fully the beautiful terroir of Hoshino. Of course, I will continue to propose new things in the course of the year. With now a shop in Tokyo, I would like to expand my offer of teas of the Kanto region, Sayama (Saitama) of course with its local cultivars, Sashima (Ibaraki) too, and maybe Ashigara (Kanagawa).
On the teapots side, I want to continue to highlight the (rare) young potters, Gafû, Yamada Yûtarô, and Shiraiwa Taisuke, but also others like this Hasami-yaki potter you will see in a few days in the next newsletter. There is also the formidable Bizen-yaki potter Kobashi Masaaki, whose quality of teapots is not only unique to Bizen, but rivals easily with the top of Tokoname.
There will be new balances to find, but I hope a lot of fun for me and for the tea fans who follow me here and elsewhere, from Japan and abroad.