Brand: Ito En
Cost: 120 yen
Found at: Narita Airport 7-11
My goal in life is to try every bottled tea in Japan. It is an impossible goal because there are lots of little brands that sell their teas in hard-to-find vending machines or impossibly fancy boutiques. I also simply do not have the traveling budget to sample my way through all the local brands that can only be found in far-off prefectures. But as far as the big names in Nagoya, I feel that I am doing pretty well. In fact, I was fairly confident that I had tried them all. But life is full of happy surprises – and in the international terminal of Narita airport, I found the unfamiliar artwork of a new bottled tea.
The packaging advertises itself as the “square of Spring” tea – a name that I have not fully been able to parse. Something to do with the four seasons or the four directions, but I could not quite catch the meaning before the flight started boarding. What I did gather, in our brief time together, was that this bottled tea is made of 100% high-quality Uji tea, that is supposed to evoke the feeling of starting over in a joyful renewal. Very appropriate for a New Year. And in the spirit of starting fresh, Oi Ocha – the big name in bottled tea that released this particular tea – has produced a matcha tea that tastes exactly like all of its previous bottled matcha teas.
There’s probably a subtly that I’m missing – a high note of sweetness or richness that is meant to invoke an image of something, probably to do with the changing of the year. If I think about it long enough, I can almost convince myself that it is a little less bitter than the standard bottled matcha but I cannot be sure if this is real or just wishful thinking. I suppose I can look at it from two sides. Either this is a marketing gimmick that’s put the same old tea in a different bottle, or it’s a new excuse to buy a bottle of tea that is – and always has been – delicious. I suppose there’s a lesson in there: in all the excitement and novelty of the New Year, it’s worthwhile to take a moment and savor the good things you’re bringing with you.