Today tea is everywhere but it has a deep, complex history that stretches back thousands of years to Himalayan China, where it was initially used as medicine and for trade. Some of the different types of tea we know today actually originated as different methods of preservation used in various Chinese villages
All teas come from the same plant – Camelia Sinensis (of which there are two main varieties: Chinese and Assamica) with different kinds of tea being created by the different methods of production. One of these processes with the most obvious influence on the final product is oxidisation, which occurs naturally after the leaves are picked. Black tea is allowed to fully oxidise and this removes the chlorophyl, giving black teas their rich, earthy flavour. Green tea is quickly heated in order to prevent oxidisation, this process retains the vegetal flavour and green colour of the chlorophyl.
Tea in Japan
Initially brought from China to Japan by Buddhist monks and subsequently used by the two countries to trade, it was later during a time of separation that Japan developed its own methods of farming, processing and preparation. These practises combined with a specific climate and terroir created distinctly Japanese teas and tea culture, including the traditional Matcha tea ceremony which originated around 500 years ago. Some of these uniquely Japanese practises include:
Steaming tea leaves instead of pan-firing which yields crisper, less astringent green teas like Sencha.
- Stone-grinding tea leaves creating fine powders that can be used in a variety of beverages, from those used in traditional Matcha green tea ceremonies to more modern creations using powders made from different varieties of tea.
Cultivating rare tea varieties such as Benifuki, used to produce a smooth black tea known in Japan as Kocha.
- Growing under shade which increases levels of nutrients like L-theanine – an amino acid that induces alertness while mellowing the flavour of the tea. Shade-growing is used to produce Gyokuro and Matcha.
Japan has a number of prefectures known for growing high grade tea, including Uji & Kagoshima where our teas are produced.
Uji in the Kyoto Prefecture is the traditional centre for production of high quality green tea in Japan due to it’s moderate riverside climate, perfect for tea cultivation. Some of Uji’s farms, factories and tea-houses have existed there for over 500 years, with cultivation and production practices being passed down through generations. Growing tea under shade is said to have originated in Uji.
Kagoshima, an ocean-side town in Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island, has historically had an incredible amount of volcanic activity, with eleven volcanos still active today. Much of the land in Kagoshima has been covered in volcanic ash – a mineral-rich fertiliser that helps produce organic teas naturally high in nutrients.
Having spent our professional lives in kitchens and bars, tea as an ingredient is an idea that always captivated us. As well as preparing it in the traditional way we love serving tea chilled, using it as a mixer in cocktails, a flavour in cooking and baking, or combining with various milks in lattes or shakes.
It’s a concept with a deep history in Japan, with Matcha actually pre-dating loose-leaf teas like Sencha, so it’s only right that we looked there to source the selection of teas we have for you here, of course it helped having existing ties to a supplier who was able to introduce us to some incredibly high-grade teas, some of which are extremely rare to find outside of Japan.
Together we’ve put together a collection that includes some of the traditional classics like Sencha and Matcha, some comparatively more recent arrivals like Hojicha and Gyokuro, and some sourced especially for us like our Kocha (Japanese black tea) and Ground Kocha Powder.
High grade teas are obviously superb when prepared in a classic tea style and we definitely suggest trying traditional preparation methods, but they’re are also remarkably good when chilled, where a more subtle, mellow aspect of the flavour is featured, so we also encourage experimenting with iced teas as well as tea-based cocktails and lattes. You’ll find a bunch of ideas and recipes for those in our blog with much more to follow.
Matcha has recently become popular worldwide but it has a history in Japan that stretches back centuries. That history includes use as an ingredient in sweets like mochi which would accompany the ceremonial tea.
The traditional method of stone-grinding tea to make a powder can also be applied to other teas like our Hojicha roasted green tea and Kocha black tea. Both are produced in Japan from 100% tea leaves, unlike tea powders or extracts available elsewhere. Japanese black tea or Kocha is extremely rare outside of japan and so our Ground Kocha powder was sourced just for us by our supplier.
When the leaves are ground into powder and consumed whole we get a far greater amount of nutrients and caffeine from the tea than when simply steeping the leaves.
We find a teaspoon of Matcha or Kocha tea powder equivalent to about a half shot of coffee, though high levels of antioxidants slow the absorption of caffeine, making for a much gentler ride.
Tea also contains the amino acid L-theanine – which increases alpha-frequency brain activity, calming the mind while increasing alertness. The combination of L-theanine and caffeine is often used in Nootropics for this reason. Ground teas provide this combination in it’s natural, most bio-available state.
Tea powder is great for use in Lattes and shakes as well as in desserts and we have tons of recipes coming to our blog soon.
We both have long backgrounds in hospitality, Leaf behind the bar and Alex in the kitchen. Sharing a love for fun, clean and humble food one of the things we found in common was a love for tea as an ingredient, whether in cocktails like black tea infused gin, in desserts like moist hojicha tea cake or in savoury dished like green tea soba noodles.
This brought our attention to Asia – where green tea & whisky cocktails are responsible for Chivas Regal’s biggest sales in the region – and more specifically to Japan where using tea as an ingredient goes back centuries, matcha having been used in traditional preparation of things like mochi pounded rice sweets and soba buckwheat noodles.
We’re so grateful to have had the opportunity to build a trusting relationship with a producer of high grade Japanese teas who has displayed an incredible level of integrity and pride in their products and helped us make some of the finest high grade Japanese teas available here, some previously unavailable outside of Japan.
Alongside these teas we are happy to be able to share ideas and recipes that we have gathered through years of work, travel and experimentation. We’re all about combining classics in cool new ways and tea is the unexpected ingredient perfect for binging our food and beverage worlds together.