July 9, 2013
by Akihiko Sato, Ayaho Takaoka, Masayoshi Seki
Do you know this product? It is called Iyemon. It is a Japanese green tea product made by a company called Fukujuen: a long-established store of Japanese green tea in Kyoto. Fukujuen was founded in 1790. The name of the founder was Iyemon Fukui, thus the name of the brand. In 2004, the Iyemon brand was purchased by the Suntory corporation, which has brought the Iyemon teas to a larger, more international market.
To make the tea, Fukujuen uses the best water in Japan, which comes from the Yamazaki area of southern Kyoto. They also employ a special manufacturing method of using a traditional stone mill.
The tea is especially bitter and fragrant. It also has the quality of wabisabi, which is the frugal and traditional Japanese aesthetic. For example, the shape of the plastic bottle is like bamboo. You can find wabisabi in many aspects of Japanese culture, especially in Kyoto, which is the center of culture in Japan. Kyoto has a lot of examples of wabisabi aesthetic, such as in its temples, shrines, and art.
Types of Iyemon Tea
Iyemon – this is the standard type of Iyemon green tea. It has two types of temperatures: cool and hot. It’s made with a stone mill and contains maccha (powdered green tea).
Iyemon zeitaku reicha - this tea is also made using maccha, but it is only made using cold water. This method gives it a better taste. Some of the maccha settles at the bottom of the bottle, so if you shake the bottle, you can enjoy tasting another kind of flavor.
Iyemon koime - This tea is stronger than the normal type. The tea leaves used to make it are of better quality than the ones used to make the normal type. Therefore, it has a better taste and fragrance.
Iyemon Genmai cha - Genmai is a mix of green tea and roasted brown rice. It actually includes brown rice, so it tastes and smells a little bit like rice. It goes well with Japanese meals and tends to be even healthier.
Iyemon Houji cha - Houji cha is a roasted green tea, made with a mixture of two different types of tea leaves. It has a deep flavor and smell. It tastes better to drink it hot. This tea is also very healthy, for it is anti-aging and prevents high blood pressure. It contains a bit of caffeine, which will perk you up in the mid afternoon.
Iyemon Japan Espresso – This is a unique and strong beverage that is made with maccha. It is like espresso made with green tea rather than with coffee. And it’s not too sweet and not too bitter, so it is a real luxury. If you want something Japanese to wake you up, this is the drink for you.
Method of Making Japanese Green Tea
Japanese green tea harvest takes place between the beginning of May to June every year. Farmers block off the direct sunlight with a cover and then pick the soft buds of tea by hands. Then the farmers take them to the factory in order to steam and dry the leaves. This process is called tencha aracha. The veins of leaves are dried one more time because they retain a lot of water. These leaves are placed on the tea dryer to keep their quality and fragrance. The tea leaves are then sealed for safekeeping until they are ready to be ground by the stone mill. The process of grinding with a stone mill turns the tencha tea leaves into maccha, the finely powdered form.
Situation of Iyemon Today
Today, Iyemon tea is sold in Japan by department stores, grocery stores, and more. In department stores, however, you can only buy tea bags (just the leaves), not the bottles of pre-made tea. But Fukujuen was worried about the decline of their brand’s image, so they made a new brand called Uji no Tsuyu. This brand has actually become more popular than the Iyemon brand abroad. And ever since Fukujuen began to cooperate with beverage giant Suntory, this also hurt their brand image of being a Kyoto-based tea company. However, the move led to a large increase in total sales. Moreover, in the Kinki region of Japan (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, etc.) Fukujuen has always been well known. But now, thanks to marketing and mass distribution, it is starting to become known around the country, being sold in supermarkets everywhere.
Exporting tea is a tricky business. For example, it is difficult to sell Iyemon tea in other Asian countries, who already have their own tea cultures. Iyemon teas simply do not fit in well. Therefore, sales are low. For example, in China the food is very oily, so Chinese people prefer to drink oolong tea, which helps to break down oil in the stomach. And in Mongolia, people drink butter tea made with butter and rock salt. It makes their bodies warm up on the inside because Mongolia has a very cold climate. As you can see, tea culture is often related to people’s way of life, so it isn’t easy to export one tea to another place in Asia.
In Europe, it is easier to export Iyemon teas, but Europeans often put sugar into their tea, so actually many of them do not like Japanese tea. And in North America, not only plastic bottles, but also glass bottles have been selling there for 2 years now. The trend is healthy food now, so North Americans prefer non-sugar tea to soda. Today in America, non-sugar tea is very popular.
Around the world, we all want to be healthy. Black tea has more catechin than Japanese tea, which lowers blood pressure, blood sugar level, and prevents cancer. However, black tea doesn’t have so many vitamins. Indeed, Japanese tea not only has catechin, but also many vitamins. So it is ideal for health.
There are two places you can go that are related to Iyemon teas:
Fukujuen Kyoto Honten – It is the head office of Fukujuen. It has a restaurant and it also sells Iyemon teas.
Uji Kobo – This is an interesting place where you can actually experience the tea making process. You can crumple tea leaves by your hands and make maccha by grinding with the stone mill.