Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day 2 Part 2 Food in Japan & Hojicha Processing

Oh, the food in Japan is something to be desired!  Before I move on to the factory, I thought you might be interested in our lunch that was served at the tea auction facility.  As a big foodie, I couldn't skip our lunch presentation for you.  This is the Japanese version of a boxed lunch!

Inside the box was some riced topped with various kinds of delicious sushi and sashimi along with a small bottle of soy sauce and wasabi.  It was so yummy and the perfect lunch to gear us up for the next part of the day! 

After lunch we headed out to the hojicha factory.  (Reminder of what hojicha is.) As the bus pulled up and we all climbed out, you could smell this lovely roasting aroma permeating the air.  Once again were asked to put on hairnets and take off our shoes and put on slippers for sanitary purposes.  Although the look isn't the most attractive, I appreciate the effort for cleanliness. 

As we toured to facility, the smell was intoxicating.  We watched how the tea is taken through to finalize it. Since most everything is done by machines, there were only two workers inside this plant working.  You can again see the high sanitary level of the workers.  The workers had to wear gloves as well.  The mask is not just for sanitary purposes, but also so she doesn't breath in all the hojicha dust. 

Below you can see how the back wall of this bin is covered in tea and beside it are large bags of tea ready to go to market.

After our tour of the plant, we headed off to a wholesale company selling teapots and teacups.  Our day wrapped up with dinner on our own again.  The first night out, we discovered this Thai restaurant called Colonial Kitchen so a group of us decided to venture out to try it.  We were very fortunate to find an English speaking waiter.  He was excited to practice his English too so it worked out well for everyone! 
Can you tell we are tea people? With all the tea on the table, we had a hard time finding room for our plates.  I loved the way they served tea in this restaurant, don't you? 

In this picture is: Far back from left to right, Elise Scott of Pearl Fine Teas, Ken Rudee of Barnes and Watson Fine Teas, and Judith Krall-Russo of Tea Food History . In the front row is Newman Johnston of Teas Etc. and Lynayn Mielke of East-West Tea Emporium.

  Here's a toast to you as you follow me on my journey to day three where we will discover a lovely historic Japanese teahouse, temple, and the big O-Cha (Tea) Festival!

Happy Sipping, Lisa

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day 2 Japanese Tea Processing & Shizouka Tea Auction

Looking good in a hairnet, wouldn't you say?  Today we headed to a tea refinery plant. This is where the aracha is taken for final drying, sorting, and blending.  Again all of this is done by machine.  Our group was asked to wear hairnets (interesting look for all), take off our shoes, and put on slippers to keep the facility clean.  Here I am holding the finished tea-Sencha after final processing. 
We were allowed to peer through large glass windows on the second floor at the processing center below.

It was quite impressive all the machinery used for final processing.

From there we left to go to the Shizuoka Tea Ichiba Tea Market which is where over 200 companies come to bid on about 1,500 kinds of tea in one day. 

We watched a film of the auction process.  When the doors are open to the buyers, there is a huge stampede to the auction tables to start cupping and bidding.  It reminded me of videos you have seen on TV on Black Friday as the eager shoppers rush through the doors to get a great deal!  After the film the men in charge so kindly explained the bidding process to us. 

Each hat color represents a different position: the man in the yellow hat represents the broker, the man in the green hat represents the seller, and the man in the blue hat represents the buyer.

The tea is weighed out for cupping (professional way of tasting teas) using a scale and Japanese coins as the counter weight.  The broker uses an abacus to tell the seller what price the buyer is willing to purchase the tea for. It was amazing to watch how quickly they moved the wooden pieces around on the abacus to calculate the price.   The seller then decides if that price is good or he wants to negotiate further.  The bidding stops when the parties all agree to the price.

Instead of shaking hands to seal up a business deal, all the men clap three times in unison and the deal is done!  After the film and demonstration, our group was in store for a treat.  Mr. Yamanashi, our host and man in the blue hat, had prepared for us to do a special cupping of his teas.

We headed down to the auction room where rows of stainless steel-topped tables lined the room.  It was exciting to be in the same place where teas were sold.  We had the opportunity to see and cup side-by-side different quality levels of the same tea to compare the difference.  I always love to compare different qualities of the same tea side-by-side.  Your palate can really tell the difference if you do it this way. 
Some of the biggest part of tasting is actually smelling.  Here you can see, we not only smell the dry leaf, but the wet leaf as well.  The leaves will speak to you as to their quality and freshness. 

How honored I was to meet and talk with these men in the Japanese tea industry.  To my immediate right is Mr. Yamanashi, our host and President of Yamaichi Trading Company. To his right is his Taiwan friend Jackson Huang who arranged the Japanese portion of the trip for us. To my immediate left is Mr. Enomoto who is a partner with Mr. Yamanashi.  To his left is Mr. Katsutaro who is now retired, but was an expert instructor on how to harvest and machine process tea.

Mr. Yamanashi was so kind  to give all of us a big bag of samples of 10 different kinds of tea in varying grades.  There was a friendly rival between he and Jackson Huang.  He told me laughing in his best English after he gave me my samples, "I am the best host" while pointing over to his friend Jackson.  It was funny to watch these old friends kid with each other!   I kiddingly agreed with Mr. Yamanashi that he was "the very best host indeed." 

Stay with me for part 2 of this wonderful day.  I will show you a hojicha roasting facility and take you to a Thai dinner with my fellow tea friends. 

Happy Sipping and Still Trying to Figure out how an Abacus Works, Lisa