Over the last 10-15 years I’ve developed a real love for and interest in tea, especially Chinese, Japanese and Taiwanese teas. Coinciding with my deep love of Japanese food and drink, I’ve researched and learned about the different types of Japanese tea (such as sencha, gyokuro, hojicha, genmaicha, matcha), about their growing and processing, their attributes and flavours, and how to best brew them.
But there’s still so much more to learn, which is why I was happy to learn of A Beginner’s Guide to Japanese Tea by Per Oscar Brekell, published by Tuttle this month. The book aims to provide a practical approach to enjoying tea, alongside in-depth knowledge about the many different types of Japanese tea and their flavours, how tea is grown, picked and processed (and the main tea growing regions), how to brew the tea and some and some insight into the physical and mental health benefits the various teas confer.
Born in Sweden, Per Oscar Brekell developed an interest in Japanese tea following a high school history lesson, a passion that grew and later led to his move to Japan. He studied at Gifu University and became a certified Japanese tea instructor, completing an internship at the Tea Research Center in Shizuoka. By this point, Brekell had realised he could turn his hobby into a profession, and he took a job with the Japan Tea Export Council, before eventually starting his own tea business (Senchaism) in 2018, instituting tea education projects internationally and arranging tea events and seminars in Japan.
Having learned the Japanese language and mastered the huge topic of Japanese tea, Breckell is in a unique position to appreciate both the Japanese reverence for tea, and their perfectionism in creating the very best quality teas, and at the same time understand what foreigners are curious about. He sells a selection of Japanese teas (with a focus on single estate and single cultivar teas) via his online shop, as well as lectures and seminars. This knowledge has fed into his classes and previous writing, and is now beautifully presented in this comprehensive book.
Although it’s a slim paperback volume, this book packs in a lot of information! At the start, Breckell gives an introduction to the joys of Japanese tea and how it fits into the Japanese culture of omotenashi (a sense of hospitality).
The first chapter defines what Japanese tea is, starting with the essential elements (tastes) and going on to describe the aromas and active ingredients.
Next, we are introduced to the various types of teas including sencha, gyokuro, bancha, hojicha, matcha, black tea, fermented tea and others.
Chapter Two teaches us about the aspects that give Japanese teas their distinctive flavours – the processing stages, blending, refining and how to evaluate quality.
Chapter Three’s focus is on Single Estate Japanese Teas – what the term means and several of Breckell’s favourites in more detail. Next, we learn about the five major tea growing regions of Japan, including a history of Japanese tea growing.
The penultimate chapter gives instructions on how to brew Japanese tea, and touches on tea ware, water quality and methods for steeping (both hot and cold). It also advises on eating tea leaves, how to whisk matcha and the availability of bottled Japanese teas.
Lastly, Chapter Six admires the beauty of Japanese teapots, and advises on how to choose one to suit your needs.
The book is chock-a-block with vivid colour photographs that are not only beautiful and calming to look at, but also bring the lessons alive. There are helpful tables, diagrams and maps to illustrate some of the lessons. Step-by-step photos make instructions on steeping tea easy to understand and replicate.
I’ve collected several books about tea, and whilst most are gorgeous, coffee-table style works of art, few have communicated both sides of the tea equation (the details of what tea is and how it’s made plus the joy of drinking it) as comprehensively yet concisely as this small tome.
Breckell’s hopes for this book is that “that readers will find it useful when exploring the world of Japanese tea, and that it will help them discover new aspects that they hadn’t sensed before“. More than that, he hopes “it will inspire more people to make Japanese tea a part of their life“. I think that’s a good bet.
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Kavey Eats received a review copy of from Tuttle Publishing. Images courtesy of Tuttle Publishing.