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Finding your Cup of Tea in Japan

Japan is renowned for its tea culture, but what does this fact mean to a non-Japanese? It’s a lot of hassle to choose your tea. Back in my home country, the choice was simple. To think of it, even too simple: black tea or green tea. People used to drink lots of herbal teas such as willow-herb tea a long time ago though.

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Recently, the situation has changed dramatically, but it wasn’t until I came to Japan that I realized just how many kinds of tea existed. In Azabu-Juban, Jiyugaoka or Ginza you can find excellent shops serving Indian tea like «The Darjeeling», or «Mariage Freres» or «TWG Tea». Personally, I find the optimal combination of price and quality of black tea, koucha in Japanese (紅茶) with «The Darjeeling». I can drink a perfect cup of afternoon tea at the shop or buy some blended loose tea leaves for brewing at home.

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The price is the same as at the supermarket, but the quality is much better. If you prefer to buy at the supermarket, I recommend buying imported loose leaf teas like Twinings or Waitrose. My worst experience was with Ahmad’s Earl Grey teabags which had a very strong smell of bergamot oil. Even British people say that if you want a really good quality Earl Grey, you should buy an expensive loose leaf tea.

On very, very special occasions my Japanese family will have a sophisticated cream tea. At places like the Ritz-Carlton you can choose from 18 different kinds of black, green or herbal tea and they will refill your cup from the pot.

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I won’t talk too much about green tea. There are so many kinds that you just have to find your favorite brand. Basically, I like almost all kinds of ocha (お茶), even the complimentary teabags you get at hotels or the kind you get at Japanese-style restaurants before you even make an order.

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Bottled green tea is just awesome! I bought this one with little Buddha in Nara.

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As for herbal teas, it was rather difficult to find some of my favorite herbs (raspberry leaves, nettle, sage etc.) in Japan. But luckily I have found «The tree of life» (Seikatsu no ki, 生活の木) which meets practically all my needs. The only downside is that it is not cheap. When you buy this tea there are usually two or three weight options: 10 g, 50g and 100 g.

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Article by Olga Kaneda

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