Japan’s Unique Tea Culture

Japan’s Unique Tea Culture

In Japan, tea is enjoyed both alongside food or while relaxing on a full stomach after a meal, and also to quench the thirst. It is something that fills a very familiar place in the lives of the Japanese yet presents a world that is as deep as your will to explore it.

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THE JAPANESE IDEAL OF HOSPITALITY

A cup of tea offers an opportunity to relax and to enjoy a moment’s respite. The casual invitation, “Let’s have a cup of tea, shall we?” is both an attractive one, and exemplifies the essential role that tea plays in the Japanese ideal of hospitality. Tea first made its way over to Japan from China along with Buddhism. There, it developed into a unique style of its own focusing on hospitality that drew on influences of Zen philosophy. Taking great care to prepare for one’s guests and valuing the time spent together is both the basic stance and ultimate goal of hospitality. The way of tea is a cultural tradition of Japan based around matcha and later evolved into sencha tea ceremonies in the Edo period and beyond. The etiquette and attitude espoused by the tea ceremony also play a role in day-today life, and have made their way into Japanese society as a whole.

A HISTORY OF TEA IN JAPAN

There are many varieties of the green tea that have come to epitomise Japanese tea, such as sencha, houjicha, and matcha. The history of tea itself is a long one said to have begun with its discovery by Shennong in 2700 BC as noted in an anecdote in the
Chinese treatise on herbs known as “Shennong Bencao Jing”. Green tea originated in Japan around the year 800 after the grand figures of Buddhism in Japan, monks Saicho and Kukai, were said to have planted seeds in Kyoto brought back from their travels to China. At this time, tea was a delicacy only available to generals and their immediate second in line in social standing – the monks. During the warring states period, records of Portuguese visitors to Japan at the time showed that tea masters and generals alike spent an exorbitant amount of their resources on tea rooms and tea equipment. It was only later in the Edo period when tea finally spread and began to be consumed by the masses.

THE ALLURE OF GREEN TEA

Matcha is one of the most popular varieties of green tea, and while it is also a product unique to Japan that first appeared in the 15th century,you can now find variants produced in China and elsewhere as well. Amidst the ongoing global trend towards health and fitness, research into the health benefits of drinking tea and the components of green tea, such as catechin, offers data that backs up long-held beliefs in the powers of tea. The spread of knowledge about these health benefits is in turn driving increased popularity. As matcha is a tea made by grinding tea leaves into a powder, you ingest all the active ingredients of the tea, providing
more health benefits over other green teas where only the tea extract is ingested. Growing recognition of matcha as a super food has led to its growing popularity in Australia and elsewhere outside of Japan. It is more commonly found in menu items, as well as flavourings for various desserts in recent times due to the increased exposure. The dash of sweetness amidst a bitterness common to unfermented tea combines with a refreshing taste to make green tea an attractive choice. The flavour, the unique culture developed over the span of many years, and the customs and values that gave birth to Japanese philosophy and sensibilities come together as one to make green tea a much-loved drink the world over.


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In Japan, this brand can be seen from the moment when you are at the airport arrival gate, when you are walking on the street, and when you are about to board on your return flight to Australia.
ITO EN and Its Australian Business

ITOEN and Its Australian Business

The company that counts the mega brand Oi Ocha as its signature brand is none other than ITO EN, which holds the largest share of the Japanese tea market in Japan and also has a subsidiary company in Australia.

The History of ITOEN in Australia

ITOEN Australia was established in 1994. Beginning to plant seedlings for Japanese tea from Japan in Victoria’s northeast in the late 1990s, ITOEN Australia has been implementing the same cultivation and processing methods as those in Japan since the year 2000. The venture was first launched with the objective of providing sustainable tea to the Japanese market from Australia where the seasons were the opposite to those in Japan, but as the recent boom in matcha shows, the demand for Japanese tea in Australia is rising dramatically. This demand has in turn spurred the sale of Australian-grown Japanese tea with the objective of meeting local consumption.

ITO EN’s products can be found in the green tea flavoured tea bags containing Matcha green tea sold at supermarkets, and in matcha or Australian grown green tea-related items on the menus of cafes , restaurants and many other places, and their popularity is on the rise.

Where to Next?

ITOEN understands that the demand for tea in Australia leans heavily towards consumption of tea bags. Yet, ITO EN has long created a finely crafted tea unique to Japan that is geared towards the Japanese market. Because we are considering making the supply of tea bags the primary focus of our approach to the Australian market, there is no need to go to the lengths of making a very fine Japanese tea. Rather, we are looking to renew the machinery in our factory lines and add the capability to produce matcha and the tea bag ingredients for tea bags. In much the same way as local consumers display a preference for fresh fruit, meat, and marine produce that are local originated, we would like to provide a locally produced green tea that meets the expectations of the Australian people for a safe and familiar product that they can also enjoy.

There is a growing number of organisations suggesting introducing a sugar tax to the food market in Australia. One of our unique products is an unsweetened green tea that contains no sweetening agents of any kind and is thus truly unsweetened, un like zero -sugar products that are made using natural and/or artificial sweeteners agents. This product is growing in popularity due to meeting the needs of these consumers. We plan to make Oi Ocha using 100% Australian-grown green tea in the future, and in doing so deliver peace of mind, a safe product, and also joy through Japanese culture to the local consumers who support ITO EN’s Australian business.

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ASAHI SUPER DRY

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It was in 1987 that Asahi Super Dry arrived on the scene as Japan’s first ever dry beer. Since then, its unique flavour has earned its place as a standard that continues to elevate the flavour and satisfaction of beer even to this day. In this article, we take a look at what made Asahi Super Dry win the hearts of young and old alike over the years, and a recipe for a type of otsumami – the star of the izakaya dining experience – and their match made in heaven that is Asahi Super Dry.

Photography: Naoto Ijichi

THE ASAHI SUPER DRY STORY

The date was 17 March, 1987. This was the day that Japan’s first ever dry beer, Asahi Super Dry, made its way into the world. The journey that led to its creation was one filled with firsts, each new day bringing its own new challenge.

It all began with the search to make the perfect beer. From a survey of 5,000 respondents, the answer was clear – it had to be clearer and more refreshing, each glass make you wish you had just one more, and a great match for any dish. The survey uncovered
a distinct shift in preferences from a heavier, more bitter taste to a smoother, clearer and more refreshing one. Taking onboard this paradigm shift in customer needs, thus was born the new flavour concept of a dry draught beer.

The flavour of beer is determined almost entirely by the combination of yeast, base ingredients, and brewing process used. And it was here that
the challenge to develop a recipe for a dry draught beer began, by searching through the endless possibilities of the type of yeast to use, the type and amount of base ingredients, and the method used to prepare and brew the beer.

First came the search for the right yeast. Beer is created by taking the sugars from a wort made from malt, and using yeast to convert those sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Limiting the amount of residual sugars left in the end product is essential to achieving a clean taste. Of the several hundred yeast strains that Asahi uses, yeast strain No. 318 excelled in its fermentation capabilities. Its ability to completely consume sugars made it possible to achieve just the right clear, undiluted taste while also adding its own unique aroma.

Next came the base ingredients and the production methods. What would be the optimal conditions to allow Asahi yeast strain No. 318 to perform at its best? The search for the right flavour led to a myriad of combinations being tested, with small adjustments being made with each one and a number of test samples being created. Keywords that defined the essence of a dry beer more clearly flowed – each glass makes you wish you had just one more, a good match for sashimi, and that doesn’t overpower food… More tests followed, pairing the samples with sashimi and a variety of other Japanese, Chinese, and western dishes and otsumami. After this lengthy process, at long last the perfect flavour was discovered, and so the original recipe of Asahi Super Dry came to be. It was this painstaking attention to detail that gave this beer the refined, clear taste that makes it a match for food of all varieties and makes every sip feel like the very first.

INTRODUCING IZAKAYA AND OTSUMAMI

The word izakaya refers to a Japanese style of restaurant that provides a menu of alcohol and simple, matching dishes. Said to have grown in popularity during the Edo period, the izakaya of the day were merchants who sold alcohol in bulk, then steadily began to allow patrons to drink their wares on the spot, and ended up serving simple food to match. The word ‘izakaya’ itself comes from a combination of the Japanese characters meaning ‘to stay and drink’ abbreviated into the sounds ‘izaka’, which was used to differentiate them from merchants who only
sold alcohol. The much higher proportion of men in the Edo period compared to women, and thus the large number of single men living alone, also provided a catalyst to the rise of the izakaya, who offered a way to easily enjoy both food and drink at the same place.

Of course, no talk of izakaya would be complete without discussing otsumami and the role they play in complementing drink. The word otsumami comes from the word for ‘snack’, and refers to food that can be easily picked up and eaten by hand. Common varieties include seafood and meat dishes, and even cheese and crackers depending on your drink of choice. All dishes are generally heavily
seasoned to help bring out the flavour in the drinks they accompany.

“Otsumami are à la carte dishes that are designed to complement your drink; not take centre stage.” So says Shota Sato, head chef of Osaka Trading co. in Tramsheds Harold Park, who earned the distinction of receiving one hat during his days as the head chef of Bar H Dining. See the opposite page for an original otsumami recipe from head chef Sato that can be easily made at home and acts as a great partner to Asahi Super Dry

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TEMPURA CORN AND SCALLOPS WITH SOY BUTTER

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The sweetness of seasonal corn mixed with some salt and soy sauce come together in a mouthwatering balance. Add in the aroma and a hint of heat with shichimi spices, and you have a dish that makes the perfect partner for drinking beer. Try it with just some salt or mixed in with some soy sauce.

INGREDIENTS (SERVES 2)

Corn 100g
Scallops 1 pack
Shichimi spice 1 pinch
Frying oil As needed
Corn flour 1 pinch

TEMPURA DIPPING SAUCE (as needed)

Plain flour 1 cup
Corn flour 2 tbsp
Cold water 150ml
Vinegar 35ml

SOY BUTTER

Butter 10g
Salt Salt
Soy sauce To taste

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Remove the corn from the cob, and dice the scallops into a size roughly twice that of the pieces of corn.

2. Mix the plain flour and corn flour (A). Separately, mix the cold water and vinegar (B). Combine (B) into (A), lightly mixing so that a slight floury consistency remains.

3. Fill a frying pan halfway with the frying oil and heat to 180 degrees. After mixing 1. and the pinch of corn flour in a bowl, add 2 tbsp of the tempura dipping sauce and swiftly combine.

4. Scoop the mix using a large spoon and place slowly into the oil, deep frying both sides for approximately
15 seconds.

5. Sprinkle shichimi spices over the tempura and dress with a sauce made by combining the butter, salt, and soy sauce.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Keep all ingredients cold before you cook to prevent them from collapsing!
Don’t deep fry the corn for too long or it will burst!

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CHEF: SHOTA SATO

Profile

Specialises in a modern Japanese style that blends both Japanese and western influences. Fifteen years experience as a chef. Worked as a chef specialising in French cuisine at hotel-based restaurants in Hokkaido, Okinawa, Tokyo, and Chiba in Japan. Came to Australia in 2009, and after gaining further experience at multiple restaurants, earned the distinction of receiving one hat in 2015 working as the head chef at Bar H Dining, a title only awarded to restaurants selected by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide. Involved in the launch of the Osaka Trading co. in September of 2016 where he now works as the head chef.

AN INTERVIEW WITH SAKE MASTER, ANDRE BISHOP

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AN INTERVIEW WITH SAKE MASTER, ANDRE BISHOP

Interview: Ryoji Yamauchi


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THE ROAD TO BECOMING A SAKE PROFESSIONAL

First, let me tell you a little about my background.

As a sake professional, I have spent the past 20 years working to raise awareness about Japanese sake and other alcoholic drinks from Japan. In 2013, I received the prestigious title of Sake Samurai from the Japan Sake Brewers Association Junior Council in recognition for my work in promoting sake and Japanese culture in general.

It was a surprise to receive an award like this, especially since the road that brought me here began with a passing interest in Japan; I never planned to be recognised as a sake professional. My connection to Japan originated at a young age with simply watching Japanese cartoons (anime) on TV. However, as I grew older the number of Japan-inspired interests grew as if there was something that kept drawing me back to be emotionally invested in the country. When I was old enough to go out to dine it was a natural choice for me to start frequenting Japanese restaurants and in doing so gained an even greater understanding of the food, culture and this amazing drink, sake.

My first experience of premium Japanese sake came in 1996 on my first trip to Japan. I travelled across the country over a period of 5 weeks, often eating in local izakaya featuring sake from the region. That was the moment when it truly struck home just how amazing Japanese sake is, and how good a partner it makes with a wide range of foods. I was also taken by the role of the izakaya as a meeting place, that brings people together in a friendly atmosphere where there was a comradery shared over sake.

This was the beginning of my love affair with the rich world of Japanese food and sake, and my personal desire to build a stronger connection with the country led to my desire to share my interests in and passion for Japan with others. The journey that then began to learn more about sake tasting and food pairings led to me becoming a sake professional.


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SAKE AND WINE – SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES

While sake and wine share a place as drinks that can be especially enjoyed with food, there are several distinct differences. I usually don’t like to draw comparisons between the two as I feel it is important that they are seen as what they are, two very different beverages. However, if pressed, I will say that from a purely scientific angle, sake, by way of its amino acid composition is in general a better match to food in most cases. There is a phrase in Japan that simply states, “sake does not fight with food.”

One common trait of sake is that it makes for a good partner to food. Whether high in salt, deep fried, or full bodied, sake has the ability to make a good partner to all dishes no matter what you serve. In particular, where wine makes a poor partner with foods that are high in salt, one of the key traits of sake is that it matches extremely well with foods that are very salty.

When it comes to wine, you choose what to drink first, then look for a matching dish second. In other words, wine takes centre stage on the table because it makes you consider what to eat based on your selection of wine. You might even say that wine is the leader, and that food follows after. In that sense, sake and food both stand on an even setting. Sake is flexible in its pairing with food, and helps bring out the flavour of the food itself. Sake is a drink that combines a full aroma with the ability to perfectly match any food you put it with.


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CATEGORIES AND VARIETIES OF SAKE

The three main grades of sake are: daijinjo, ginjo, and honjozo. The principle difference between them is the degree to which the rice used is polished. Daiginjo is generally considered a high-grade sake where an extremely large proportion of the rice has been polished away, making it in most cases delicate in style. In highly milled grades, certain rice strains are commonly used such as Yamada Nishiki, since it is known for its smooth and translucent mouthfeel and, when partnered with the right yeast, can produce stunning floral or fruity notes. junmai styles signify sake where the alcohol is derived from fermentation alone, whereas non-junmai grades do contain the addition of a small amount of brewers alcohol.

By comparison, the ginjo and honjozo categories retain a stronger aroma of rice, and are fuller both in body and flavour. These varieties are comparable in style to a fuller-bodied wine. It is important to note that when we discuss these characteristics of grades, rice and styles we usually talk in general terms, however, there are always exceptions to the rule. This variety and variation brought about by the many factors that can be manipulated during brewing and of course the skill and intent of the brewers, make sake such a fascinating journey of discovery.

In addition to this categorisation based on the proportion of rice polishing, there are also many varieties of sake based on other factors as well. For example, the type of sake rice used in production. Yamada Nishiki is one of the most famous, and is used in high-quality sake while other types of sake rice are used in sake where the aroma of rice is more strongly pronounced.

In addition to the sake rice itself as a component of sake, conditions such as differences in the distinct seasons in Japan and regional climates also give birth to variations. Sake brewers take into account a variety of conditions, such as the climate and the condition of local water in search of the right answer to the kind of sake rice to use and ideas about the kind of sake to create. This is also where sake brewers can show off their skill in brewing. Styles of drinking, from cold to room temperature and warm then have a further effect on the flavour of the finished sake, another of the points that highlights the depth and joy of sake.


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ENTERING THE WORLD OF JAPANESE SAKE

Over the years, I have introduced sake in a variety of ways, such as at large-scale dinners, sake classes that teach professional knowledge, at tasting events, and more. No matter the situation, I have always strived to introduce sake of good quality so that guests can discover the wonders of sake and hopefully that sparks an interest in learning more about it. I feel the best way to learn about sake is by enjoying it with food and in doing so, you will can understand what great partners they make.

One of the easiest ways to appreciate sake is to try a variety of different sake at the same sitting. This gives you a chance to easily appreciate how styles can vary whether it be sweet, dry, full or light bodied and so on. Differences in sake can be subtle, but equipped with a little knowledge you will soon begin to appreciate its diverse offering.

For those interested in learning more about sake, know that you have an enjoyable journey ahead. Relax and enjoy your trip out into the world of Japanese sake.


ANDRE BISHOP

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With 20 years of experience promoting Japanese beverages, Andre Bishop is recognised as Australia’s leading authority on sake. As a pioneer of the local sake scene he continues to provide consulting, education and promotional services to assist both the industry and the consumer. He shares his passion for sake with others in order to encourage more Australians to discover the joys of sake and Japanese culture in general.
In August 2013, Andre was inaugurated as a Sake Samurai in Kyoto, Japan. This prestigious title has only been bestowed to a handful of non-Japanese sake experts around the world and is the highest honour awarded by the Japanese sake industry. Andre owns a number of award winning Japanese restaurants in Melbourne that showcase the depth and breadth of what sake has to offer. He is the Australian Brand Manager for the prestigious Dassai brewery and is one of the few non-Japanese to have been accepted into the often closed world of sake breweries and has worked as a sake brewer in Kyoto and Yamaguchi. (Web: www.sakemaster.com.au)