Where would you expect to see such a thing? In none other than the “Green Tea Capital” of Japan – Shizuoka prefecture! Although I did not see green tea coming out of faucets first hand, if I’d have known about it before visiting Japan, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world! I discovered this after being introduced to yet another phenomenal Japanese family – The Sugimotos. Families are important in Japan and although things are changing locally and globally – tradition is, for the most part, still being upheld with honor.
The Sugimoto Seicha Co., Ltd. was founded by the grandfather, Zenichi Sugimoto, right after World War ll. The company is now being run by his son, Hiroyuki. In 1986, Hiroyuki Sugimoto won the title of Best Tea Connoisseur by winning the National Blind Tasting Championship, said to be the most dignified competition for tea experts in Japan. Only by looking, smelling, and tasting green tea, contestants must identify the harvest season, the cultivar, and the growing region of the tea plants. Hiroyuki’s keen sense of taste and smell earned him the highest score. That same year, Hiroyuki’s green tea received the Agricultural Minister’s Award for its outstanding quality. Since then, people have respectfully been calling him “Tea Maestro.”
Hiroyuki has two sons, Masaaki and Kyohei, making them the third generation of tea growers and producers. The eldest son, Masaaki, a blind-tasting champion himself, runs the factory in Japan, while the second son, Kyohei, has brought the company to America – to Seattle, Washington. Masaaki is on his way to taking over the title of “Tea Maestro” from his father, whereas Kyohei is here in the States to introduce quality Japanese green tea to America. The family story gets even better. Hiroyuki’s wife, and the mother of their sons, Kazue, is on a mission to preserve the traditional tea-rolling and kneading technique called “Temomi.” When Sen Cha was invented about 300 years ago, all of the manufacturing processes were done only by human hands. Today, all of these processes are mechanized and the Temomi technique is almost forgotten. Kazue Sugimoto has a license to teach this technique and proudly presented her Temomi Cha to the Japanese Imperial Palace in 1997.
I was thrilled to visit their pristine factory and company office while in Japan. A room lined with trophies and awards, where you wear red slippers, was the place where we sampled Kazue’s hand-rolled tea – a most enjoyable, once-of-a-lifetime experience. Not only was it made by Kazue, but she steeped it for us and then served it to us as well. You then put on green slippers and walk through a “wind tunnel” (my interpretation) that blows away any spec of lint on you, thus preventing it from being carried into their spotless factory. (There is a lot of shoes on, shoes off, slippers on, slippers off, in Japan.)
After being introduced to the Kinezuka family of tea farmers and learning of their passion for growing the best tea, I was thrilled to learn of the Sugimoto’s motto – “Tea quality is determined by tea farmers. That’s why only eleven tea farmers are expert enough to be selected as growers of our company green tea plants. These tea farmers have great passion for quality green tea. And they bring their own artistry to the process.” This is almost like a family and business “code of ethics” among the people I met while in Japan. I found this to be most honorable and very encouraging for the tea industry – globally.
The Sugimotos will be at the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas this coming June, so you simply must drop by and meet them. I am looking forward to meeting Kyohei in person for the first time; since returning from my visit to Japan, he and I have had many conversations via Facebook.
To read the story about tea coming out of the faucets at schools in Shizuoka prefecture, visit their blog. A visit to their website will also get you to the story about green tea drinking in local schools, answer any questions on their company and family history, and address the current issue of radiation testing on their tea leaves – it’s good news, by the way!
I close by saying “thank you” to another wonderful Japanese family – The Sugimotos – for their outstanding hospitality, the gifts I was given, and the time spent with me while in their country. As Japan heals itself from the catastrophic damages it suffered in 2011, I ask that we all be supportive of our global tea family members.
How inspring to learn of such a tea family – where traditions are carried on by the younger generation. Too often in the U.S. that no longer happens. Their standards of cleanliness have always impressed me and it seems that tradition continues as well.
Can you imagine if our elementary school children had green tea to drink each morning? I believe the health of this country would begin to improve.
Such wonderful experiences for you Dharlene. I too was honored to meet the Sugimoto family and found them to be very friendly, open and sincere. They are rightfully proud of their teas.
Thanks for another vicarious travel and tea experience, Dharlene! There was a Japanese entrepreneur named Kouta Matsuda who started matcha retail cafe-style stores (actually 2 I believe before they closed) called Koots in Washington State about 5-6 years ago. He had been very successful as a franchise holder in Japan for Tully’s Coffee, with about 500+- Tully’s there. Somehow, with all that success, Koots just never made it..possibly ahead of its’ time. Maybe now is the time for Americans to embrance all the wonderful forms of green tea in a big way!?
Thanks, Dan and Diane. Yes, I have enjoyed my travels immensely …. tea friends just never cease to amaze me. Perhaps the time for Japanese tea is just newly upon us here in North America. It is also about educating people – and making it a full sensory experience – that is how we shall wake up folks here in our country. Keep sipping …
Hi Marie, senior Sugimoto visited us in Foodex and was remembering you and Dan – they are a great family – a very nice article here.
I have heard that one of green tea’s many benefits is improve cognitive performance and memory.
Perhaps installing green tea drinking fountains in schools would boost grades?
Interesting article, thanks.
Hello Rajiv …. I am so very happy you got to meet the Sugimoto family. Aren’t they wonderful! As our tea world gets bigger and bigger …. it gets smaller and we all become family. Who woulda thought?
Yes, Paul … can you imagine people’s surprise in this country if they went to a fountain and what came out was green? And not a St. Patrick’s prank either!! I’d love to see someone try it. That would be really cool in a tea shop that got a lot of foot traffic …. hmmm.
I buy his Genmai Cha for my customers and sat and had tea with Kyohei just a few weeks ago. I have to say, the quality of the tea is exceptional. The genmai cha is probably the best I have ever had.
He’s a very generous guy as well.
Thanks for the background info Dharlene, it makes me appreciate the tea all the more!
Hi Brendan, see what I mean about the world of tea getting smaller and smaller …. soon we will all be just like family. I am so thrilled you buy Sugimoto Tea and that you know Kyohei. I will meet him for the first time at The World Tea Expo. Dude, I watched the video clip on your website – how awesome – and there you are making and sipping Sugimoto’s tea! Love it, love it, love it! I will be in touch.