How A Japanese Tea Farm is Fighting Against Japan’s Biggest Problem – Age – Part One


The Japanese tea industry is facing a huge problem.

This problem is hitting many of the respected tea farmers who have been in the industry for decades or even centuries. 

The problem is: Japanese people are getting old.

In particular, tea drinkers in Japan are getting old. This article will show you why the green tea industry is facing the problem and a story of how one tea farmer is trying to combat the problem today.

Japanese tea drinkers are getting old

The average age of a Japanese green tea drinker is said to be 55 years old.  In 2018, the Japanese population had the second highest median age in the world next to Monaco. Based on 2014 estimates, 33% of the Japanese population is above the age of 60.  

Green tea is typically enjoyed by the older generation in Japan, and younger populations tend to be favoring other kinds of drinks such as coffee, soda and other sweet drinks, including fruit juice. 

If you stop on any corner in Tokyo, the self-serving vending machines show you the truth of this favoring. Although green tea is still the most common beverage in Japan, when you stop at stations such as Harajuku where the younger generation tends to hang out more, you see lines of “sweet drinks” in the vending machines.   (I wrote a comprehensive article about vending machine culture and green tea trend in Japan here.)

There is even a word for this in Japan now.  Ochabanare (お茶離れ), which literally means “leaving tea trend,” which describes young people leaving the culture and drinking of tea.

Due to the younger generation not drinking green tea, consumption of green tea in Japan has been decreasing year after year. 

As of 2018, Japan is the eighth largest tea producer in the world (88900 tons/year); however, tea farming itself has unfortunately decreased in recent years.

According to statistics released by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in 2016, the area used for tea farming has decreased from 46200 hectares in 2011 to 43100 hectares in 2016.  That is a 7% decrease in just 5 years.  This is said to be due to multiple reasons:

  1. Imports of tea from other countries such as China is increasing, reducing the price of tea.
  2. Also, farming in general is lacking young labor forces.  Farming is viewed as not “trendy” among the young population, causing a reduction in the labor force.
  3. The younger generation not drinking green tea is surely another main reason for this decline.  

Since tea was introduced to Japan from China in the 7th century, a unique tea culture has evolved in Japan. (Read more about unique Japanese tea culture in my other article.) Tea was initially valued as medicine due to its health benefits and was only available to the rich. Because tea was valued so highly and such a novel product, a unique culture evolved around tea in Japan; a good example is tea ceremonies which were practiced initially among high-class and rich people.    

Because of this novel status, tea farmers have been one of the most respected farmers in Japan for a very long time. Anywhere or any time in history where there are more resources, more inventions happen. A variety of different cultivation methods have evolved in tea industries in Japan over time to get the best tea available to the consumers. One of the most well-known examples of this is Matcha.

Matcha is cultivated by shading tea before harvesting, which increases many health-beneficial chemicals by basically “hungering” the tea plant to crave more sunlight. (Read more about matcha trivia here.)

Another example of such cultivation method is the Chagusaba method( 茶草場). This is a labor-intensive cultivation method commonly practiced over centuries in Shizuoka prefecture where dirt around tea leaves is covered by shrubs of different plants to protect roots from freezing in winter and making the tea taste sweeter. (Try green tea grown by Chagusaba method.)

Though this cultivation method is being designated as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System by the United Nations, due to the above-mentioned reasons, farmers are not able to sustain the method. (Read more about Chagusaba method.)

Though faced with many challenges, Japanese tea farmers are finding new ways to survive and thrive. Arahataen Green Tea Farms has been one of the most innovative leaders of tea farms in Japan, and very well respected by peer tea farmers.    

Arahataen has always been the first brave tea farm to try out new systems in the tea industry.  For example, they were the first farm to use a deep steaming method (Fukamushi 深蒸し) back in 60s to combat the problem of harder tea leaves due to excessive sun in the region. By successfully steaming tea for longer durations, they were able to introduce better tasting tea which was exposed to more sunlight. (Read more about deep steaming here.)

Arahataen was one of the first ones in Japan to adopt “mail subscription” services when TV shopping became popular in Japan, and of course one of the first to utilize the “online subscription” system. This made them the tea company with the highest online sales in Japan in 2016.

Images provided by author.

To Be Continued Tomorrow…



How A Japanese Tea Farm is Fighting Against Japan’s Biggest Problem – Age – Part Two


This is part two, continued from yesterday.

Arahataen’s newest and biggest challenge now is the problem every industry is facing in Japan: Age. With young people leaving tea drinking and the tea culture, what can a company do to solve the problem which is getting more serious every year?

Mr. Arahata’s idea was very simple. “Let’s ask the young people about it.”

Although much of the population of Japan is aging, there are young kids who are full of energy for a better and brighter future. Mr. Arahata’s idea was to get help from the “future” of Japan.

Unlike other countries, such as the USA, Japan has many high schools and junior high schools that specialize in a specific industry.  Many kids study to get into the high school of their dreams, which usually leads them into a university specializing in the industry. If a kid knows what they want to do in the future, Japan is a very good place for them because they get exposure to that industry from a very early age.  (Side note: In fact, I also went to an architect-specialized school (Shibaura Institute of Technology Junior and Senior High School) for my junior high school and part of high school before I came to the USA.)

Arahataen approached the local high school specializing in business industry, Shizuoka Commercial High School (静岡商業高等学校). The school had 844 students in 2017 and is well connected to the local farming industry from a commercial perspective.

Students from Shizuoka Commercial High School

With a partnership with Shizuoka Commercial High School, Arahataen Tea Farm became the teacher of a course for the 8th grade students for a period of one year.

Arahataen’s job as a teacher is to teach kids the basics of tea farming, harvesting, and production. Students were exposed to the real everyday life of the tea industry for one year. As noted above, Arahataen is one of the oldest tea farms of the region, and they handle not only farming but also packaging, distribution, and marketing. Kids were very excited to get hands-on experience in growing tea and distributing into the mass market of the world.  

As part of Curriculum, the goal of the year-long course was to find a way to market the tea to the youth.

After a number of brainstorming sessions, a student came up with the idea to add “something” to the tea so that young people will like it. Their idea was to look for ingredients by learning from drinks popular among students.  They listed drinks they usually drink. The list included drinks such as Cokes, fruit juice, Calpis (popular Japanese soft drink) and cocoa drinks. What was common among all the products were “sweet” and often “sour.”

After the brainstorming sessions, with help from actual production facilities, students prototyped a number of different drinks and snacks.  They shared the prototyped products and surveyed the entire region’s high schools to see which ones they liked the most.

The result of this one-year journey was: Green tea with Lemon.

Students trying to come up with ideas for new tea product

Student trying out prototype tea

Event at school to present the new product developed over one year of effort

With help from Arahataen’s wide and strong connections with local farms, students were able to source local lemon to add to the tea.  Arahataen decided to use one of the most premium teas grown by the Chagusaba method (see above about this method) with sugar cane.  They have powdered the premium tea so that it is easier to mix and drink with cold or hot water, as the kids suggested, since most of them don’t have tea kettles at home.

Powdered tea (Konacha粉茶) is usually made with the non-prime part of green tea. It is usually the result of using the “leftover” tea so that all parts of tea can be sold.  Arahataen did not want to go with low-quality tea. Therefore, they powdered the most premium crops to preserve the healthiest and best part of the tea.  

They have also partnered with a local orange farm of Japanese Orange Mikan to come up with the second product of the line called Green tea with Japanese Orange.  Mikan is also known as Japanese Citrus which is very similar to mandarin.

Since the introduction of the product, both products have been catching boom in Japan now and are featured by national TV shows as well.

You can also try this in the USA from the Japanese Green Tea Company here:

Green Tea with Lemon:
https://www.japanesegreenteain.com/collections/matcha/products/green-tea-with-lemon  

Green Tea with Japanese Orange (Mikan):
https://www.japanesegreenteain.com/collections/matcha/products/green-tea-with-japanese-orange

Images provided by author.



Tea Benefits for Alzheimer’s – T Ching


Guest post by Franco Colomba.

Like most things that scientists get their hands on, they will usually only find a good or a bad. This time around it turns out that it is better than good. In some breakthrough research, scientists have discovered that drinking tea may actually help to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and drastically for that matter.

The study was put out by the National University of Singapore, and observed more than 950 adults aged 55 years or older. Their tea drinking rituals were cross-checked against their cognitive function, across a total study period of six years. It was noted that those who consumed tea regularly, lowered their risk of neurocognitive disorders by 50 percent, and a massive 86 percent to those who were genetically predisposed to the disease.

The type of tea for the risk of Alzheimer’s did not matter either, pending it was brewed from tea leaves and consumed consistently.

So, how does drinking tea actually impact the brain?
The compounds found in tea are what makes it that little bit special for brain health; catechins and theaflavins to be exact. These ingredients are packed to the brim with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory powers that could assist with anti-aging of the brain.

Researchers back in 2012, discovered that a chemical found in green tea (EGCG), boosts memory function too. When tested on lab mice, scientists discovered that EGCG helped the little guys familiarize objects while improving their spatial memory*

Due to the EGCG in green tea, it also makes the cut for foods known for their cancer-fighting properties too.

Increased memory, better alertness, lower mental fatigue, and an aid in the prevention of cancer, all in one little cup! Just some more reasons to enjoy another cup of tea, right?

We have listed below some of the most beneficial ways to enjoy tea and capitalize on its varying health properties.

Embrace real tea leaves
Tea bags can prove a convenient option, however, you need the actual tea leaves to uncover their real benefits. Try to skip the bags wherever possible and brew your tea direct from the leaves alone.

Keep your brewing time to the recommended level
Particularly important with green tea as the release of tannins, caused by steeping the leaves for too long, can bring about a bitter taste.

Keep it natural
A seemingly healthy drink can turn into a blend of un-natural, sugary mess, depending on what is added. Try to steer away from refined additives, if you need to add anything at all. Manuka honey can be a good option with ample health benefits in its own right. If you are a creamy tea lover, opt for organic, full-fat milk or coconut milk as another option (and dairy-free).

Sometimes, it’s pretty remarkable what the world of science uncovers. This time they may have actually wowed us again. Drinking tea to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease, protecting our brain from aging, and boosting our memory are some pretty cool benefits to add to the list.

Short bio:

Franco Colomba is a content contributor for Bondi Beach Tea and enjoys providing value for others. Franco knows that the best way to receive is to give your best in everything you do. Aside from writing, he has a passion for riding motorcycles & everything adventurous.

Image Source



Blast From the Past: Matcha green tea latte with zen green tea matcha


The trick to preparing a cafe style matcha green tea latte is to make the tea first, then add the hot milk and foam.

latte 1 erin

  •  Sift 1 tsp Zen Green Tea Matcha into a cup
  •  Melt matcha by adding 2 teaspoons of hot water and stirring until the matcha becomes a smooth paste
  •  Pour 6 oz steamed milk over matcha tea
  •  Scoop foamy milk on top
  •  Sprinkle with matcha dust or cocoa powder

Optional

  •  Add vanilla, almond or mint flavours
  •  Sweeten with honey or agave nectar

For more delicious matcha recipes or to buy amazing quality yet affordable matcha please visit Zen Green Tea.

“Who needs a coffee latte when you can have a Matcha latte which has a boost of caffeine to last you during your working day and tonnes more health benefits! I absolutely cannot live without my matcha lattes!” – Sarah Gunn

Image Provided by Author.

This article was originally published in February 2015.



Amazon Brand Tea and Tea Bag 101


We’ve all heard of the Amazon effect, and almost no business is immune, including the tea business. While it is platform to sell various types of tea, in 2017 Amazon announced it would enter some snack and ready to eat food markets, including selling their own house tea brand. What does this mean and what are the implications for the tea industry?

FIRST – WHAT ARE THE TEAS?

Marketed as the “Wickedly Prime” brand, these are a collection of teas covering all the bases – black, oolong, herbal, and even matcha. Other than matcha these teas are sold in 15 count boxes of sachets. 

BAGGED TEA? 

Bagged tea is often looked down upon as inferior tea, and for the huge mega brands, this is and continues to be true. The reason is that fannings or dust grade tea is used, which is a lower quality compared to what the loose market enjoys. However, some loose tea can also be put in bags for convenience sake, and this is exactly what Amazon has done.

BAGGED LOOSE TEA LIMITATIONS

In general, only certain types of loose teas can be put into bags. These are usually simpler blends, ones without lots of larger chunks, nut slices or types of tea that grow and expand significantly (think some of the pearl style teas and oolongs) as well as the rare and exotic types that are long whole leaf styles. Manufacturing typically makes it economically infeasible to have a very large selection. Loose tea can be blended in small or large quantities. But the production commitment is higher with bagged teas, so whatever you are going to bag, it needs to be a good seller. 

A popular blend like Snowflake tea with lots of chunky and random shaped ingredients along with nuts are not tea bag friendly.

In theory, you could start a tea company in your basement without any raw materials. You can develop a blend and contract the bagging process out to someone else. This is the same as what Apple does. They design the iPhone in California, and then the actual manufacturing gets done at Foxconn over in China.

When contracting out you can send your raw materials directly over to the bagging company, or many of them have a variety of ‘house’ ingredients you can arrange in any way you like and then settle on a formula. They take care of the rest – including all the packaging. The barrier to entry is very low when it comes to making a custom tea product. The only limitation is if you can meet the minimum runs that most of the contract baggers require – which can vary greatly, but 40,000 bags are usually the starting point depending on the tea. With those minimums, it’s very difficult to have an enormous selection of bagged teas, especially when you are looking at rare and exotic teas. For this reason, the major loose leaf tea blenders only make about 10% of their teas available in bagged form. 

Back to Amazon – for a company of that size, it is pretty easy to get a tea blend ready with a few phone calls. This is also the model that Trader Joe’s uses. Trader Joe’s doesn’t have its own massive manufacturing and R&D facility. Much of their products are simply rebranded products from other companies. The very notion of a brand is shifting rapidly. Old brands that have spent billions on developing their name are seeing market share eroded by store brands.

THE COST

Cost wise, the Wickedly Prime tea runs for roughly $16 per 45 bags. (they usually sell 3 boxes at a time). The total weight is about 4.8 ounces total. Each box weighs 1.6 ounces, so just doing the math each bag has about a tenth of an ounce of tea in it. Instructions call for 8 ounces of water. Bagged tea usually costs more overall, and in this case, it comes out to be 35 cents a serving. Keep in mind that a lot of tea drinkers like me like to down 16 ounces at a clip. A 45-day supply would really be just over 3 weeks. Which is just about what a typical 4-ounce bag of loose tea will last if you drink about 16 ounces of it per day. The loose tea equivalents of the amazon blends I see typically range from $8-$12.

IS IT GOOD?

Like any food product, the reviews vary. Overall, they are meant to please a general audience and they seem to be doing just that with crowd-friendly blends.

MATCHA…IS THE EXCEPTION

The flavored matcha is the one area we would be cautious of. The reason? The ingredients:

GREEN TEA MATCHA POWDER, TAPIOCA MALTODEXTRIN, SILICON DIOXIDE, NATURAL FLAVORS.

In general, a good quality flavored matcha should not have anything besides the tea and natural flavors. 

PRODUCT SUPPORT

With a big company like Amazon, forget about getting a lot of information or asking questions. As you can see below, the questions are answered by other users, NOT Amazon themselves. If you need questions answered about the source, ingredients or anything important, you’ll have a hard time.

Question:
Is this tea Fair Trade certified?

Answer:
It does not state Fair Trade on the box
By Robin B. on May 15, 2017

Question:
What is the carb count on this? Similar teas have surprised me with carb counts that I didn’t expect.

Answer:
It isn’t listed and personally I don’t care. It is so good and I don’t drink it with cream or milk or sugar or any sweetener on a paleo like diet and I’ve been losing weight steadily. This is quite good. Sorry can’t answer your carb question.
By PHT on July 11, 2017

Question:
What is the country of origin?

Answer:
Sorry, no idea. Love the hibiscus flavor though. Mango OK.
By Marion vonBeck on November 21, 2017

Question:
Is it just me or does the packaging seem extremely environmentally unfriendly?

Answer:
I do agree. Lots of paper and plastic!
By E Mo on November 1, 2017

THE CONCLUSION

For someone that is looking for a casual tea, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with the Amazon tea, except the matcha. It seems to be geared toward the less experienced tea person, or someone that values convenience over price.  But if you are looking to expand your horizons to higher end teas, want detailed sourcing information, or get questions answered by someone knowledgeable, then the recommendation is to go to a reputable tea shop (online or local). At the very least, Amazon teas are a good stepping stone for a beginner, that eventually will graduate into the more premium market.