Our friends at U.S. Customs and Border Protection were nice enough to release a Japanese origin package addressed to me. What could it be? Jeans? Razor blades? Headphones? A new batch of pens? Erasers that resemble ramen? No. The package came from Ippodo Tea. Their brochure says that "Ippodo Tea Co. is a Kyoto-based purveyor of premium Japanese green tea - matcha, gyokuro, sencha, and bancha - cultivated in the lush fields of Kyoto. It was founded almost three centuries ago by a merchant named Ihei Watanabe who moved from Omi province (now Shiga prefecture) to Kyoto and opened a shop called Omiya on Teramachi Street in 1717. In 1846, Prince Yamashina bestowed upon the shop the name Ippodo, literally meaning "establishment that preserves one (tea)," in the hope that the high quality of the shop's tea would always be maintained." Well well well, a little full of themselves are they?
Anyhow, I bought two 20-gram cans of matcha: Wakamatsu-no-mukashi (extra-premium quality); and Horai-no-mukashi (premium quality). I recently got into matcha as a natural progression of my interest in green tea, which will be the topic of a future post for sure. It took me a long time to gather the "courage" to try matcha because my research (lots of it) led me to believe that matcha is too expensive, a real hassle to prepare, and foul tasting. I was wrong. You see, part of matcha's allure lies in its natural vibrant green color and characteristic aroma and umami. In the middle of the Edo period, Uji tea masters developed the modern method of producing sencha, which is characterized by its clear, golden yellow color, refined mellow fragrance and refreshing flavor. In the latter half of the Edo period, they devised a method for producing gyokuro, known for its characteristic fragrance and umami. These techniques, all of which were developed in Uji, have been passed down to the present day, and now form the basis and tradition of virtually all modern-day Japanese green tea production methods. (OK, I plagiarized the last four sentences from Ippodo's brochure. Sounds awesome, doesn't it?)
It should be mentioned that I am an absolute matcha noob. I've only had two other cans of matcha before these two. I'm still experimenting and trying to find the sweet spot of quality versus cost. Based on price alone, both of these should be "better" than the previous two I've tried. We'll see.