In November 2023, Tour de Tea’s entire Japanese range was put to the test, pitting existing infusions against newfound brews from every corner of Japan. Any alteration would suggest a wonderful evolution.

As mentioned in the Japan Prospective article, during the quest for an elusive Hojicha – no compelling argument surfaced to supplant the existing Japanese range. Our Genmaicha and Japanese Sencha will remain unchanged. Instead, an expansion will ensue for 2024, incorporating distinctly beautiful and characterful discoveries. In the pursuit of tea and ceramics, lingering observations have enriched our perspectives on the landscape of Japanese industry.

The Scale of the Industry in Which We Engage:

In a nation of approximately 125 million, one might forgive the assumption that international industries are operating on a grandiose scale.

Unexpectedly, each juncture of the expedition demonstrated enchanting restraint and containment within industrial production. This ought not to have been surprising, having aligned ourselves exclusively with businesses that echo Tour de Tea’s values: reverence, ethics, and quality – virtues that are most likely found in fine specialists. Yet, anticipating the scale, reputation and success of these business partners, we expected to encounter a manifestation of Japan’s bustling, expansive industrial production. What was discovered, however, was a source of modest charm.

Visits to larger tea producers showed them operating as a collective within village communities, spanning multiple family farms. Despite their size, the companies maintained their own private plantations – experimenting with soil and production, perpetually innovating methods which shape the health of their crops and character of their leaves. The smaller, single-estate farmers ran businesses reminiscent of a cellar door, boasting unique farming methods and cultivars endemic to the area. All stages of tea processing were done methodically, mindfully and peacefully – yielding superior results.

Our ceramicists, despite crafting vessels that epitomise the elegance and acute precision of modern Japanese design, created their pots and cups in a clean and ventilated factory of under fifty employees. With gracious invitation, each stage of the process was observed, from casting to final assembly. Every facet of production was meticulously undertaken by hand. Their pottery staff have been employed with an emphasis on re-skilling older generations, thereby fostering workplace stability and community security as populations age and younger citizens migrate from small towns to bustling cities. This both preserves the artistry of an ancient craft, and protects the economic strength and overall well-being of rural communities.

Japanese Tea in a Post, Post-War Landscape.

A revelation awaited when traversing major cities — a noticeable absence of tea: a beverage assumed to be ubiquitous in a nation with deep tea-rooted traditions. Experiences in Sri Lanka and India have stood in stark contrast, where handwritten cardboard signs detailing ten different ways to serve black tea are a common sight every ten or so meters.

In Japan, tea was occasionally complimentary with meals at some restaurants. However beyond deliberately seeking tea houses and ceremonies, the predominant hot beverages on offer and in widespread promotion were sweetened, milky matcha, and filtered coffee. This caught us off guard. We theorised that perhaps tea, with its ritualistic gravitas, was a custom best reserved for the home. Perhaps it was something special to be shared intimately with family and friends, unsuited for consumption amidst the hustle and bustle. This hypothesis seemed well supported by the ‘no eating while walking’ rule of etiquette.

In conversations with locals and industry professionals, we gleaned insights into the following reasons for this phenomenon:

American Influence:

American influence, disseminated predominantly through film, television and music, pervades numerous nations. Japan is no exception – despite a recent history that might have warranted rejection. Removed from more immediate historical events and tragedies, the younger generation in Japan appears to revel in American-Western culture. This inclination is unmistakable in the prevalence of high-quality vintage stores saturating fashion precincts. They span stories high, exclusively stocked with 1990’s American Slouch items — college sports-jackets, hip-hop fashion, woodland knits and plaid flannels. Consequently, America’s more recent embrace of sweet matcha lattes has fuelled an all-encompassing obsession on Japanese soil.

Complacent Expectations:

Tea is undoubtedly a domestic ritual in Japan. As such, the younger generation has grown up with tea as a constant companion during every meal and moment in life. In simple terms, as one of our tea farmers aptly expressed, “the young people believe tea should be free.”

This perception has seemingly made selling premium tea a challenging endeavour when targeting a younger market in major cities.

Shifting Domestic Structures:

The traditions and rituals of tea are often imparted through generations. However, with the surge of women into the workforce, older generations no longer reside within multi-generational households. The existence of three-generation households is dwindling, along with the opportunity for grandparents to impart knowledge and tradition to their grandchildren.

These evolving landscapes have inevitably reshaped the reception and behaviour of tea culture in Japan – but not necessarily positively in the context of pure leaf tea appreciation. However, it did mean that discussions of Tour de Tea’s agenda, to educate and promote premium tea, were met with sighs of appreciation and somber gratitude by our Japanese business partners.

As always, our aim is to share tea at its zenith, sourced from producers who approach their craft with an artisanal philosophy. It is through an unwavering commitment to quality that we champion tea, preserving its esteemed position in society — or, in the Australian context, endeavouring to elevate it.

The values embodied at Tour de Tea resulted in the development of affectionate relationships in foreign, professional environments. Authentic connection to ceremony, mindfulness and sensorial delight fostered a deep camaraderie with our newfound producers.

Despite myriad unexpected observations, the power of tea to act as a medium of connection and community, across hemispheres and language barriers, never ceases to amaze.