Material Matcha – Rare Craft Matcha Green Tea from Japan

I love what my two friends Etienne and Morgan have done after quitting their corporate jobs.

They created Material Matcha Uji, one of the most disruptive tea companies of recent years. Now they have their unique craft Matcha green teas after a year of patient development and hard work.

Material Matcha Uji is the brainchild of two foodies at heart, who after years in finance & IT gave up their big corporate jobs to go on a quest for purity: to find and create the greatest matcha green teas ever.

Etienne Denoual, co-founder at MMU, explains: “It all started from a deep wish to reconnect with nature and authenticity. When I went back to Kyoto, a city I had lived in for years before, it was a revelation. We just had to do it.”

Making high grade Matcha is no walk in the park. Indeed, they faced serious issues: while so-called matcha is booming worldwide (it is often low quality green tea dust), its production has seen a steep decline in Japan. Farmers are facing increasing expenses, weak demand for superior quality matcha, and lower sales value. Even more worrying, the aging tea-making community faces successor problems, endangering its very existence.

The two founders, who willingly admit that two years ago they knew next to nothing about tea-making, and were both rather coffee persons, took a fresh look to the issues and devised an innovative development model: if superior matcha doesn’t work in the domestic market anymore, they would take it abroad for the first time, where foodies are thrilled by Japanese delicacies.

Their matcha blends, the result of more than a year of hard work in the fields and in their workshop, are uncompromising, bold, sophisticated, and probably unlike anything you have ever tasted before. Straying from the very classical image of Japanese tea ceremony, their craft matcha belongs to the realm of guilty pleasures, not unlike artisanal chocolate or micro-distillery whiskey.

Because Matcha is a precious and pure material, they package their blends in different raw materials honoring the minimalism of Japanese craft & culture.
“We consider our packages and vessels as something one lives with, a celebration and everyday ceremony of the purity of Matcha.” explains Morgan Josset, co-founder.

Support their Kickstarter’s Crowdfunding campaign
Backed by a devoted community and now ready for production, they are asking backers to help them buy a whole year of harvest of several plots of land that are especially promising. Providing tea farmers financial stability and peace of mind, they push them to always favor quality over quantity, and hope that younger generations will one day take up the torch!

Back them on Kickstarter

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Cheap drinks in Japan

My friend Matthew Baxter, who writes at his blog Supercheapjapan has just published his first book. Congratulations! I’ve read the book and I love it, he does what I can’t do when it comes to travel writing: he explains all the details and tricks to move around not only cheaply but also to enjoy every place like the locals would do.

To celebrate the launch I invited him to write an invited blogpost here about drinking on a budget in Japan.

Enter Matthew Baxter:


Many people would think that drinking out in Tokyo is expensive, just like in other major Asian cities such as Hong Kong or Singapore. In fact it’s actually surprisingly cheap to get your beer in the Land of the Rising Sun. In my new book, Super Cheap Japan: Budget Travel in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Hiroshima and Surrounding Areas, I have made a guide to show exactly how you can travel on a budget in Japan. Through my experiences writing the book, I occasionally enjoyed a few drinks, but as I didn’t have much money, I found the best ways to do it cheaply.

 

Drinking in an all-you-can-drink bar

The best place to start your night out shouldn’t be the bar, but the nearest convenience store. Unlike many countries, convenience stores in Japan sell a wide selection of beers, spirits and ciders, as well as Japanese drinks such as shochu and high-balls. Prices are low, with a large selection and cans in sale for only a few dollars. Supermarkets have an even bigger range, especially ones specialising in foreign goods such as Yamaya. So enjoy walking down the streets of downtown Tokyo, and get a few drinks in before you enter the bars and clubs.

The area you go drinking can have a big effect on how much you’ll pay. In busy, crowded or cramped areas, the dreaded cover charge can apply. It’s understandable, as some bars can only take half a dozen or so customers, but having to pay 500 to 1000 yen just to enter a bar is too much for most budget travelers. Therefore, avoid areas such as Golden Gai in Shinjuku, and head to cheaper spots. Good areas to head to are Takadanobaba and Waseda, with their large student populations and therefore student prices.

Once you are in a good area, there are a variety of ways to drink cheaply. Cheap Izakayas are numerous. Catering to the budget market, they have menus where everything goes for, say, 270 yen. That’s another pint for a few dollars! Look out for the large restaurant signs, which will proudly display how much they are selling drinks for, as well as any daily deals. Plus, even though the prices are low, these spots have a great atmosphere and are fun places to hang out with friends. You can even try out new Japanese foods for a few dollars as well.


Friendly bar in Shinjuku

Another option, one that is best for heavy drinkers, is the all-you-can-drink restaurants. Called ‘nomihoudai’ in Japanese, there are a large number of these across the city. Even in expensive areas such as Roppongi, you are never too far away from a nomihoudai restaurant. It’s usually around an extra 1000 yen with a meal. Even KFC are now experimenting with nomihoudai at some of their new family style restaurants.


All-you-can-drink at Kentucky Fried Chicken

All in all, Tokyo is an excellent city to spend a night. Just follows these tips, keep an eye out for signs advertising cheap prices, and you’ll have a great night out. And remember to sleep in the net cafes if you miss the last train home!

This post was written by Matthew Baxter, author of the new book Super Cheap Japan: Budget Travel in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Hiroshima and Surrounding Areas. It’s the ultimate budget travel guide to Japan, full of the most useful, up-to-date information for a cheap holiday in Japan. With extensive tax-free shopping, crazily discounted train passes and an unbelievable exchange rate, there has never been a better time to visit. The book shows you exactly how, where and when you can save money. Go shopping for $4 clothes in Tokyo, enjoy inexpensive hikes in Nikko, or visit Kyoto’s beautiful shrines and gardens on the cheap; all with this super helpful guide.

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Starbucks launches “kyan coffee” (Canned coffee 缶コーヒー) in Japan

Canned coffee ( 缶コーヒー 「キャンコーヒー, kyan kohi」) is a Japanese invention developed at the end of the sixties by the company UCC. Nowadays the canned coffee industry in Japan is huge, there are dozens of companies competing, the most well-known ones are Coca-Cola Japan (Georgia brand), Kirin, UCC, Boss and Nescafe. Last week Starbucks Japan launched their canned coffee version for the Japanese market. Today I found it for the first time on the nearest convenience store from my home, it is slightly more expensive than the competitors:

cafe
Details at the
starbucks japan site

Canned coffee can be found almost anywhere in Japan, in supermarkets, at convenience stores (コンビニ kombini) or inside vending machines. This is how the canned coffee area usually looks like in a convenience store, all kinds of flavours :

cafe5 cafe6

cafe2

I don’t specially like canned coffee but I love the feeling of getting a hot can from a vending machine in winter when I’m walking in a very cold place. Can you imagine walking under the snow in a far a away street with not shops nearby and finding a vending machine with hot drinks? It’s like finding paradise 🙂

cafe3cafe4

These last two cans are from a limited version that UCC made in collaboration with Evangelion. I tried to collect all of them but I failed!

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Flying Fish Soup Vending Machine

Sergio Lorenzi sends me these photos of a vending machine he found in Nagoya with flying fishes inside a bottle. The text say that the flying fishes have been grilled and are ideal to use as a soup (dashi) to give flavour to udon, nabe, oden or any other slow cooked recipe.

Each bottle, in addition to a flying fish, also has some konbu 昆布 algae, one of the essential ingredients to be able to obtain the umami flavor when cooking.

flying fish soup
The ones on the top left side contain only algae and are cheaper than those that include also a flying fish.

flying fish soup

Other posts about vending machines in Japan:

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Water Offerings in Meiji Jingu

In Meiji Jingu there’s always a lot of barrels donated as an offering by many distilleries around the country. The funny thing is that last weekend I also found water bottles as offerings. In addition to being a donation to the Shintoist shrine, they are useful so that the kami-gods bring good luck and good business to the water bottlers.

Water bottles in Meiji Jingu

Water bottles in Meiji Jingu

Water bottles in Meiji Jingu

Water bottles in Meiji Jingu
Alcoholic beverages offerings

Water bottles in Meiji Jingu
Other offerings

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Coffee Art Evolves

The popularity of the art of “drawing” on coffee foam has quickly spread all over the world. There’s already a World Latte Art Championship (which is usually won by Japanese artists). The coffee foam art techniques are evolving fast; now artists can create 3D coffee foam art and some artists can even add colors to their designs (watch the video at the end of this post).

Coffee Art 3D

Coffee Art 3D

Coffee Art 3D

Coffee Art 3D

Coffee Art 3D

Coffee Art 3D

Coffee Art 3D

Coffee Art 3D

Coffee Art 3D

Coffee Art 3D

Coffee Art 3D

Related posts:

Source: Global Voices

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Oi Ocha – 伊藤園お〜いお茶

The Oi Ocha brand was launched by ITO EN in 1989, following the success of its “Canned Sencha” brand that debuted in 1985. The brand is derived from the Japanese phrase, “Oi, ocha!” brand which is a way of calling out, “It’s tea time!” or “Tea, please!”– part of the warm, everyday conversations heard in Japanese homes. The Oi Ocha beverage brand is now one of the most familiar brands in the Japanese beverage market. It is the number one brand among green tea beverage products, second-highest sales among all beverage brands.

The Oi Ocha brand is also used in the marketing of tea leaf products. ITO EN’s roots as a specialist tea company may also be seen in its position today as Japan’s largest tea company, handling over 20% of all the green tea grown in Japan, and the Oi Ocha brand is also ITO EN’s main brand for tea leaf products.

The bottle in the picture is the strong-tasting variation of the Oi Ocha (Ryokucha). I like its balance between astringency and full-bodied flavor as well as the green tea fragrance.

More about tea:

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Pocari Sweat

The first time I tried Pocari Sweat I thought it would be some kind of copy of Aquarius by The Coca-Cola Company. Pocari Sweat has a somewhat milder taste than Aquarius and if you fill two glasses with both, Pocari Sweat is more transparent; but in general they are very similar.

Pocari Sweat

Pocari Sweat

But it turns out it was the oppositte, The Coca-Cola Company copied Pocari Sweat. In this screenshot of the movie Back to the Future you can see a Pocari Sweat (down to the right) during year 2015, suggesting that the drink would become very popular in United States in the future:

Pocari Sweat
Pocari Sweat!

Zemeckis was partly wrong, Pocari Sweat was never released to markets outside Asia. What happened in 1983 is that The Coca-Cola Company released a similar drink to Pocari in Japan, called Aquarius. During the 80s they were both drinks exclusive to the Japanese market. The next country that was able to enjoy Aquarius was Spain in 1991 to make the most of the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992. Nowadays Aquarius is known in many countries around the world and Pocari Sweat is sold in over 10 Asian countries.

This is one of the most well-known Pocari Sweat commercials (I think it was shown during 2005-2006), in which Ayase Haruka chases a Pocari Sweat train:

Since then, actress Ayase Haruka is one of the models used by this brand.

Ayase Haruka. Pocari Sweat

Ayase Haruka. Pocari Sweat

Ayase Haruka. Pocari Sweat

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Most Popular Teas in Japan

One of the first things that caught my attention when I arrived for the first time to Japan was that many people drank bottled green tea:

Ocha
Suntory and Coca-Cola are two of the largest bottled green tea producers in Japan.

Soon, my curiosity lead me to a drinks vending machine in Shibuya, and instead of buying the usual Coca-Cola or Aquarius I pressed one of the buttons that gave me one of the green teas offered. I was expecting a flavor similar to Nestea, but my surprise was that my first gulp tasted bitter, very bitter, it had no sugar at all…. “Yuck!!”

After a while, after having drunk a lot of green tea and having “learned” how to appreciate its flavor, I was on a trip to San Francisco and I decided to order some Nestea. I tried it and… “Yuck!! This is water with sugar!”. And that’s how I became a fan of unsweetened green tea.

Japanese green tea plantation with Mount Fuji
Photo by Ippei Janine

Green Tea, Ocha お茶

In Chinese as well as in Japanese the character 茶 means “tea”. In Japanese it is pronounced “cha” and in Chinese I think it’s something similar. The word ocha お茶 is used to refer to green tea. The kind of green tea depends on the season the tea is harvested, how the leaves are dried and the time they are exposed to the sun:

  • Sencha (煎茶): it is the most drunk kind of green tea in Japan. If the leaves are from the first harvest (April-May) it is shincha (a lighter kind of green), if the leaves are from the Summer harvest it is bancha. A very popular kind of bancha is hōjicha (ほうじ茶); which is differentiated from normal bancha by its roasting process, it’s one of the softest green teas and it is usually served at midday along meals. It is the tea usually served for free in Japanese restaurants, it has a light brownish color.
  • Gyokuro (玉露): it is considered a kind of green tea of great quality and considerably more expensive than sencha. During the weeks before the harvest, tea plants are covered so that they are not exposed to sunlight, in this way the amount of theine and caffeine in the leaves increases. It has a darker color than sencha.

    ocha

  • Matcha: green tea in powder form that is soluble in hot water. It is the one used in the tea ceremony. It has a much stronger taste than sencha and gyokuro. Some people can’t stand such a strong flavor but I love it.

    green tea

  • Ulongcha

    It is a kind of tea originally from China which has much less caffeine than green tea. It is usually drunk as a refreshing drink in summer. Due to its low caffeine content it is one of the drinks chosen during nights for those that want to go to sleep soon.


    The darkest bottle is ulongcha.

    Cereal Teas

    Mugicha (barley tea) is exclusively made out of barley, so it doesn’t contain caffeine. Genmaicha is made mixing roasted rice and green tea leaves. Both have a yellowish color.

    Black Tea, Kocha (紅茶)

    It is the kind of tea that we drink in Europe and it is the only one in Japan in which it is allowed to put sugar or sugar substitutes.

    Other kinds of Tea

    In coffee shops many different kinds of international teas are offered. Lately an African tea, ruibos, is becoming really popular. Chai, jasmine tea and camomile tea are also widely known; being chai one of the favorite teas of Japanese girls.

    tea in japan

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Pepsi Pink strawberry and milk flavor

I have just tried the new Pepsi Pink with strawberry and milk flavor. I can feel the strawberry flavor but I don’t really taste any milk in the drink. Reading the label it turns out that the main ingredient of the drink is… grape juice!

Pepsi Pink strawberry and milk flavor

Almost every year Pepsi launches a new “weird” drink in Japan, most likely as a strategy to try to attract attention. Up until now I think the weirdest of them all is still the Pepsi Cucumber.

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