October 30, 2020

Cupping Notes - Issue 4 - Places

By Yasuharu Matsumoto

Although it is the representative place of Japanese Green tea, common Japanese people don't know the name. But among Japanese Green tea professionals, everyone knows Wazuka.

This is due to the fact that Wazuka tea leaves earn the highest price at the tea auction. Also Wazuka produces the largest amount of Tencha (the raw material for Mat Cha) in Japan. Since Japan makes the most Ten Cha, that makes Wazuka the largest in the world.

Wazuka is located between Nara (The oldest Japanese capital city - 1300 years ago), and Kyoto (the second oldest Japanese capital city - 1200 years ago to 100 years ago), people began to cultivate tea plants around 800 years ago in Wazuka. To this day, there are over 300 families cultivating tea fields in Wazuka, and over 40% of the tea fields in Kyoto prefecture are in Wazuka. 

Of the many kinds of Japanese green tea (Matcha, Sencha, Genmaicha etc.), one of the features is the vivid and deep green color as represented by Matcha. The primary factor effecting the production of the vivid green color is the development of "steaming process”, the first processing step in Japanese green tea manufacturing.

The "steaming" is quite a unique process which can not be found in manufacturing teas other than Japanese green tea. The steaming is the reason why Japanese green tea is categorized into
"Non-Fermented (non-oxidized) tea" in the scientific classification. It is also the reason why levels of Catechin (EGCG) which have anti-oxidization effects, is so abundant in Japanese green tea.

In Wazuka, they produce almost all kinds of Japanese green teas which are processed by "steaming". And, although 99% of Japanese green tea in the market is blended, you can drink pure and genuine Japanese green tea before blending in Wazuka.

How could they keep cultivating tea for over 800 years in Wazuka? It might be because of the perfect conditions for growing high quality tea; namely the climate, soil, and the valley’s special geological condition.  It could also be because of the mist that is produced by the Wazuka river which runs through the central bottom of Wazuka. Together with nearby Iga, Koga and Ningya, the Wazuka area is nestled in the depths of the mountains and surrounded by the richness of nature.

Uji, famous for the tea ceremony Chado, is only 30 mins from Wazuka by car. For 300 years or so, Sencha has been the most popular tea in Japan. It was invented in a neighboring town to Wazuka. Despite the long history of Japanese green tea the region remains unspoiled, resulting in over 800 years of tea history in Wazuka.

In winter, you can see the “zebra stipes” snowscape of tea the fields with the subtropical tea bushes dusted with white. In spring is the Cherry blossom “sakura-scape” with the delicate light pink flowers covering the hills. In autumn the trees are ablaze in fall colors with the momiji-scape. The lush green of summer is full of vigorous new growth. In Japan one can see such beautiful scenery in all four seasons and in Wazuka one can enjoy the sight of green tea fields in the background in any season. Of course you can experience tea picking during harvest times.

If a tea lover has an opportunity to take a trip to Japan, he/she absolutely should
visit Wazuka.


October 30, 2020

Cupping Notes - Issue 4 - Opinions & Discussions

Water and Tea – A Paper

By Pierre Vrignaud.

Water is an essential topic as our cup of tea contains at least 98.5 percent of water. So unsuitable water will spoil even the best teas and optimal water will reveal the potential of even ordinary teas. This presentation is dealing with the impact of water quality on tea brewing. The first part presents a reminder of the importance of the water quality according to the Chinese tradition. Then, we shall turn to the West with the presentation of water analysis from the point of view of chemistry to describe water properties and how to use this information to choose the most suitable water. Finally, we shall discuss the presentation of the session about water and tea as conducted in our association.

Water and tea according to Chinese tradition

In China, the quality of water has, for a long time, been a subject of concern among tea masters. We are reminded that Lu Yu visited and tasted many springs during his journeys through China as he was discovering teas. He wrote, beside his well known treatise on tea (Cha Jing), a treatise on springs that unfortunately has been lost. Lu Yu did discuss the merits of different kinds of water in the Cha Jing:

“Of waters, use of mountain water is superior, river water is average, well water is inferior.”

Since the Song dynasty, tradition retains the following classification of waters to brew tea (reference: John Blofeld, The Chinese art of tea, 1985):

  • ·         Waters from a mountain spring forming on rocks without mosses or any vegetation;
  • ·         Water draw from a fast flowing river;
  • ·         Water from the wells;
  • ·         Other waters (rain, snow, dew), these ones are sometimes called “sky waters” in opposition with the previous ones called “earth waters.

Waters from mountain springs, considered as the best ones, are called “friends of the tea”. The tradition tells also that the infusion is optimal when prepared with water gushing from a spring near the tea garden. One well known example is brewing Long Jing tea with water from Hu Pao spring situated near the gardens where this famous tea is grown. Hu Pao means running tiger alluding to the story of the discovery of this spring by a monk dreaming of two tigers letting gush the water from the soil.

Insert pictures 1 and 2 approximately here. This interest for the quality of water used to brew tea appears through anecdotes relating tea masters’ extraordinary abilities to identify the origin of water. Thus Lu Yu was able to distinguish between water drawn in the middle of a river from water drawn near the banks.

Since the Tang dynasty, a lot of works have been published on Chinese springs (see examples in ancient Chinese texts translated in English: in Warren Peltier, The Ancient Art of tea. 2011). 
The most famous springs have been visited by officials and sometimes the Emperor himself. The Emperor and the rich tea lovers had water transported from quite distant springs.

A passage of the famous novel “The Dream of the RedMansion” (Hong Long Meng) testifies about the refinement of water and tea tasting. The story takes places in a Buddhist monastery where the abbotess is offering tea to the hero and some of his family members: “
He tasted tea very carefully judging that its savor was of an incomparable subtlety and purity, and let out in endless compliments:
“Did you use last year rain water to brew this tea?” Asked her sister.
“For a person of your rank”, answered the young abbotess with a mocking laughter, “it’s rather vulgar not being able to taste water. This water is snow water that I collected five years ago on the plum flowers. I obtained only enough to fill this blue jug. Not resolving to drink it, I buried the jug in the ground. I opened it only this summer. How did you not identify it? Last year rain water would it have so subtle and pure? ”
Cao Xueqin. Hong Lou Meng (circa 1750) Story XLI.

These kinds of reflections and stories about tasting water and tea can be found also in the Japanese tea tradition (see for example Sen Shogitsu XV, The Japanese way of tea. From its origins in China to Sen no Rikyu. 1998). In the West, there are also some examples of the importance of water for tea lovers. In the 19th century, a company was selling special water to brew tea to New Yorkers. When she is travelling, Queen Elisabeth the second is takes, in her luggage, liters of the water she wants to be used to prepare her tea.

Western science approach to water

The scientific tools offered by chemistry will allow us to understand which parameters can explain the water taste and its interaction with tea. This is not an expert presentation, only a notional summary helping tea lovers who are often laywomen and laymen in this matter to be able to use this information. For the chemist, water has a very important property: it can dissolve a lot of substances. The consequence of this property besides allowing us to brew tea, is that drinking water (spring and tap) contains lot of minerals. These elements, essential for healthy functioning of our bodies (for example calcium), are effect the different tastes of waters. A completely pure water like distilled water would not be really proper for dinking or at least we shall find it has a strange taste. By the way, we can say that if lightly minerals are recommended to brew tea, the use of very pure waters like snow or rain waters are also not the subject of a consensus among the tea masters.

Composition and characteristics of waters

Today, it’s very easy to be informed about the composition of spring waters thanks to the labels on the bottle or, for tap waters, thanks to the information provided by the water supply companies. I’m not sure that these regulations dealing with the display of water chemical analysis on the bottle label are mandatory worldwide but looking through my collection of bottle labels from the different countries I have been travelling, I notice that the display of more or less of information is becoming more and more frequent. The label presents a list of the minerals found in the water (like sodium: Na, Calcium: Ca, Magnesium: Mg, …) and positives or anions (OH, CO3). All these elements will play their part in the water taste (salty, acid, …) and the effect on tea brewing. These components can be synthesized through two global chemical notions the basic/acid character (pH) and the hardness (TH).

pH an index for the acid/basic characteristic

The acid or basic character is a very important characteristic of water which has an impact on brewing tea. Chemists appreciate this characteristic using the pH (abbreviation for pondus Hydrogenum that means weight of the hydrogen). pH indicates acidity/alkalinity of a substance determines the quantity of ions H (acid) and OH (base) present in the substance. When the quantity of both ions is equal, water (or more generally the substance) is considered as neutral and the pH value is estimated at 7. The pH scale ranges between 1 and 14. 7 is the middle of the scale. When pH value goes near 1, more acid is the substance (for example the pH of lemon juice has a value of 2). Higher the pH value more basic is the substance (for example the pH of soap is 13).

Usually the pH of drinking water varies between 6 and 8. Sparkling waters are more acidic. In general for bottled water, the pH is indicated on the label. The water supply company can give this information for tap water. As the participants of ITCC Cupping Events know, this analysis is easy to do using strip papers as the ones provided by ITCC with the cupping material (otherwise available on Internet or in aquarium friends’ shop).

From traditional knowledge or from tea retailers’ and teashop owners’ advice, we find a consensus recommending a neutral or slightly acid water (6 < pH < 7). To support this conclusion, remember that tea bushes prefer an acidic soil and that according to the Chinese tradition, a tea is best brewed with water surging from the spring that watered the tea garden. We remembered in the introduction the story of the Hu Pao spring near the Long Jing tea gardens in Hang Zhou. I brought back to Paris a bottle of Hu Pao water and made it analyze by Veolia (one of the most important water supply company in France). The results demonstrate that Hu Pao water is slightly acid (pH = 6.5) and quite soft (TH = 60). So, if you want to realize this wonderful experience to brew the best Lion Peak Long Jing without traveling to Hang Zhou and filling your pot at Hu Pao spring, you need only to find a still mineral water possessing these characteristics.

The water hardness and how to measure its TH

Calcium and magnesium are the elements which support water hardness: the more they are present in the water the harder it will be. By the way, these elements have a strong impact on taste, for example magnesium leaves a bitter taste. Hard water has less dissolving power than soft, hence a hard water will not retain as many of the tea components as a soft one. The infusion of tea brewed with hard water will appear darker than ones brewed with soft water which will be dull and, particularly with red tea (Hong Cha), we can observe a cloud, a film at the surface of the cup.

A quick and easy way to estimate the water hardness is to look at the quantity of calcium that it contains. If we want more precise measure, chemists use different more or less sophisticated measures, the Total hardness is simple to calculate from the information presents on the bottle label. The Total Hardness index is the sum of calcium and magnesium contained in one liter of water. Water hardness can be expressed in various units, German degrees (°dH), parts per million (ppm, mg/L, or American degrees), grains per gallon (gpg), English degrees (°Clark), or French degrees (°f). Tables are available on Internet to make conversion a very simple and practical one: http://www.cactus2000.de/uk/unit/masswas.shtml

Having studied French waters, I have been using the following formula to compute French degrees. These degrees are easy to convert into American degrees multiplying by 10. 

* in milligramms/liter

40,1 and 24,3 are calcium  and magnesium, respectively, atomic masses (in g/mol). 

A classification of water relative to hardness have been established:

  • ·         0-6°f (0-60 American degrees): very soft water (distillated, osmosis, rain).
  • ·         6-11°f (60-110 American degrees): soft water (still mineral water like French Volvic).
  • ·         12-18°f (120-180 American degrees):  moderately hard water (tap water in low limestone regions).
  • ·         18-30°f (180-300 American degrees):  hard water (French Valvert, Evian, tap water in region rich in limestone).
  • ·         > 30°f (>300 American degrees): very hard (highly mineralized still spring water, sparkling spring water).

If you don’t have this information, you can use water hardness strips (available on Internet or in aquarium friends’ shop). There exist also a layman’s method using soap (add drops of liquid soap to the water to be tested till it foams, the sooner the softer. But, this method is too imprecise to test water for brewing tea.

Tap water Hardness depends of the geological background and of the treatment applied by the water supply company. In most countries, you can obtain more or less detailed information about the composition of the water they are sending in your tap, in general hardness is one basic piece of  information they will provide as it has undesirable properties. Hard water is not harmful for human consumption but it has undesirable effects on pipes and devices like washing machines and dramatic effects on tea brewing. In most countries water supply companies prefer to deliver moderately hard water as a daily amount in calcium is recommended. By the way, the tasting reference for most water supply companies is the one of moderately hard water (for example the French company Veolia uses as references Evian (TH =30°f), this level of hardness gives an impression of well structured water in the mouth.

Nowadays, there exist a lot of solutions to soften water: from cartridges adapted to a jug (ideal for softening the water quantity needed for a pot of tea) to sophisticated systems branched at the entry of your house water supply. All the chemical components are eliminated through inverse osmosis. This is a nice solution simpler and cheaper than buying spring mineral water. Osmosis filtered waters  are purified from all the mineral elements and undesirable chemicals like chlorine, but through the osmosis process, the structure of water is profoundly modified, for example the estimate of pH of osmosis filtered water has no meaning.


Chlorine is the main drawback for the taste of tap water. This element added by the water supply companies to disinfect drinking water makes tap water unsuitable to brew tea. For example, in the French coffee shops, they are using tap water heated in the espresso coffee machine, spoiling the few qualities that could improve the teabag. I think this is one of the reason for which there has been such a development of wine in France. Any joke put apart, the water supply companies are arguing that added chlorine (less than 0.2 mg per liter) should be undetectable by most people at a 25° Celsius temperature. And even, they tell you that if you put your pot of water in the refrigerator and drink it at a temperature around 5° Celsius, you will not taste any chlorine. Maybe, but tea lovers are drinking their tea at a higher temperature so the chlorine effect is not neutralized by the cold. Chlorine quantity can vary a lot according to the countries, the seasons, the water origin (spring or issued from used water treatment). But the presence of chlorine in tap water will spoil any good and not so good teas independently of its pH and TH. It’s one of the aim of osmosis filtering, to eliminate chlorine from tap water.

Learning from practice: Tasting water and tea in our association

Now, let’s put this all into practice as the truth is in our cup. Our session to estimate the impact of water quality on tea brewing consists of comparing the same tea brewed in the same conditions (time, temperature, teapot material) using different waters. As there is a palate and cognitive overload we compare at most 6 infusions in the same session. We retain for this comparison a very hard water (in general Hépar pH=7, TH=180°f) with high content in magnesium), tap water from the tearoom (pH = 7.8, TH = 27°f); a neutral and moderately hard (in general Evian pH=7.2, TH=30°f), a neutral and soft Volvic (pH = 7, TH = 6.2°f), an acid and very soft (low mineralized, equivalent to Hu Pao) Mont Roucous (pH = 6, TH =0.4°f ) and osmosis filtered water (Brita cartridge).

We conducted several sessions using Qimen tea (an intermediate grade) as this Hong Cha is in general known by the participants (so they are focusing on the water not on discovering the tea). It was infused for one minute at a 90° Celsius temperature. We use a half a liter teapot (porcelain). During the session, the participants are noted their impressions about the infusion (color, smell) and the taste. When all the waters had been tested they ranked the 6 infusions according to their preferences. Without any surprise, they didn’t like the hard water (Hépar) and the tap water, some participants showed very impressive grimaces while drinking both of these infusions. The favorite choice was divided evenly: one third preferred the Volvic and another third favored the osmosis filtered water. Some liked the neutral (Evian) and some the low mineralized (Mont Roucous). The comments revealed that the infusion was brighter with Volvic than with Evian, and that with Mont Roucous the infusion appeared a little bit to light, not structured enough.

We have introduced in some sessions, snow or rain water, both have been appreciated but less than Volvic or osmosis filtered water.

An interesting question is “is there an all purpose optimal water or are there preferred associations between tea families (and even inside families like wulongs - taking into account level of oxidation and roasting, or between Darjeeling flushes)? Are they differences according to the preparation (big teapots or Gong Fu Cha)?  We had some sessions comparing Long Jing (Xi Hu) brewed with Volvic versus low mineralized water (Mont Roucous very similar to Hu Pao). The participants in these sessions appeared quite divided between both while with Hong Cha low mineralized water was not so much appreciated.

When we look to tradition, the use of spring water as a standard raises the argument that for the old masters the question of different water sources was not relevant. They were ranking water in the frame of tea preparation corresponding to their time (mostly green tea). So these questions seem largely open. We need to gain more information and to conduct more experimentation. I hope that this information will encourage the ITCC members to share their experiences and advice about this crucial topic for tea lovers.


Tea brewing cannot be summarized by chemistry alone, it’s an alchemy. Comparing modern and old time tea masters, we have to consider water energy. According to the old time wisemen, a water draw from a mountain spring or from rapids is full of energy. What is the energy of bottled water stocked for a short or long time in more or less good conditions? What about the energy of osmosis filtered water treated by sorcerers’ processes?

Then what is our best choice? As with many topics about tea and tea brewing, to answer this question we have to rely on tradition and experiment. The experimentations can be conducted in the spirit Dan Robertson’s recommendations for the ITCC Cupping Events “Cuppers are encouraged to explore “bracketing” infusion methods. These may include varying the amount of tea leaf infused, water temperature, water sources, infusion time, number of infusions, even different brewing vessels. Bracketed evaluations are optional but cuppers may offer their comments in a companion online evaluation form.” And last but not least while keeping in mind that there exist individual differences in tasting and preferences and best choices can vary from one tea lover to another.

Pierre Vrignaud is President of the French tea lovers’ association “Vapeurs de Thé sur une Tasse Chinoise », ITCC member.

"Vapeurs de Thé sur une Tasse Chinoise" ("Vapours of Tea on a Chinese Cup") is a French association created in 1998 in Paris by a few tea lovers, enchanted by green, white, yellow, Wu Long (Oolong), black (post-fermented) and red teas. Our objective is to help to improve our knowledge of Chinese teas.

October 30, 2020

Cupping Log - Issue 4 - Faces


with Ip Wingchi

Q: Mr. Ip, thank you for meeting today. You are a very important person in the tea industry and somebody I think our members should know more about.
A. Thank you. I’m very happy to know you have the International Tea Cuppers Club. It’s a very interesting idea and people can learn and communicate, can exchange ideas in this. So I’m honored to be interviewed.


Q. First, could you tell us, how did you get into tea? What’s your background and original interest?”
A. Accident. Actually I was trained to be an artist. I studied in the Fine Arts department in ChineseU. Tea is my long time hobby. You know, for Hong Kongnese or Chinese people we started the tea experience since childhood. I drank tea a lot, especially the milk tea, and also the Chinese tea. And, without any special prejudice or special idea about that. Until one day, in the 1980s I had the chance to visit the Chinese farms. In the middle of the 1980s, because of Deng Xiaoping’s policy, so we were allowed to visit. We were the first group. Because we are Chinese, we were living in Hong Kong. So I got to know one of my staff, at that time, I’m doing the tea for business. This is another important page in my life.

I make the small Yixing teapot become the international famous tea ware, in 1980. So, by accident I got to know a gentleman whose family is an Anxi, tea farmer. So I paid a visit to his home. And then I tried the tea. I was much surprised by that tea because it was so much different from the tea I drank in my cups, or I bought in the shops. Because in that time, everything is controlled by the National Import & Export Corporation. And then the tea was only in two names. One was Tie Guan Yin. The other was Sek Jong. Sek Jong means oolong. We didn’t have different varietals or something like that. And then, they are classified into 1, 2, 3, 4, something like that. So, like, K100 is the best Tie Guan Yin. And then the second one is K101. So everything is in a standard quality. And then I went to the farm. I felt - tea has life! All the teas are different. They have different varietals, made by different farmers, and every day the weather is different. The process, timing, everything is not fixed. And then you can find that tea is just like an individual. They have characters. They have life. They have emotions. They have temperament. So, oh, I’m so amused by this discovery. And then I brought some tea back home to Hong Kong. And then I also shared with my friends. I think sharing is very important to me on tea. So I shared with my friends. My friends are all surprised by the tea I got. So, and then I tried to buy some of it, some tea like this. So I invented a name called “Single Day Harvest.” That means not blended. This group of tea they pick in the morning, and they process it in the whole afternoon. And then they finish on the next day. And then I just keep it. No matter it’s good or not good. So, I am very interested about the conversation we just had before. You have to understand the defects. [referring to the ITCC Production Defects Cupping Event] Actually the defects are very important. It makes the tea different. So if everything is perfect it is something similar. But because you can’t be a perfect person, tea can’t be a perfect tea. So you have different variations, which make the tea more interesting. Some tea is better in taste some tea is better in aroma and something like that. So I love this. And then, I think I have some kind of linkage with the tea. And then I started the business by very small quantities. Of course you can not make money from that but it is for your interest, for your passion and for sharing with your friends. You kind of love that job. And then, in 1991 I started Lok Cha as a business. So I continued this concept of “Single Day Harvest” and it was accepted by the people. You know, it is very difficult to get into the tea business. Because there are so many shops, so many companies. And people like old brands. “You are a new comer, you are nothing” you know? So, I’m very lucky and then I get a point to get into the business by introducing this concept. And so at that time people find my tea is very different from other companies. So, I can survive in the beginning. So this is how I get into the tea business.

Q: You spoke a little bit about this but maybe a little bit more on what was the tea industry like when you started. You said it’s difficult and there where restrictions from China. What were the obstacles you had to overcome in the beginning in the tea industry?
A: Actually, nobody knows the story at that time, because, China is exercising a new policy. They return the land to the farmers. So each farmer has the right to grow their own tea, make their own tea. So the tea is suddenly grown up, blooming. And people will take more care of their own tea to improve the quality because you have competition. So the point is that at that time the scale is very small. Not very steady. So you have to travel a lot to the tea farms to communicate with the farmer, to look at the tea and something like that. You have to spend a lot of time. And so at that time, tea is not so complicated as today. Only a few varietals and only a few names in the tea. When you got to Anxi maybe you have 5 or 6 different tea only. Depends on the varietal like Mao Xie, Rou Gui, Mei Zhan, or Ben Shan something like that. These names are not known outside. Outside China they are all called oolong. So when you get there you have different kinds of tea, maybe 5 or 6 like this. And then it all depends on your palate. You have to taste, you have to check and you have to communicate with farmers. What tea you like and then they make into your own, your own style. So at that time I feel we are more close to the farmers, they are more close to the land. They are more close to the leaf itself. It’s more interesting. Of course today it is more complicated. The tea industry evolves, and then the volume increases many, many times. Actually China is the biggest tea producing country now. About 3 or 4 years ago it became the largest producing country. You have many, many varietals, many, many different styles. But, it all goes to marketing. The small tea farms vanished. They became bigger now. Or some companies invest, they collect, they do it the collective way. So, the tea is more sophisticated now and more like a commodity now. Not so interesting as before I must say. So, I’m still keeping my way, to travel to the small farms. Talking to them, finding some interesting tea, something like that.

Q: What are the changes you’ve seen from the beginning to now?
A: Of course, now we have more choice. And also tea is more expensive. Very, very expensive now. And because of the market changes, a lot of people are attracted by the aroma, by the taste of tea. So actually the tea drinking population is growing, especially in China. Before that, the Chinese people are poor in living so they do not have extra money to spend on tea. If they have some money they would spend on food, they would spend on clothes, or they would spend on TV, or refrigerator, and then the car, something like that. And now they have more money so they want to have better tea. And also because of marketing some branding is coming up in China. The competition is much more keen. And so I can see there is a lot of technology, a lot of craftsmanship, improvement in China. One of the important observations I have seen now is they do a lot of crossover. You can see a little bit in the tea competition. They make in the red tea way and put it as a Pu Er cake. And also they make the Phoenix oolong varietal to make into the red tea. A lot of crossover. And then the result is very interesting. I have tried a lot of this tea. Actually I have done this for two years. Last year and this year in Anxi. Experimenting to do some new varietal. It is produced by the research academy. They do some hybrid of different varietals. And when they are successful, they will put it into the market. So now some new tea trees are coming up. This is completely new, not in the history. They do it with some different method and different way. And so the result is very interesting. And also, I can see the localization is getting less now. You can have oolong everywhere. Before it is only in Anxi or Fujian or Taiwan. Now it’s everywhere. You can have oolong in Sichuan. And you can have oolong even from New Zealand or Thailand. Or even in America, I was told somebody tried, experimented to grow some tea in America. So I think that because of the transportation or technology, I think tea is very easy to spread out everywhere in the world. I think this is a very interesting place because some old tea farms already too old. The soil already is tired out. They need some rest. And then some virgin tea farm is not yet explored. And then you can bring some varietal, some technology or some craftsmanship to that area. And then you will make a new picture. In the future, tea will be a very common beverage. Everywhere in the world. Not Chinese, not Indian not Sri Lanka, not like this. Tea is Tea. A big family. Everybody can enjoy. Everybody can find his own favorite. So I think this is the future. And technology and transportation, business and all growing up and then they will integrate into one world. I think it will be this way.

Q: Where do you think the tea industry will be in the next 10 to 20 years?
A: I think because new varietals will come out. Before, for example in India they say they have “the Chinese bushes”, and “this is Assamica varietals”, and something like that. But in the future you will have 20, 30 not only 2. By some experiment, something like that. This is natural. I can see that there will be hundreds of them coming up. I was told by the Research Institute of Fujian, now they released about 10 new varietals. But they say in their laboratories there is a line of new varietals that will come out. So when they are successful, they will raise up new bushes. I can see the new technology will bring a lot of innovation in the tea industry, especially in the varietals. And I think, China is very powerful, is very sophisticated in this side. Because the tea industry is the Chinese culture. And this is a Chinese beverage. The second thing is, as I say is, the localization will finish. And then we will explore some new places, new soil, new farms, new plantations, and then you can grow very good tea. And also because people are more concerned with health I think tea is wonderful. There are more and more experiments showing that tea is very helpful for a lot of our health problems. For me my family, its always high cholesterol. My sister, my brother are not so good and I’m quite healthy I think. I drink a lot of tea. I feel more and more people will understand this. In the next 10 or 20 years the world is getting smaller and people will share something good together. And, I think this is tea.

Q: That’s well said. I’ve had the pleasure of being at the Lok Cha tea room near the Flagstaff museum in the park there. I think it has become perhaps an institution of Hong Kong tea. Could you tell me a little bit more about how you started that and more about Lok Cha and your passion about this place?
A: Lok Cha in Chinese means, Lok means “Happy”, “Enjoy”, Cha means “Tea”. So Lok Cha is just conjoined, Happy with Tea, something like that. So actually, at the beginning as I told earlier, sharing is very important in tea, so you have a lot of fun. As well in the Chinese circles we drink since the morning and in the afternoon at lunch, afternoon, in the evening even before you go to bed. So we drink tea all day long. And whenever you want to start something we have tea. We do any thing, first it’s “yum cha, yum cha.” So I think tea is a wonderful tradition, a wonderful beverage. And then it includes or comes with so much culture behind. So I think I want to promote some kind of life style and some kind of value of life to the people to be more relaxed, not so stressful and just enjoy a cup of tea. So I don’t want to go so deeply in any philosophical meaning. Sometimes if you go too deep, this is another method. I don’t want to say Japanese tea is too much for me but sometimes, the Japanese tea is a kind of philosophy. Of course it has its value but it is not everyday thing maybe. I think tea is a very simple thing. So I picked this name. I just want to share the joy of tea with other people. So, I started the business in 1991 because I found the Single Day Harvest tea. And just want to share with my friends. And then gradually, gradually it developed. I like to travel to the tea farms, like to stay with the tea farmers. And I learned my knowledge of tea from them. I did not come out from a formal university of agriculture of tea or something like that. I just learned from the real life. I learned from the real thing. So, I spent a lot of time staying with the tea farmers. I learned how to make tea by myself something like that. And of course my background, I picked tea more as a culture. So I think this is something I can spend my whole life to do, to devote my whole life into this mission, to promote the culture of tea. Actually it means a very simple, very peaceful, very harmonious way to live. So I think it brings a lot of benefits to my life rather than to my wealth. So I can live comfortably, everyday. Before, I wore a tie, a suit and now I wear Chinese clothes and everything is so comfortable and so relaxing and I think this is wonderful. And I find a meaning in tea. And also maybe I am very lucky. Lok Cha grows very well. And I insist to this kind of philosophy to share tea, also share the joy of tea with friends so Lok Cha continues to be a very humble shop. We do not look for very expensive Pu Er in Hong Kong. We aren’t looking for some very big spender. I just want tea that’s interesting, a good tea, money’s worth, health to my friends. So this is my concept. And very lucky this concept is acceptable to the people.

Q: One final question, what would be your suggestion for someone who is starting out in the tea industry, the tea business now. Maybe they want to get into that. Do you have any suggestions or helpful hints or comments?
A: Look before you leap! [Laughing] Because there are too many people like tea, because tea is such a wonderful thing. Even very romantic and very passionate. You do a lot of traveling, seems wonderful life. But I have to advise the people, tea is a very difficult business. Very hard business. So do not only look at the beautiful side of the tea. You have to also go to the practical side of the tea. So visit the farmers, visit the tea farms, understand the industry, and there’s a lot of things to learn. I think you’d have to spend your whole life to learn about tea. Of course, the basic important ingredient of making a tea business is your passion, your love of tea so you can overcome the frustration of the business, the hardship of the business. And, if you have the passion, have the patience, this can be one of your joys, or one of your achievements. Because, you overcame some difficulties. I think the tea business is a little bit like a flower shop. It looks so beautiful but actually its hard work. So don’t look just at the beauty of the flowers. You have to think, “how to make it work.” It is so difficult. You have to do a lot of work. I see a lot of young people they think “oh, a tea shop is very easy”. They just buy some tea and sell the tea. They don’t have that kind of spirit. They don’t have that kind of core part. You need some philosophical part; mentally and spiritually also you need some practical part. You have to study to understand. This is not easy so, “look before you leap”, to study more.  So I see all the good tea businesses, the good brands, they are 100 or 200 years of history, and, generations of wisdom and knowledge. It is not easy to do that. Tea is still a new business, especially in the western world. Every month I receive some enquiry. “Can you supply me some tea?” Usually, I say “no”. This is not because I don’t want to do business I also want to give them a good advice. Please come to drink tea, not only buy tea and sell tea. So you have to enjoy the tea first, understand the tea first, know the tea first before you get into the tea business.

October 30, 2020

Cupping Notes - Issue 4 - Gardens

Hawaii Grown Tea – Status Report

By Elyse Peterson

After several years of small batch processing and marketing from niche tea retailers, Hawaii Grown Tea has become a known name in the tea world. Many tea lovers have had the unique opportunity to taste the sweet terroir of the islands. In 2014, a Hawaii Grown Tea made by Bob Jacobson of Hawaii Rainforest Tea was the first tea to win a North American Tea Conference Gold Cup Medal for the United States. The market is ready and excited to welcome Hawaii Grown Tea, but as expect, time is still needed as industry infrastructure is developed to meet the market demands.

Industry Update

In a 2011 [market feasibility study) (www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/tea_2011.pdf] published by the University of Hawaii the Hawaii Grown Tea industry is profiled. It is now 2015 and not much has changed outside of some major state supported development projects that have put thousands of tea seedlings in gardens across the state. It is not known exactly how many tea gardens exist in the state as information from these projects are not disclosed and many gardens are being developed under the radar. It seems as if most of the development has occurred over the past few years, coinciding with the development of the US Tea Growing movement which includes major players in Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and California. It will not be for a few more years until the gardens and teas will come into the market, but don’t be surprised to see a rush of promising tea producers.

The tea gardens of Hawaii that have gained the most traction in the market are Mauna Kea Tea, Hawaii Rainforest Tea, Onomea Tea, Hawaii Tea & Company, and Big Island Tea. Distribution spans across the globe serving as some of the highest priced products of high end brands like Harrods. Many of these gardens are able to sustain their business through retail sales of their tea via local farmers markets and e-commerce websites. Unfortunately, local distribution stops at the farmers market as the tea growers find it hard to enter markets such as Whole Foods that stock locally blended “Hawaii style” teas, which are Chinese and Indian imports blended with Hawaiian fruits and flavors. The issue of price competition will always remain a challenge for tea growers in Hawaii because costs are so much higher in the United States and commodity prices of tea still remain below $5 per kilogram. To overcome this growers have focused on mastering their art of cultivating and processing tea similar to high quality tea producers in China. Instead of trying to bring down their production costs they are bringing up the value of their tea.

Hawaii Terroir

The terroir of Hawaii has not yet been fully discovered. Tea tasters and buyers all agree that there is a Hawaii essence to all the Hawaii Grown Teas they have experienced, but no descriptors have been tagged to its terroir. Plant cultivars are still being developed for each garden due to Hawaii’s vast variety of microclimates. Outreach efforts at the University of Hawaii have empowered tea growers to collect a wide variety of plant material and germinate multiple generations of tea seeds to select the best performing plants for their environment. This process of plant selection has taken about 10 years for each garden and is going to be what differentiates the teas from all the gardens. Once a “mother plant” is selected cuttings can be rooted to speed up the propagation process. Some farmers have even mastered the technique of air layering which is a process of rooting cuttings directly on the mother plant. As the industry is still young and most of the cultivars of Hawaii have yet to be developed it is still premature to say there is a specific terroir of Hawaii. Elevations of gardens range from 200 feet to 3000 feet and gardens span across dozens of Hawaii’s microclimates.


It is still very early to say exactly where the Hawaii Grown Tea industry will go and how it will perform in the international tea market. Early popularity of the first teas released into the market indicate the there is much more room and excitement for other growers to enter. One of the most opportune markets, the United States, is still learning the value of tea and is beginning to pay the proper price for high quality tea. The growing demand for local products will only help with the inclusion of Hawaii Grown Tea. Consumers excited to try these teas should not be surprised to pay upward of $2 a gram to taste the sweet, tropical terroir of Hawaii. If you would like to learn more about Hawaii Grown Tea you can stay connected with the Hawaii Tea Society (www.hawaiiteasociety.org/) or contact me directly at elyse@tealet.com.

October 23, 2020

Cupping Notes - Issue 4 - Tasting Tips

Tea areas of Nepal

By John Taylor of HIMCOOP

Along with Suresh Limbu of Mist Valley Tea Estate and Udaya Chapahain of Gorkha Tea Estate, ITCC welcomed John Taylor – Chairman of HIMCOOP as new members at the Xiamen International Tea Fair in October 2014. ITCC asked John Taylor to introduce some of the special features of Nepal teas.

Nepal teas are relatively new in the global tea market but are getting more recognition day by day. The Nepal tea industry has grown tremendously in the last decade and this has been mainly because of the entry of entrepreneurial businesses from the private sector. The core product is still Orthodox SFTGFOP1 but a lot of specialty teas are expected to be produced in the future. Tea quality has improved with each passing year and is expected to continue.

95% of the fresh plucked, green leaf come from small scale farmers who sell the leafs directly to factories or through cooperatives to factories. 97% of tea bushes are Darjeeling clone cultivars.

Three major growing districts are:

1) Ilam

2) Dhankuta

3) Panchthar

The main regions for both quantity and quality are Ilam and Dhankuta but quality and production volumes are expected to improve in the Panchthar district in the coming years.

ILAM: Almost 90% of teas come from this district. It mainly produces orthodox teas – mainly high withered, medium fermented teas with a greenish appearance in the leaf. Liquors colors are light, golden brown with fresh, rich flowery aromas. Recently, trends are changing with the introduction of small Chinese manufacturing units that process specialty teas. Therefore, a lot more specialty teas are expected in the future from this district.

Himalayan Shangri-La Tea Producers is one of the prominent factories in this region producing quality teas – both orthodox and specialty teas. They have got recognition for their SFTGFOP1S and Green teas and are making a mark with their GOLD and WHITE teas.

The Gold, known as the SHANGRI-LA GOLD is beautifully processed, hand sorted and fully oxidized dry leaf consisting exclusively of golden tips with strong, heavy, fruit and chocolate aroma. The liquors are deep brown in color, full, round, chocolate taste with tones of chestnuts and a long, sweet woody after taste.

The White, known as the SHANGRI-LA WHITE is hand processed leaf containing long, slightly rolled and oxidized unbroken tips which are very delicate and soft with tones of fruits. Bright green-gold liquors.

DHANKUTA: is a region that has got recognition all over the world for its quality and especially, for it’s Specialty teas.

Guranse has gained worldwide recognition for its teas. Kuwapani too is improving with each year.

Guranse does White, Greens and has made a mark with its handrolled teas. The HANDROLLED FLORAL is beautifully processed, carefully hand rolled unbroken dry leaves consisting of young downy tips with medium oxidation levels . Liquor is bright golden green with excellent balance. It has freshly fruity taste with tones of citrus and cinnamon.

Kuwapani has got recognition for its MAKULU range of teas which are highly oxidized, full and round with woody notes.

John Taylor