When I’m drinking tea, I’m in the comfort zones of my flat or a teahouse. Alone or with people I know. Small groups of tealovers or people who think: okay Jelmer, you go being a teageek and I’ll just say I like it to please you. So, imagine that teageek walking into a classroom of more than forty teageeks for a 2 day comprehensive course on Japanese tea. That’s teageek heaven I can tell you!
It must have been my first time meeting so many tealovers at an event. Sort of my coming out you can say. It’s quite hard to find a teageek in the wild. On the streets. The people you meet are online or at events like this. So, apart from the fact that this was such a cool weekend on Japanese tea, it was also a way for me to meet people with the same passion.
During this weekend, hosted by the Dutch International Tea & Coffee Academy in The Hague, a heavyweight delegation from Japan came to Holland to spread knowledge on Japanese teas. I was just in a period of my tealife that I started to lose interest in Japanese tea. When standing in front of my tea collection, 99 out of a 100 times I chose a Taiwanese or a Chinese tea over a Japanese one. Which is kind of a waste, because I had about 20 teas I brought from Japan that had to be consumed pretty soon before it would turn devilish red. So this weekend also was a way for me to revive my interest in the kind of tea that not long ago dragged me into the world of tea.
The (first ever) weekend course was organized by the Japan Tea Export Council in collaboration with the NPO Nihoncha Instructor Associaton. Goal was to spread more interest and knowledge in Japanese tea, a tea that has some problems setting foot on the international market due, partly because of the high prices as a result of producing in a wealthy country. In the delegation was, next to Japanese tea superstar Matsumoto-san (the vice-president of Obubu Farms I met early 2016 in Wazuka), Dr. Yoriyuki Nakamura, director of the Tea Science Center, Seijo Okumura, director of NPO Nihoncha Instructor Association, Yuko Ono, tea adviser of Yuko Ono Sthlm, instructor Rika Ilmori and Oscar Brekell, of whom I will talk a little bit more further in this post.
The first day of the course was a going back to school experience: lots and lots of information and theory on the Japanese tea industry, production, history, culture and cultivation. Valuable and very detailed information which I just cannot share with you in a few sentences. The kind of stuff that would be perfect to share with your customers if you’re a tea seller, information that makes you a true expert on the topic. After all the classes we finished the day with an hour of quality assessment & evaluation in which we had to test three different kind of Sencha the way the Japanese test the quality of teas: sniffing the dry and wet leaves, tasting the brews in every stage, feeling the dry leaves for its softness and so on. I tested the teas and put them into the right order, until just before the answers were given I somehow changed my opinion and swapped A and B. Lesson learned (again): always stick to your first impressions!
Day 2 was more practical and more about drinking tea. I was almost spacing it, so much tea we were offered during this day. First Oscar told is a bit more on the theory of brewing Japanese tea and then Yuko Ono showed how to brew it, before we had to do it ourselves. At my table Dr. Nakamura was helping us out brewing the Sencha, Gyokuro and Matcha the right way and he made one badass Gyokuro I will never forget. 10 grams of leaf, 60 ml of water, a super intense brew so concentrated that you got a bit dizzy while drinking your shot of Gyokuro. If you think Japanese tea is not complex: this tea was one of the most complex teas I ever drank. There were so many things happening in my mouth that I just couldn’t place them all.
To see Dr. Nakamura brew Japanese tea was maybe my highlight of the weekend. How he exactly knew when a brew was perfect by feeling the Kyusu, the weight and the temperature of it, and looking at the leaves. That’s an expert doing this thing.
At the end we received a beautiful Japanese certificate of completion (that makes me an expert too right?) before parting ways. To wrap up, a little shout-out to Oscar Brekell, the Swedish Nihoncha-instructor that presented himself as the perfect Japanese tea ambassador during this weekend. Such a young guy but what a great expertise he has. Representing Japanese tea with humour and most importantly a lot of knowledge. A true ambassador who can really spread the vibes on Japan Tea. I’m still impressed, go see him lecturing or teaching wherever you can!
日本語は下に↓ Pictures taken last weekend during the “Comprehensive two-day course in Japanese tea 2016” at the International Tea & Coffee Academy in The Hague, The Netherlands. What a great audience we had! It was very encouraging to see so many people with a great interest in Japanese tea. All the participants where very active asking a lot of questions. I really hope that I will be able to go back soon again. オランダのInternational Tea & Coffee Academyでの2日間の総合的な日本茶講座が一昨日無事に終了しました。参加者の皆様はとても真面目で質問が多く、日本茶に対しての興味と好奇心が良く伝わりました。 機会を作って、またぜひ戻って現地で講座を行いたいと考えています。
So do I drink more Japanese tea now? I actually do, I even finished some teas already. I experiment with heavy-brewed Gyokuro (never as good as Dr. Nakamura’s) and I hot and cold brew a lot of Sencha to develop my tasting palate for Japanese teas. It’s still not my absolute favorite, but it’s such a unique kind of tea that it can’t be missed. Standing in front of my tea collection now, I’m not overlooking my Japanese teas anymore.