by ali on July 30th, 2015
Getting to know Tea Master Michihiko Nishimura, a blender at Dobashien, the most famous and prestigious tea shop in Tokyo. He has blended our new Dobashien Gyokuro.
“Although I am a blender, I have actually never taken the “kanteishi” exam. The kanteishi is run by the kanteishi association, an organization that organizes evaluation (tasting) competitions and those who are in the upper ranks of each competition go on to train more and be certified. You don’t need this certification to be a judge in industry tea competitions in Japan. The organization also certifies Japanese tea instructors and Japanese tea advisors to help with the promotion of Japanese tea.
The more traditional term used is “chashi” 茶師 which translates to “Tea Master” or as we say, “Tea Meister”. Tea farmers and tea processors (most often the same person in japan), cultivate and process the tea leaves until the aracha state…leaves that are dried. Then it is up to the chashi at tea wholesalers and merchants to refine the tea in their particular recipe. This refinement involves separating out tea leaf stems, clumps, fannings, dust; combining different leaves from different sources; and even further heating the leaves in some cases…all to subtlety and precisely create a flavor profile.
Skills for being a kanteishi: knowledge and experience. For being a chashi: passion for tea, sensitivity, concentration, curiosity, and desire to pursue the creation of delicious tea.
I myself was raised in Kyoto and surrounded by tea since I was a child. I have been with Dobashien working with Dobashi-san, the tea farmers, the processors, and other chashi since 2002.
Tea for me was not a family business but rather I met Dobashien’s owner Dobashi-san as an advisor. I was a brand and store design consultant in the fashion industry as my family owns a kimono wholesale business in kyoto. My mother hailed from the famous Nishijin kimono industry in kyoto, and serving tea was an integral part of the customer experience in those days. We would learn the difference between teas for guests, for the home, and for business. Growing up and working in this environment, I became naturally able to distinguish between subtle differences in tea taste profiles. In particular, sencha was something that we learned in depth, using gyokuro (as a form of sencha) in the tea ceremony for sencha often at events held temples. I think during that era, we learned such taste differences as children and it formed a more refined sensitivity.
Now I am 53 years old and to aid my concentration ability I practice Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū, a form of ancient Japanese sword martial art. I believe this practice is integral to my ability as a chashi.”