Our CEO and founder, Steve Schwartz, just returned from a trip to Japan. Steve likes to visit some of our tea growers from time to time to try new teas, talk about the teas we’re currently offering, and learn more about the gardens where our tea is grown. This trip was no different. In an action-packed week-long trip, Steve managed to travel all over Japan, visiting gardeners, tea auctions, and Art of Tea clients. He even managed to snag one of the world’s rarest teas. Here are some of his adventures!
We proudly source our Japanese green teas from the top gardeners in Japan. In fact, our Uji Gyokuro‘s grower recently won an award for being the best Gyokuro tea in Kyoto. (If you’ve tried it, you know why!) While travelling through Japan, Steve swung by that same garden to meet with our Gyokuro provider. What makes Gyokuro unique is the process in which its grown. Unlike many other Japanese green teas, Gyokuro is shade grown. This means a shade covers the tea leaves for part of the growing process. This helps maintain the high chlorophyll in the tea leaf, which gives Gyokuro its signature emerald color and vegetal taste.
Our Gyokuro grower’s family is dedicated to the craft of growing and processing tea. His family has owned the same home and tea-growing property for generations and creating the perfect cup of Gyokuro is the grower and blender’s goal. In fact, when Steve first met our Gyokuro provider, he had Steve wait several steeps and re-steeps before letting him try the tea to get the right flavors from the leaves. It took our Gyokuro farmer 10 years to cultivate the tea we sell today.
Discovering New Teas
While visiting with our Gyokuro providers, Steve was able to try a rare and highly-sought after green tea called Shincha. Shincha is a green tea with strong vegetal flavors and a buttery mouthfeel. Shincha is grown in an area of Kyoto that experienced unseasonably cold weather this year. This cool climate stunted tea growth making Shincha even rarer than in previous years. Luckily, Steve was able to grab a rare varietal of specific varietal. To put that in perspective, only about 8.8 pounds of this specific tea exists in the entire world and we now have 2.2 of those.
Steve also had a chance to visit a tea auction in Uji where buyers can purchase a variety of teas. While Steve didn’t participate in the auction, he was still able to look at the available leaves. He also learned that in the event of buyers tying their bids, buyers will play Rock, Paper, Scissors and will negotiate to determine the winner.
Matcha, Matcha, Matcha!
A trip to Japan wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a Matcha factory. Matcha is made from a ground green tea called Tencha. To pulverize this tea and make powder, the leaves and stems are separated. Then, leaves are crushed by large stone pieces that rotate to grind the leaves into powder. This process is painstaking. One set of stones can only grind about 30 grams of Matcha per hour. That’s about the amount of Matcha that goes into one Ceremonial Grade Matcha tin. Of those 30 grams, only about 50% of it is high enough quality to make it to Art of Tea.
The Matcha is then packed, air-shipped, and imported into California where it goes straight into our freezer to preserve freshness. This makes our Matcha one of the freshest green teas available in the United States.
You can see even more moments from Steve’s journey in the gallery below.