This is the second post of a 3-part blogpost series on various F&B masterclasses organised by e2i to connect workers and industry practitioners with industry experts.
Participants benefit from learning best practices, deepening their skillsets and mastering skills in their career to be future-ready.
I’ve read and heard so much about the benefits of drinking Japanese green tea that attending the ‘Japanese Green Tea Master Class’ organized by IPPIN, Marumo Mori and e2i seemed like a good way to find out if all the hearsay is true.
After all, the speaker, Mr Nobuki Mori, the President and CEO of (Japanese tea company) Marumo Nori Co. Ltd is of the 6th generation of the Mori clan – the family business has almost 140 years of history since it started in 1877.
As a tea master, Mr Mori is also a 9th level tea examiner (the only one at the 9th level in Shizuoka prefecture, which is famous for green tea production).
During the class, we learnt about everything from how jobless samurai in the past became farmers producing green tea in Shizuoka, to how you may be mistakenly buying Uji matcha that is not actually from Kyoto, to how bottled green tea might not be as nutritious as you expect it to be.
Read on to learn about these insider secrets and lesser-known facts about Japanese green tea shared by Mr Mori…
Tea Master Nobuki Mori holding up a teacup which he uses to ‘check’ the color and quality of tea (the teacup has blue circles at its base which helps make the color of the tea more evident)
In this post, I’ve compiled 12 nuggets of information from the class. Besides food pairing with tea, we learnt everything from the history of tea to its proper brewing techniques.
Among my classmates were chefs and even HR personnel from the Paradise Group of restaurants.
Whether you’re in the F&B business or not, if you think green tea has health benefits you’re interested in (weight loss, antioxidants, cancer prevention, etc), such a class might be suitable for you too!
Checking the fragrance of various tea leaves
~ 12 Things You Might Not Know About Japanese Green Tea ~
#1: Singapore is the 2nd largest importer of Japanese green tea, ahead of Hong Kong and just behind USA! However, we do not consume THAT much green tea – the tea is imported into Singapore and then re-exported to other countries.
#2: If you think green tea originated in Japan, think again. It’s actually from Yunnan province in China. The Japanese word for tea is ‘cha’, which is from the Cantonese word for tea in the Canton province. From the Fujian province, we get ‘teh’, and that’s why we call it ‘tea’ in the English-speaking world.
#3: Interestingly, the ‘original’ way of drinking matcha did not come from Japan. The Japanese learnt it from the Chinese some 1200 years ago. Then the Chinese supposedly abandoned this way of drinking tea. Mr Mori was recently invited by Chinese monks to visit their temple and demonstrate this (lost) way of drinking matcha, in what was apparently an effort to reclaim part of their culture.
Mori-san weighing out 4g of tea leaves using four 1-yen coins as weights (1 yen weighs 1 gram)
#4: Among its many health benefits, green tea also has anti-bacterial properties. Previously, primary school pupils in Japan washed their hands with green tea, and green tea was also added to tap water as it helps prevent colds.
#5: The process of harvesting and processing tea leaves is a complex one. Harvesting is done by hand or by machine, then the leaves go through processes like steaming, drying, rolling, sorting, cutting, separating, (another) cutting, roasting, blending, packaging together with nitrogen to prevent oxidation, etc. Each tea master will also create a special blend of tea based on his own skill and experience.
#6: ‘Uji matcha’ is world famous but what you think is matcha from Kyoto may not actually be from Kyoto! The Japanese know that it is not uncommon for Nara green tea to be used to make Kyoto matcha. Kyoto is famous for matcha but it has little farmland available so green tea from farms in the surrounding areas also use the “Uji” / “Kyoto” name. As long as the product has even 1% of Kyoto green tea, it can be considered “Kyoto matcha”. It’s hard to get 100% pure Uji matcha as this usually goes directly to the tea ceremony masters.
#7: Gyokuro (the highest grade of green tea) is grown in the shade for 3 to 4 weeks prior to harvest. Good gyokuro tea leaves can be purchased at a wholesale price of 40,000 yen per kilogram. That’s about S$535/kg wholesale. If you want to try good gyokuro, head to Waku Ghin in Marina Bay Sands. Gyokuro tea has a seaweed-like smell, and a delicious umami taste. Unlike Chinese tea which is usually about the fragrance, Japanese tea is more about the taste.
#8: If the matcha powder you wish to buy is ‘cheap’, you should doubt its quality as making matcha is a time-consuming process. The matcha powder should be very fine (about 5 to 10 microns) and that’s hard to achieve with even modern machinery. So what you get in your ‘matcha latte’ here might not be, strictly speaking, “matcha” as the powder used is larger than 10 microns in size.
#9: Green tea is usually harvested 4 times a year, with the first harvest (a.k.a. “first flush”) being the best. In the winter, the tree gathers energy and nutrition and so the first flush green tea leaves are the most nutritious. However, what goes into our bottled green tea usually sold in supermarkets are the 4th flush green tea leaves. Green tea can have up to 5 times more Vitamin C than lemon of the same weight! Unfortunately, bottled green tea contains about 2g of green tea leaves, which are usually “fourth flush”. Those brewed in teapots contain about 4g, and you might get better tea leaves.
4g of tea leaves go into a small teapot versus about 2g into your regular bottle of green tea.
#10: Tea is more than just a beverage in Japan, where there is a whole ‘tea culture’. According to Mr Mori, watching your host prepare tea for you is a way of reducing stress while enriching your life. Also, it is a symbol of friendship between people who share that time and space together to enjoy tea. *Even the time spent waiting for water to cool before you pour it over the tea leaves is part of enjoying tea – that time is for conversation with family and friends!
#11: Japanese tea masters place emphasis on cha-do (茶道) which is a way/ method and a philosophy. It is more than just cha-ge (茶艺) which is only about the skills and not the philosophy. For instance, the former requires that you ‘train’ your mind to focus on the tea ceremony, instead of letting it wander.
#12: Marumo Mori’s first retail shop, chagama, was opened in 2014 in central Shizuoka. Within the store, you can try over 60 different types of tea as well as Sencha espresso made using their espresso machine from France!
(bottom right) Sencha espresso at Chagama in Shizuoka, Japan.
Interestingly, Mori-san made a comment that if you are in the F&B business, you have to serve food and/or beverage that you don’t like, if your customers like them. It seems that according to the Japanese, the customer experience is very important! And this was most evident during the food + green tea pairing session.
Gyokuro tea tastes best when brewed in water that’s about 45 deg Celsius. This retains the umami taste. Here, Mori-san’s translator is holding up a bottled of chilled gyokura tea.
We enjoyed the colorful appetizer below, together with cold-brew gyokuro. The taste became almost secondary, as the presentation had already blown us away.
Then we had squid on a bed of burdock chips, paired with warm sencha. Squid is usually tricky to eat as it can get rather ‘chewy’. Here, it has been cut into bite-size pieces. I appreciate the thoughtfulness! I’d love to see more F&B businesses being thoughtful as well, e.g. by removing chicken off the bone or de-shelling prawns.
Squid on a bed of burdock chips
Next, we had fried oysters with yuzu-flavored mayonnaise, and fukamushicha (This tea was ‘invented’ for people in Tokyo, as it allows for a faster brew. Just wait for only 30 seconds) It’s light with a bitter aftertaste. With genmaicha and hojicha, you don’t have to wait for the water to cool too…
Then we also had fish and rice, with genmaicha.
Dessert was hojicha pudding with hojicha sauce served in a shotglass, and of course, paired with hojicha. *We were also told that green tea goes well with alcohol! Try it!
Becoming a respected tea master certainly takes years (if not decades) of hard work and dedication. Being able to correctly identify tea leaves (type and origin) and brewing a good cup of tea with water of the right temperature is certainly a valued skill if you were to be working in restaurants like Waku Ghin. So far, more attention has been on barista training as Singaporeans do love their coffee, but I think tea (with its many health benefits) is something more people will come to appreciate.
Interestingly, at this particular masterclass, there was a lady at the back of the room taking notes and drawing illustrations and caricatures. Here’s one of the ‘panels’ she created:
I’m aware that some companies do hire these ‘graphic recorders’ to transform words into hand-drawn visuals in real-time. This allows participants to snap a picture after the session and get an instant summary of everything that went on! 😀
The talented artist came up with about 6 of these panels for the full-day session and I was told that charges start from S$2,000 for 1 day. Actually, if you’re not into tea, but you’re good at drawing, this might be a lucrative career option, no? 😉
I’ll leave you with some food for thought from Jim Rohn who said that “You must either modify your dreams or magnify your skills”.
Part 1 in this series shares a very unique way of pairing sashimi and green tea. Read it here. Then find out how Singapore won gold awards at the Culinary Olympics this year in the final installment of this Series by clicking right here.