Dec 4, 2017
Last Friday I had the very great pleasure of attending the first day, of three, of the Tokyo Tea Party 2017. I had heard whispers of this prestigious event in the past. This year, thanks to City-Cost I was fortunate enough, not just to attend, but to get a prime seat as “press”. This is as part of an ongoing green tea reporting adventure with City-cost. It was yet another incredible experience and opportunity that I feel grateful to have participated in.
The Tokyo Tea Party: what is it?
The Tokyo Tea Party is a tea tasting event designed to choose Japan’s premium tea. Initially four hundred teas go through several tasting stages, with experts and specialist judges whittling the selection down to just eighteen teas. The final eighteen teas are then put to a final test over a three day celebrated tasting event in Tokyo.
The Tokyo Tea Party first started in 2013. It has grown in popularity and esteem in just four short years. It is organised by the NPO Nihoncha Instructor Association, Nihoncha AWARD Executive Committee and Nihoncha Judging Council. “Nihoncha” simply means Japanese tea.
For tea green connoisseurs and fans alike, it is surely one of the highlights of the green tea calendar. Similarly, for tea producers whose tea makes the final cut, there is great anticipation and excitement over the three day tasting period in Tokyo.
The Tokyo Tea Party: where is it?
This year, 2017, the Tokyo Tea Party was hosted in an event space on the eight floor of Hikarie in Shibuya. The area known as "Court" is in the centre of the 8th floor and is an open space plaza. Hikarie is close to the East exit of Shibuya station.
The Tokyo Tea Party: who attends?
The three-day event in Tokyo is open to the public. It typically attracts people who either work in the green tea industry or are great fans of green tea. Approximately, six hundred people attend over the three days in Tokyo. You can apply to attend on the Internet. Each day there are several tasting sessions with approximately 36 tasters per session. You choose which time you wish to attend, subject to availability.
The Tokyo Tea Party: What happens during the tea tasting sessions?
On arriving at the event, you are given the number of your table. You are also given your own tasting cup which you can take home. At the table you choose which seat to take, of six, and your server will give you a sticker to put on your personal tasting cup. This sticker identifies which cup is yours when all 6 are put on a tray for the server to pour the teas. There is a questionnaire at each seat for you to fill out after tasting the teas.
The teas are represented by number. You have no idea when you are tasting a tea who made it or even what prefecture it comes from. It is only after the three-day event is over and the winners have been announced that you find out about each tea.
Initially, a team of tea instructors make and pour the tea into glass containers at the top of the room. A server from each table collects one pot to bring to the table of six s/he is serving. S/he pours an even amount into each of the six cups. You take your cup from the tray and taste it, then mark your impression on the questionnaire based on taste, smell and overall impression. They encourage you to make notes for the tea producers. There is about one minute allocated to the tasting of the tea.
When you are finished you use the water on the table to rinse your cup before placing your cup back on the tray for the next selection. You do this for all 18 teas.
The Tokyo Tea Party: how is the winner decided?
When all 18 teas have been presented you then write your favourite (by number) in a box at the bottom of the page. They use this and the grading from the questionnaire to elect the winner and runner-up. They also have a number of other awards they give to various teas based on different criteria.
The winning tea is announced at a premium party on the last day of the event, this year December 3rd. They then announce the winners as well as all names of all 18 teas on their Facebook page.
You take home a copy of your questionnaire so you will know which teas you liked and can find the corresponding manufacturer after the results are released.
And the winner is…
The winner of the Nihoncha First Prize / Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Award decided at the Tokyo Tea Party 2017 is “Bessen Yamagiri” a type of steamed tea grown by Okada Shokai Company in Nagasaki.
And the runner-up is…
The Nihoncha Second Prize (Runner Up) / Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Production Director Award went to “Hanhakkou no Houji Cha”, a type of roasted tea grown at Marutaka farm in Shizuoka.
The Japan Tea Central Public Interest Incorporated Association Award, Japanese Association of Tea Production Award, Japan Tea Export Council Award and All Japan Tea Production/Distribution Industry Cooperative Association Award* all grant an award to one tea. *The latter has no official English name that I could find so this is an estimated translation.
My own result!
The Tokyo Tea Party was a test of the teas, not of the tasters. There was no right or wrong answer in grading and choosing your favourite tea. It was a matter of preference. Regardless, I couldn’t help feel elated when my personal favourite came second, but moreover I was so proud that it is a Shizuoka tea.
Shizuoka is where my love of nihoncha not only began, but continues to be cultivated, thanks to City-Cost and the Chamber of Tea Association of Shizuoka Prefecture. Like a student who aces a test and the first person she wants to tell is her teacher; I had the urge to ring the Chamber of Tea Association of Shizuoka Prefecture and impart my pride!
My own thoughts and impressions
The event exudes professionalism. As you see in so many aspects of Japanese life, the smallest details are not left to chance. Everything is planned to a tee, if you’ll pardon the pun. From the colour coordination and arrangement of the room to the presentation of the tea instructor servers. Even the little sweets we got to clean our palate were nothing ordinary. They are from Kyoto and were inspired by Maiko, apprentice Geisha.
I was utterly impressed by the proficiency and expertise shown by the organisers and the staff on the day. I felt much more anticipation in waiting for the results than I had expected. I was even excited and counting down as the expected results time drew close. I dropped what I was doing and promptly logged on to Facebook when fellow tea taster Yoko Lost in Japan texted me these four words; "the results are in"!
The results were worth waiting for and reveling in. This is an annual event, mark it on your calendar for next year for an unique and interesting experience as well as the chance to taste and judge some of Japan's finest tea.
This post is a special tea blog report, part of our Shizuoka Green Tea Guide, and a chance through City-Cost for bloggers in Japan to engage in new “Japan” experiences about which to create posts.
Level 8 LocalGuide with Google. Blogging about life in Japan as an Irish WAHM to 4 kids on insaitama.com.
Hi Saitama I really like the way you broke this blog into sections and explaining each section in detail, making it easy for those who might have no idea about tea tasting. Being new to the world of blogging I’m always looking for ideas on how best to present the story - you’re a great inspiration.