Discovering Our Supreme Sencha Reiwa

A pitstop on my travels in Japan’s Shizuoka region: the seemingly inauspicious setting of a small tea workshop by the side of a country road. A friendly welcome with the offer of a cup of tea, brought to the table as a traditional kyusu teapot on a small wooden tray with two cups to share.

Absentmindedly I sipped the cup, expecting the kind of tea served widely in Japan; good steamed green tea as a refreshment, offered to show hospitality and as a precursor or accompaniment to doing business.

But no! The tea that passed my lips grabbed my attention forcibly. I felt my focus narrow towards the thimble-like cup in my hand and the flow of tastes – deep savoury umami, almost salinity, an intense hit of vegetal sweetness with layers of flavour and thick texture. This was a stop-you-in-your-tracks cup of tea, one where when you bring your attention back to the room allows for a warmth and positivity, an expansive feeling – today is going to be a good day.

What I didn’t know was my local contact was introducing me to one of the most revered tea masters in Japan, Mr. Ishiyama, who had that year been awarded the singular honour of providing tea to the imperial household.

In the year of the historic abdication of Emperor Akihito and the start of the new Reiwa era of Emperor Naruhito, this was all the more notable. Yet the setting was not a beautiful and formal tea house, nor a ritualised presentation of the chadō tea ceremony. This tea needed none of that: it had undoubtedly been made with a great deal of care but in a way that was entirely at ease with itself.

Tom and Tea Master, Mr. Ishiyama

This is the pleasure of tea sourcing; following one’s nose to places that may not look promising but judged on taste of the tea are hotspots of skill and excellence known and appreciated by the locals. There isn’t a process for sourcing great tea, but there is a mindset: build relationships, invite serendipity, avoid preconceptions and allow the taste experience to guide your decisions.

Without doubt there’s a pedigree to this tea, which we have named Sencha Reiwa, to reflect the honour bestowed on its maker, but I didn’t buy it for that reason – I bought it because it made such a deep impression on me at first tasting.

Ishiyama's winning tea garden

I recommend preparing our Sencha Reiwa in the senchadō method, a variant of the Japanese tea ceremony suited to leaf tea. Place 6g of tea (approximately 3 teaspoons) in a JING Tea Master and infuse with very cool water (60⁰C) for 1 minute. Pour into two small Tea Master cups for sharing and enjoy the intense umami flavours and concentrated yet smooth infusion. Subsequent infusions are best around 30 seconds with similar temperature water, revealing layers of texture and vegetal notes redolent of the best Japanese green teas.