Thank you for visiting HOJO website. If you have any enquiry, please feel free to get in touch with us at
▼ Akira Hojo
▼ Hojo Newsletter
HOME > Brand Concept
I have worked as a food engineer in food industry from 1995 to 2005. I was professionally trained in R&D and manufacturing management. My working experience enabled me to approach tea business rather differently than other tea merchandisers when I started running my tea business. The differences are obviously reflected on HOJO’s quality criteria in selecting tea and tea ware, and I would like to share my thoughts with you.
In tea line, the price you pay for tea is sometimes not in proportion to the quality that you desired. Customer pays more hoping that they could get a better quality tea. But the price may be set based on other criteria. For example, if the tea is rare, very old or famous, the price will be much higher regardless how poor it taste. Many people had sour experiences in buying tea; this is why many customers who walk into a tea shop look allegedly worried. Most probably, this might be due to unclear information disclosure of quality standard on how tea shop set the price for respective tea and tea ware.
I came from a family of professional farmers who grows apples in Japan. I observed similar strange situation in the apple business as well. In the market, the higher price is given to the apple harvested earlier in the season. In addition, the redder the apple in color, the better the price it can sell. Unfortunately, the best apples in terms of taste are those that remain longer on the tree until late in harvesting season. Though harvested later than others, these apples are sweeter in taste and much stronger in flavor when compared to the early harvested apples.
In Japan tea market, the earliest plucked Japanese green tea usually gets the highest bidding price. Most Japanese even believe that the earliest plucked tea is the best. Unfortunately, this is not true. The outcome is the opposite. The plucking of tea usually starts from the tea gardens located at lower altitude. For the tea gardens located at higher altitude, the spring comes later and the timing of tea plucking began much later than the tea gardens at lower altitude. At lower elevation, the plucking of tea starts in mid April, while at higher elevation, the plucking can only starts one month later. Of course needless to say that the quality of tea grown at higher elevation is much superior compared to tea grown at lower elevation.
When dealing with tea, it often happens that customer is paying a lot more for the rareness or in an unfortunate situation, they pay for the wrong quality. I often observed this sort of situation especially in Pu-erh tea. Many believe that the longer the Pu-erh tea is kept, the better the quality it becomes. However, the longer storage period does not improve the quality of tea but only changes its character. For example, the longer storage promotes further oxidation of polyphenols or tannin. As a result, tea becomes less astringent, mellower and gives a more matured flavor. The old tea is rare and not easily obtainable, eventually its price increases with time. But this does not guarantee its superiority in terms of quality. If you pay a lot for old tea hoping that it will taste marvelous, you may be disappointed. I am not saying old tea is not good. In our definition, taste defines the quality, and flavor defines the characteristics of tea. Regardless of the age of tea or how it was processed, the same definition is always applied in selecting any type of tea, whether or not it is aged or still young.
What is quality tea for you?
From my point of view, good tea gives long lasting taste and flavor. Quality tea gives a more long-lasting flavor and a deeper taste, while the flavor of poor quality tea does not last long and it tastes flat. Both good and bad quality tea give the same type of scent, yet the length of finishing in taste and flavor is obviously different. Tea connoisseurs enjoy the flavor and taste that lingers and stays longer in their throat. It is a little difficult to find an appropriate English word to describe this feeling precisely. In Chinese, it is called “Hou Yun 喉韻”. Hou Yun means the persistent taste that you can feel lingering in our throat. With strong Hou Yun, the flavor stays longer too. The finishing of taste and flavor is affected by the specific minerals present in the tea and water. In particular, iron makes the flavor and taste of tea deeper and longer lasting. Thus Hou Yun is the most important criteria that defines the quality of tea.
The intensity of Hou Yun gets stronger if tea contains more iron. The more iron ions exist in tea, the stronger the Hou Yun is. In other word, the higher the content of iron ion in the tea, the better the quality it is. In fact, the intensity of after taste does not deteriorate even if tea gets oxidized. Oxidation will completely change or spoil the flavor that is composed by organic substance, yet mineral will remain the same.
The same concept is also applied in making wine. The quality of wine does not change no matter how long it is kept inside a glass bottle, although its character does change during storage. Some wines are matured in oak barrels. Oak contains a lot of minerals that are released into wine. Oak matured wine gives very long lasting taste and richer flavor thanks to the elution of minerals.
I have carefully studied the environmental factors that affect the mineral (iron) content in tea and selected the right materials based on the strength of its after taste. I believe that it is not the manufacturing process that defines the quality of tea. The process defines the character of tea. The quality of tea is defined by the raw material. I selected ideal material based on the following factors.
During daytime, plants produce a lot of substances with photosynthesis. Those substances are supposed to be consumed at night for plants to grow. However, at high altitude, due to extremely cold temperature at night, the growth rate of plants is very slow, and consequently less nutrition is consumed. In addition, the tea garden located at higher altitude has a longer period of winter. Eventually the tea plants will have more time to accumulate more minerals and organic substances.
An older tree has longer roots than that of a young tree. With longer roots, older tree can absorbs minerals from the ground more effectively.
Certain type of tea cultivars produces very long roots. For example, Tie Guan Yin produces very long roots and therefore it can effectively absorb mineral from the ground.
If tea leaves are plucked many times throughout the year, the minerals are diluted over the number of new leaves. Less number of plucking enables the plant to concentrate more minerals inside its leaves.
In general, the definition of good tea is that it grows slower with less number of leaves and with longer roots that can effectively absorbs minerals from the ground.
In order to make a nice cup of tea, I am not only paying attention to the quality of tea leaf, but also for the water that I use. Tea leaf is just like the herb used for cooking. The function of the tea leaves is to enrich the water with a nice flavor and lasting taste. In a way, tea leaves are merely condiment to enjoy a nice cup of water.
However, just depend on the tea leaf and water is not sufficient to make a nice cup of tea. If the tea leaves carry less amount of iron ion, you have to look into the brewing equipment. In this regards, teapot and kettle plays a very important role. When making tea, teapot is used to separate tea leaf from water and serves tea into a cup. Nevertheless, teapot has another influential function which people often overlooked. Clay teapot releases a lot of mineral ions. The more iron ion exists inside the clay and the bigger its surface area, the better the taste of tea it brews. A good teapot increases the iron content in water and improves the taste of water.
I select teapots not based on the name of their maker or how beautiful its outlook is. I study the effects of different clays and always keep searching for the ways to improve the taste of water. Basically, I do not purchase teapot from artist who is not particular about the clay they used. I often go to the origin production site of tea ware, and I visit the mountains or mines together with the artists and discuss about the quality of clays. The baking temperature of teapot is also a crucial factor because it affects a lot in the porosity of clay.
Most of customers who visited our shop could tell the difference in our product line-up when compared to other shops, and they recognize the quality criteria we set for tea and teapot. Our quality policy for tea and teapot may not be acknowledged by everyone. In fact, nearly 20% of walk-in customers could hardly tell the difference of taste influenced by the clay teapot. If one can not tell the difference of taste at all, there is no way for us to impress them on how particular our selections are.
I believe that a good product is made with good materials and good processing technique. I set my own definition of good material that is always reflected in our product line-up.