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Japanese Tea Culture
Green Tea
- vol 4 -
< Variations of Enjoying Green Tea - from Japan to the world >
It has been in the Japanese news lately that green tea is rapidly gaining global attention and popularity these days. According to Tokyo Customs, the volume of green tea export in 2004 was 1,096t which is a 25.6% increase from the previous year, marking the second time to exceed 1,000t in history and first time in seventeen years. The destinations these tealeaves reach include USA (32.2%) followed by Germany, Taiwan, Hong Kong and more.

The reason for the increase of export i.e., demand of green tea outside of Japan has a lot to do with the Japanese food culture trend, which is believed to derive from the rising concern over healthy diet. Japanese cuisine contains less animal fat, less sugar and uses a huge variety of vegetables and fish. Though the food can have rather high percentage of sodium, the diet culture as a whole is receiving high praise as being healthy. Being a part of the food culture, and also because of its high health benefits such as preventing lifestyle diseases and decreasing risks for cancer (see here for details), Japanese green tea quickly spread across the world in all kinds of forms.

In response to the global trend, the Japanese green tea associations have been flying around the world spreading the proper manners and basic knowledge about drinking green tea, training Nihoncha advisors (“sammelier”), and conducting researches to get an idea of how the tastes (preferences) differ from culture to culture.
One research reported that the drinking styles differ largely – from adding sugar for sweeter taste, herb or fruit for more fragrance, milk for mildness, etc.. Here, let us have a look at how green tea is being enjoyed in some places of the world.
United States of America
It hasn’t been too long since green tea became widely accepted in the country where generally coffee is more drank than tea. From the increasing popularity of Japanese food such as sushi and the growing awareness for health, it looks like places offering green tea menu have been increasing.

In Japan’s largest export counterpart for green tea, Koots Green Tea, a specialty green tea café managed by the Japanese branch of major coffee chain Tully’s Coffee opened their first overseas shop this past May in Seattle, one of the leading coffee cities of USA with roughly 600 (coffee) cafés. Starbucks, also a coffee chain originating in Seattle, started green tea menus such as green tea latte and frappuccino a couple of years ago.
Many of the Green tea menus in the States contain sugar often times joined by fruit flavor, and the teabags also tend to have herbal or fruit flavors added.

Green tea menus can be enjoyed outside of soft drinks too. In Japan, green tea mixed with shochu (Japanese spirit) and/or vodka is one of the staple drinks on the alcohol menus in Japanese-style pubs and bars. Green tea alcoholic drinks can be found in USA these days but in a slightly different form, Martini. This green tea Martini aka Zentini or Zensaketini made with Japanese sake instead of jin with the base of green tea liquor called “Zen”. Zen is a new kind of liquor made of high quality green tea (Matcha and Gyokuro: see here) with several herbs like lemon grass and is only available in USA. One reporter who tried Zentini described the drink to be deep, complex and aromatic but fresh as compared to “Sasa”, a green tea liquor sold in Japan which is rather on the natural side.

Perhaps the newest green tea related drink is Enviga by Coca-Cola and Nestle. This canned green tea available in three flavors – green tea, berry, and peach – according to experts, burn 60 to 100 calories per three cans, a benefit brought by green tea-deriving components.

Whilst Japanese (food) boom has been around for a little while at different places of the world in a silently hot manner, the craze in Thailand seems to be steaming hot. Besides the wide variation of green tea lining up the shelves of beverages, there are green tea toothpaste and green tea shampoo followed by a long list of “green tea xxx”. Thai beverage makers produce a series of green tea refreshments but most of them are sweetened and flavored with fruit. These super-sweet green tea sounds like a huge hit amongst Thai people, as can be seen in the success of local brand OISHI despite its rather expensive price. The boom is probably due more to the prize-winning bet the brand had, but the name as well as the manner of drinking green tea spread rapidly.

Last year (2006) KIRIN BEVARAGE and its Namacha – the trigger of the Green Tea War – went into the Thai green tea market with the ambition to spread “real” green tea i.e., unsweetened Nihoncha and to show the pride and spirit of Japanese people. Considering the huge difference in the preference in taste, from absolutely no sugar to spoons of sugar, this is viewed as a big challenge. Whether their challenge is going to a success or a failure is yet to be known for it has not been long since its release, but so far it sounds like Namacha’s low-sweet type is struggling as compared to the (super-)sweet version.

Our nextdoor neighbor Korea is also a country that has a long tradition of drinking a variety of tea. In such country of tea culture, it seems like green tea is picking up popularity in the past few years especially among the younger generation. The way green tea is being enjoyed looks closer to Japan than most of the other countries, drinking it plain without sugar and blending it into all kinds of food and sweets. The selection of menus at cafes specializing in green tea is so much wider than in Japan, increasing. Popular ones include hatteok (traditional sweets which I am not sure of the spelling), ice cream, cake, yogurt, Naengmyeon / Raengmyeon (noodles), spirit, etc. PET bottled green tea refreshments of Japanese brands seem to be doing well too. Korean food and culture is popular in Japan, so the day when these green tea menus cross the sea and come into Japan may not be too far.

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Made in Japan Contents
  • Green Tea 1 / 2 / 3 / 4
    Spirited Away (2001)
  • Haruki Murakami
  • Yasunari Kawabata
  • Banana Yoshimoto
  • Yukio Mishima
  • Inazo Nitobe
  • Japanese Tea
  • Bonsai
  • VAIO
  • Canon

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