Like many people, I have been reading more during lockdown. And travelling vicariously, through the words and pictures on the page. My most recent armchair exploration has been with Tea Stories Japan, a beautifully illustrated title that combines an exploration of green tea with its place in Japanese culture, and with the places where it is grown. A book designed to appeal to people who love tea and to people who love Japan.
An Exploration Of Japanese Tea
Tea Stories Japan is written by Ausra Berg, the founder of a specialist tea shop in London. She is a tea expert and travels frequently to Japan, to meet with growers, tea makers and artisans connected with the tea industry.
This makes her the ideal person to write a book on green tea, described as “a unique exploration of tea culture in Japan”. We join the author as she drives through Japan, and talks to people along the way. Not just farmers and tea producers, but anyone connected with tea, including ceramicists and a woman who makes sweets from tea.
Reading Tea Stories Japan
Starting with the tea plant itself we learn about its history and current day cultivation. And about Japanese tea growing regions and the all-important terroir (the physical environment applies to tea as much as it does to wine). Then there is the manufacturing and a bit about black tea and about the chemistry of tea.
There is a section on brewing tea (something I had been learning about recently during a Virtual Teatime). And even a few recipes (the hojicha ice cream looks interesting…). As you might expect, several pages are devoted to the Japanese tea ceremony.
Tea Culture In Japan
The author’s aim is to show “how tea is an integral part of people’s lives in Japan”. She invites us to dig deeper into Japanese culture through her conversations with the people she meets.
The book is presented as a series of short essays, each of a page or two. As well as the people and the recipes, there are musings about culture. One page is headed “utility and beauty”, a subject that underlies much of Japanese culture, and one which I have previously considered myself (Tokyo: Urban Sprawl Or City Of Beauty?).
Learning More About Tea
Tea Stories Japan is very much a book to savour, to dip into at random. It is ideal for those who want to learn more about tea and Japanese culture. But, by looking at the rituals associated with tea in Japan, it is also “a mindful way to pause”.
When we are able to travel again, you may be inspired to explore the Japanese tea culture for yourself. Or you could visit My Cup of Tea, the author’s shop in London, where you can enjoy tastings and other tea-related events.