No doubt that the 2018-2019 season was of great density for me and for Thés du Japon. First of all, there was great satisfaction both in terms of teas and teapots sourcing, and it was also a very eventful season. But even more so, this season was without a doubt the most decisive in the history of Thés du Japon since the beginning of its history more than eight years ago: after all these years of online work and events, we have finally opened our shop in Tokyo, in the district of Yanaka.
This is something that I have been waiting for a long time, for me a return to basic essentials, ie direct contact with the public, the exchange with tea lovers. The dialogue and even more the possibility of tasting the teas are essential to succeed in transmitting all the potential of the Japan tea production. This is all the truer as here Japanese tea is still too poorly considered, too poorly known, so that words are not enough to arouse curiosity first, then the real interest.
The reception of foreigners, more especially francophones, on a trip in Tokyo is also one of the missions of this Yanaka boutique. Being able to meet and chat over a tea with regulars online users from Thés du Japon is also a huge pleasure, shared I hope.
Finally, to expose to the eyes of the greatest number, give the opportunity to touch, to feel, quality teapots is again a primary mission, again especially in Japan where more and more homes do not have teapots, then that most old tea shops only offer low-end items.
But it is also for the reasons mentioned above that it is not easy to be known outside the restricted circle of professionals and connoisseurs, and that remains so to do, posing 2018 as a kind of renewal and new beginning as well.
Because the concept of Thés du Japon is both obvious and simple but also strangely new for Japanese tea. offering a very wide variety of non-blended teas, all from single estate plantations, ie sold by region, producer and cultivar (varietal), seems at first sight all to be normal and usual in the world of wine, but also black tea, but is actually still very rare in Japan. It is a concept that is finally quite new, which must be developed more to finally bring to light an original and quality production, still hidden by a too standardized production, more and more cheap, which will not be able to survive in a country like Japan.
The particularly outstanding teas sourced in this year were numerous. There is above all the non-shaded Gokô cultivar sencha from Wazuka. This tea is a marvel, first, it is an excellent non-shaded (rare in “Uji”) sencha, and above all it shows the decidedly formidable potential of Gokô, this cultivar born in Uji, usually reserved for shaded tea, kabuse, gyokuro, and more rarely matcha. We can thus see with this sencha that the particular perfumes of Gokô, red fruit, fig, to which number of high-end gyokuro of Uji accustomed us, also appear strongly in a sencha without shading. This creates a great contrast with this fragrance, usually heralding strong umami, and the taste of sencha, fresh with a nice balance between astringency and umami. This sencha is available again online and in store, and I can only recommend it very strongly, obviously not knowing what will give the 2019 version.
Another return of a big success of the year, the Kôshun from Asamiya. It is no longer necessary to present this excellent cultivar from Shizuoka with scent of aromatic herbs and sweet flowers, but outside Shizuoka it remains very rare and this sencha from Asamiya is frankly a marvel. Here again superb balance, no astringency too pronounced, and a superb perfume and perfectly characteristic. The cost performance is unbeatable, and I can only pray that the future 2019 vintage will be as good as this one.
More special even, 2007 Izumi cultivar Sencha from Sashima. If for three or four years this producer only makes black tea with this incredible variety, he has done for many years also sencha with it, some with more or less success. This 2007 vintage, made with wilting was a superb raw “aracha” tea, a simple refining (final drying) affirmed as a delight, with formidable aromas of yellow fruits. It is no longer available but will be replaced soon by a sencha Izumi made without wilting this time of 2014. It will take a few more years before this producer can redo sencha with this variety, so do not miss this sencha where the characteristics of Izumi are well present.
Of course, there are plenty of others like Sashima Hokumei …
Indeed, since the opening of the shop in Tokyo, I also want to highlight the teas coming from Kanto, the Tokyo area, with the teas of Sayama (Saitama), Sashima (Ibaraki), and I hope soon teas of Ashigara (Kanagawa). It is a pity that in Tokyo so few people know that there is tea production so close to home, with many more young producers.
The work on the teapots also brought a lot of pleasure. Meetings with Yamamoto Hiromi that continued of course, but also the meeting with Bigetsu and his beautiful clay, teapots that I like the most at the moment, and the beginning of collaboration with the young hope of Banko-yaki, Ôtsuki Shun.
Last autumn, I had the opportunity with the Japanese Tea Instructor Association to participate in the organization of the Nihon-cha Award in Paris. Then with the Japan Tea Export Council we were able to make last February a presentation of Japanese tea for professionals in the high end hotel industry in Paris.
So many meetings and opportunities to raise awareness of Japanese tea in France, while it seems to me finally still poorly treated and misunderstood abroad, still dominated by idiotic clichés coming to divert the attention from the essence of things. Things evolve a little, but really slowly.
Because 2019 also marks my 10 years of activity as a Japanese Tea Instructor, 10 years that I was the first French to get this qualification, and almost as much time since the beginning of this blog.
Was not this the perfect timing for opening Yanaka’s shop?
Finally, at the beginning of March, I was able to welcome Olivier Schneider for a series of seminars on Puerh, where we sketched a start of work on linking Japanese teas to puerh that could lead to more in-depth research.