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Celebrating 300 years of family tradition

Given its purported health benefits, I have been trying to find ways to incorporate green tea into my diet (I’m not a fan of its grassy taste), and I think I may have finally found the perfect way—matcha latte martinis! I admit, this may not be the healthiest manner in which to consume green tea, but it was certainly a fun way to celebrate Ippodo Tea Company’s 300th anniversary.

The Kyoto, Japan-based premium green tea vendor, tearoom operator and retailer was founded in 1717 by Rihei Watanabe. The Watanabe family still owns and operates Ippodo today. The teashop was called Omiya when it opened and was located near the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. In 1846, Prince Yamashina renamed the shop Ippodo, which means “preserve one” in Japanese, as he wanted the shop to forever maintain its tradition of providing high quality tea cultivated from the lush fields outside of Kyoto (home of the traditional tea ceremony).

Today, Ippodo has a flagship store and Kaboku Tearoom in Kyoto, a retail location in Tokyo, a tearoom/retail shop in New York City, and an online shop. Additionally, Ippodo teas are served in many high-end restaurants around the world. Outside of Japan and China, the United States is the biggest green tea market.

While providing high quality tea may be Ippodo’s raison d’être, its mission is to educate the public on the subtleties of green tea in the hope that consumers will discover “all the delicate pleasures that each green tea has to offer.”

At a party celebrating the 300th anniversary in the New York store on 20 March, Masakazu Watanabe, director of Ippodo (and an 11th generation family member to run the business), said that although green tea is gaining popularity globally mostly because of its reported health benefits, he believes that “green tea can stand on its own.”  Watanabe compared tea to fine wine, noting, “different teas and their flavor profiles pair well with various meals as well as life moments…so we are trying to promote the depth and variety of green tea.” Along with preserving the Japanese green tea tradition, Ippodo aims to share this tea experience globally, through tea workshops and partnerships in major metropolitan cities worldwide.

Part of Ippodo’s approach to promoting the nuances of green tea and appealing to younger consumers, said Watanabe, is to demonstrate a more “relaxed” version of the matcha ceremony – while still maintaining tradition – which they will do at events and during tea classes.

Interestingly, the only real “anniversary party” will take place at the New York store (which also includes green tea and sake pairing events 23-25 March) because, Watanabe noted, to do this in Japan would be considered too showy and self-promotional. Tradition.

Aside from the matcha martinis (featuring gin) and cooled ceremonial matcha mixed with sparkling wine, tea masters at the party prepared a variety green teas from authentic ceremonial matcha, to sencha, gyokuro and iribancha. Add in what I’m sure is catering to American’s overwhelmingly unrefined green tea palates, the New York Ippodo Tearoom also offers matcha soy and matcha almond lattes, sweetened matcha, shaken matcha and matcha slushies.

While I may never become a green tea connoisseur, with the myriad varieties and styles, I’m sure there’s an ideal green tea “out there” for me (although that matcha slushy sounds tempting…).

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