Behind the Scenes at the Tea Auction
- Holly Helt
Earlier this month I had the privilege of being invited to the members-only Kyushu Tea Auction in Oita city. This is where qualified tea merchants and producers gather to bid for tea leaves, mostly aracha (unprocessed tea), so they can add their special kind of magic during the processing phase, brand it up, and call it their own–and maybe even win some awards along the way.
Apart from the sheer excitement of this unique opportunity and the general tea-abundant ambiance, a few highlights really stood out for me apart from being able to sample any or all of the 500+ teas on offer!
I learned how to read the bidding ticket!
I know I’m a tea geek but this is the stuff I live for! This video below might be a bit technical but stick with me until the end to see the room full of all the amazing teas:
Surely one of the craziest looking teas on the planet! I have worked extensively in the tea industry in China and Japan, but I haven’t seen this one yet! Light and fluffy, this is what happens when you skin boucha: it actually looks like a type of Japanese seaweed.
I’ve been searching all over Japan for a decent “kuki” or “shiraore” or “karigane” (the stems) Japanese green tea. It took a full two years but I finally found one I love! It’s got that mild, smooth, milkiness so unique to a proper shiraore, along with the thick, mouthy texture that elevates the whole drinking experience. You see, because the stem is considered inferior in many producers’ eyes, they tend to add too much heat in the final drying stage and it makes the tea taste old–well, in my opinion anyway. I’ve been hunting down a PREMIUM kukicha using either gyokuro or kabuse stems (the shaded and healthier stems) by a producer who understands that these bits can be adored and left alone in the drying so that they fill your cup with a much milder and more luscious brew.
Kukicha or Shiraore is also often times referred to as “Karigane” which means “wild goose” in Japanese. It’s a regional thing: Shiraore is for folks in Kyushu, while those posh folks from Kyoto call it Karigane. The beautiful story around the name Karigane is that when the tea steeps, the stems rise to the surface and float like driftwood, perfect for accommodating any wild geese that might need to rest on their migratory journey!
If you fancy indulging in this little beauty, head on over to product page – we won the bid just for you!
About Holly Helt
Holly is American and grew up in Japan drinking Japanese tea from age-three. She has studied two methods of tea ceremony, Urasenke and the lesser-known Yabunouchi, which has a direct lineage to Sen-no Rikyu (known as the father of the tea ceremony) ; it's also the school of practice for samurai. In 2012 she founded Chiki Tea - an online retailer of Japanese green teas, all sourced directly from small farms in Japan. Splitting her time between Japan and her home in Texas, Holly strives to bring the best teas from Japan to as many people as she can find to share in her life's passion.