Green Tea Culture

My Japanese grandmother practically raised my brother and me. My obaachan, Hana-san, lived with us in Yokohama, Japan. I was raised to be both American and Japanese. A typical breakfast before catching the Navy school bus each morning would be rice, miso soup, nuka miso (Japanese pickles) and…fried bologna! One thing I remember very well is that we always drank green tea. It was my grandma’s ritual to drink her first cup of tea in the morning with umeboshi (salted plum) in it…same philosophy as the western “an apple a day helps keep the doctor away” concept. She said that it was healthy for you. And during the day if we were to have a snack, it was usually with ocha (green tea). Green tea has a very special place in my heart because of my grandmother. And to think that it’s not only flavorful and aromatic, but it’s good for you! I love the whole process of making it too. Thoroughly enjoy collecting Japanese tea cups and choosing the right one each tea time depending on how I feel.

Honolulu Festival represents the various cultures from the Pacific Rim. A few years ago we had traditional Japanese tea ceremony demonstrations as part of our program. “Chado” deserves an entirely separate article. My article today is about green tea, a little background about this wonderful product and some of the way it has influenced our culture here in Hawaii and North America.

My girlfriend works for ITO EN USA here in Honolulu. I have had many opportunities to taste test their products because of her. ITO EN is a very large and reputable tea company in Japan, probably the largest tea company in Japan. They have been in Hawaii for over 20 years, strictly into wholesale to supermarkets and drugstores. I went to Don Quijote to take pictures of their shelves and was surprised to see the large area that they occupy and the variety of drinks they have. Amazing! ITO EN has definitely been a pioneer in spreading the goodness of green tea. Did you know that they were the first company to produce a TV commercial promoting their tea in 1968? And I remember it because I was living in Japan at the time. The storyline is about this distinguished Japanese man (maybe in his 50’s) sitting in his tatami room dressed in a kimono either reading or writing. He looks like a scholar. It must be tea time (3:00 pm?) and he calls out to his wife, “ Oi Ocha.” Literally, that means, “Hey, tea.” But it actually has a gentle connotation in Japanese culture. Not bossy at all. It’s understood that the loving husband is asking his wife for a cup of tea. The fact that I remember it to this day must mean that it had a huge impact. Can you imagine everyone in the household yelling out “Oi Ocha”? Well, due to its success, ITO EN branded their ready-to-drink sencha line “Oi Ocha” in 1989.

ITO EN Corner(s) at Don Quijote near Ala Moana.

So many types of teas and juices!


According to my research green tea is from China. Their literature refers to green tea as far back as 5,000 years. Tea leaves were originally eaten as a medicine. Legend has it that a man was walking one day and accidentally tasted the juice from a leaf of a tea plant. He thought it tasted great and even felt some medicinal effects. He created a drink by mixing the tea with water. Another story has a Chinese emperor discovering tea when a tea blossom fell into his cup of hot water he was drinking. Tea was originally all green. Then there was black tea (fermented) and oolong (semi-fermented). The Chinese people came to the conclusion that tea aided digestion and was good for the nervous system.

Tea drinking also became popular as Buddhism spread. Buddhism prohibits the drinking of alcohol, thus the drinking of tea spread.

Tea drinking became a favorite pastime for the wealthy. Fine teas were a commodity. Elegant tea ceremonies, tea sets, special equipment, tea houses and connoisseurs became popular. By the mid-8th century tea shops became popular and tea drinking became popular with the common folks.

Tea drinking is an art form with many books written on how to drink and prepare it. This is especially true when green tea was introduced to Japan in the 800’s. They developed their own sencha (ungrounded green tea), matcha (powdered green tea) and bancha (second flush of sencha). Then oolong and black teas were introduced in the 1600’s. I thought it was interesting that oolong tea which is probably the most popular tea in China today became high on the tea drinking list when during hard times the people of China wanted a tea that is not so efficient in reducing fat, they found a less fat oxidizing tea in oolong. Wish we Americans had that problem, seems like we struggle with weight in good and bad times.

Tea was introduced to Europe and North America in the 1600’s. Did you know that tea is more popular than coke? Beverage makers have made tea easy to enjoy by creating a variety of tea drinks in cans and bottles. And the fact that many believe that green tea is good for you and has many still unknown benefits has definitely boosted its popularity. You know it’s good when Dr. Mehmet Oz insists that we drink two cups of green tea each day! He says that it may lessen the risk of some cancers and lowers cholesterol levels. That sounds good to me. Interesting that green tea which is a huge part of the Asian culture has infiltrated our American culture and continues to impact other cultures. Here's to green tea. Aloha.

Lupicia at Ala Moana Center.

Beautiful presentation of teas, Japanese style.

So much variety. And look at the teapots and cups.

Makes you want to buy all of them.

I am attaching another link that my GF in Vancouver sent me about a beautiful tea room there called Sawa. It's interesting how the reflections of the owner connect so well with the mission of the Honolulu Festival, to perpetuate the traditions of our cultures to future generations. That is exactly what she is doing.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Green tea is great and I drink it a few times a week. But did you know that there is a whole raw food that may also lower cholesterol levels?