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19 July 2022
In Japan, "Let's have tea!" also means "I want to get to know you better.”
Three cities, three different time zones, three diverse lifestyles.
In a unique cross-border collaboration between India, Taiwan and Japan, three Vogue editors went looking for a space that best captures the present-day tea-drinking cultures in their respective countries.
We spoke with Silvia Sun, Vogue Taiwan’s Senior Culture and Living Managing Editor, Mayumi Nakamura, Vogue Japan’s Fashion Features Editor and Sadaf Shaikh, Vogue’s India Junior Features Editor about brainstorming over Zoom, the tea culture in each country and their tea traditions.
Tell us a little about how this issue came together. Silvia Sun: It’s exciting and quite challenging to create APAC editorial content related to living, as we have to find commonalities against three very different cultural backdrops. We began by just talking, bringing lots of ideas and gradually narrowing it down to one topic.
I had done a feature on the Taiwanese tea cultural movement in the March 2021 issue, talking about the evolution, innovation and impact that the new generation of tea professionals have brought to the industry in Taiwan. The discussion on the first collaboration between Taiwan, Japan, and India started at the beginning of the year, and I think tea is a great way to connect our three different cultures.
Mayumi Nakamura: It was my little pleasure to be able to talk with my colleagues in Taiwan and India every Tuesday via Zoom. We started out by exchanging information on what articles were popular in each country: fashion, culture, celebrities and so on. We discovered that audiences in Japan, Taiwan and India wanted very different things. When we discussed what was commonly loved in each of these three countries, the key phrase "tea culture" came up. Each country has its own unique tea culture. We exchanged the latest information, such as beauty treatments using tea in Taiwan and salons combining tea, art, and meditation in Japan. This is how the project was born.
Sadaf Shaikh: When the culture editors of Vogue India, Vogue Taiwan and Vogue Japan connected over Zoom to decide on a topic where we could underscore the food cultures of each country, we found that “food” itself was too broad a topic to cover. We got talking and realized that each of us had a very different understanding of how people consumed tea from where we came. Indians still favored their traditional chai while Japan had gone digital and futuristic with theirs. So we decided to tap into the current zeitgeist of our respective homelands through the lens of this versatile beverage.
When putting together an issue like this, collaboration is at the core — were there any challenges you or the team had to deal with and if so, how did you overcome them? Shaikh: It was quite smooth sailing for the most part, at least in theory, but all of our tea cultures are so distinctive that creating a common visual language to present all three stories proved to be somewhat of a challenge. But the #TeaNow landing page created by Vogue Taiwan beautifully bridges that gap. Sun: As Sadaf said, it’s very important to integrate the different visual languages and I think we still have lots to improve on here. To collaborate among multiple departments — editorial, aud-dev, design, product, as well as CNE video — an APAC sharing template landing page was created. Here is Taiwan's landing page. Many thanks to everyone for their effort to make everything more reasonable on this project.
Nakamura: Without COVID, it would have been easy for one photographer to travel to Japan, Taiwan and India to take pictures for our "tea culture" feature. However, since this was not possible, each had to organize the shoots with different local staff. It was difficult to unify the visual image. However, it was interesting to see how the resulting images reflected the culture of each country and created very different stories. Tokyo introduced an innovative tea house that uses cutting-edge digital technology to create a completely new experience of drinking tea. Taiwan, on the other hand, introduced a tea house with the atmosphere of a French restaurant. India introduced a tea house with its own history and the story of the owner's family. The beautiful landing page by Vogue Taiwan shows the different beauty of those three countries in perfect harmony.
What is it about tea that provided the inspiration for the issue? Sun: I really enjoyed seeing the content from Japan and India. In addition to finding different ways to enjoy tea, the differences in writing and visual styles is also very interesting.
Nakamura: “Tea time” has been modernized and updated in each country in their own way, mixed with their modern culture.
Shaikh: For India, it was really just the fact that tea is the unofficial national beverage of our country!
What is the tea culture like in your country? Sun: Tea is a very traditional and common drink in Taiwan, almost too common to pay much attention to it. The market is divided into two different levels: one is luxury, professional, and more traditional, and the other is inexpensive and casual street style. The new generation of tea professionals, such as tea house owners, second-generation tea growers, local food researchers, and even bartenders are trying to build a connection between the old and new, professional and street style. They also want to find a new way to use tea as an element in food, mixed beverages and alcoholic drinks.
Both the industry and related government agencies are helping to build a “Taiwan Specialty Tea Flavor Wheel” (just like the SCAA Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel) to define tea flavors in a formal way.
Nakamura: Tea is very familiar to us Japanese. Every Japanese person is exposed to tea on a daily basis without any special awareness. On the other hand, there is also the art of tea ceremony, which has been sublimated into a world-class culture by adding various elements, not to mention the pursuit of taste and aroma. The tea ceremony is not only about brewing a delicious cup of tea and drinking it, but tea itself represents a spiritual exchange between the server and the guest. The same is also true of the tea we drink on a daily basis. Although we are not conscious of the strict etiquette of the tea ceremony, it is a matter of course for Japanese people to drink tea wherever they go and to entertain guests by serving them tea when they come over. In Japan, tea brings people together in everyday life. In Japan, "Let's have tea!" also means "I want to get to know you better.”
Shaikh: India has stayed true to its tea-drinking traditions of yore. For most Indians, drinking tea involves finding a moment of quiet in our chaotic days so we really value that cuppa because it’s more symbolic than sustenance-based for us. It invigorates us to begin our days with a spring in our step, energizes us when our post-lunch lethargy threatens us with slumber and even lulls us to sleep at night when needed. It’s what we first serve guests when they visit; it’s what we bond over while catching up with friends; it’s the first food item we learn to make when we move out of our homes.
Did you learn anything new in your tea journey? Sun: This report gave me an opportunity to learn more about the concept and creation of 13Hill Taipei, the target of this APAC tea content.
Nakamura: I myself am interested in “beauty and tea,” and I am a fan of Taiwanese herbal tea and Samahan Āyurveda tea from India. During the meeting, I was surprised to hear that Samahan is not a tea but a medicine in India. I thought it was just like spice tea, so I casually drink it!
Shaikh: I’m not a tea drinker myself but just listening to Gustad Irani (the owner of Café Dela Paix) speak with such passion about the space and preserving his family’s legacy filled me with joy.
How did you find the cafes you ended up profiling? Sun: I’d already heard of 13Hill three years ago and was impressed by their concept. At the end of 2021, they started a new project that soon became the talk of the town. There is no better opportunity than to feature them in this APAC living content.
Nakamura: “En Tea House” tends to attract attention for its collaboration with cutting-edge digital technology, but the tea served here was originally developed by a young and genius tea farmer. I had the opportunity to visit this tea farm and actually spend time tasting the exquisite teas brewed by his hands. A few years later, I was surprised to know that his tea and TeamLab had collaborated to create a space in Tokyo.
Shaikh: I’d often passed by Cafe Dela Paix and even though I never went in myself, I was always fascinated by how the space looked like it had been frozen in time even as the city around it expanded and transformed. Profiling it was more about satiating my own curiosity than anything else.
Do you have any tea traditions? Sun: No, I don’t have any tea traditions, but just enjoy being relaxed and open-minded.
Nakamura: It is my custom to slowly brew a cup of tea every morning, depending on my mood of the day. On days off, I drink Taiwanese herbal tea, on days when I go to the office, I drink Assam tea with milk, and when I feel tired, I drink Indian Samahan. I have many favorite tea utensils and use different ones depending on the tea I make.
Shaikh: My mother is Irani as is Gustad (owner of Café Dela Paix) so even though I’ve only ever used tea as an accompaniment to dip my biscuits in, it was so nice to listen to Gustad speak about his own tea traditions because they made me feel like I was actually speaking with my own mum.
And finally, for the tea-lovers — novices to experts — out there, what’s your tea recommendation? Sun: There are some beautiful tea houses in Taiwan, especially in Taipei, where you can drink tea and enjoy a dessert just like in coffee shops. I’d say start by experimenting with different flavors and brew styles to find your favorite. And if you want something more lively, you can go to one of the bars that serve Taiwanese tea cocktails.
Nakamura: In countries other than Japan, matcha seems to be the most popular Japanese tea. However, I recommend Hojicha (roasted green tea) over matcha. Hojicha contains almost no caffeine, so I recommend it even to those who prefer decaf tea. It helps to relax and promote blood circulation. Because it is roasted at high temperatures, it tastes light and refreshing with little bitterness or astringency.
And of course, when you come to Japan, please visit the TeamLab’s En Tea House we featured.
Shaikh: Please frequent the local cafés in your city instead of giving away all your money to multinational coffee shops and tea houses. They could really use your patronage, plus there’s so much history in these spaces. One of the other tea shops I learned about while doing research on this project was Favourite Cabin in Kolkata, which has a section in the wall inside the kitchen that Indian revolutionaries would use to escape in order to avoid arrest by British police officials during our struggle for freedom.
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