Japan has a deep love of green tea.
While it might be as coffee and cake obsessed as any other nation – there are western style cafes wherever you look – and loves its Earl Grey and Darjeeling and ‘Royal Milk Tea’ (usually Ceylon and Assam boiled with hot milk), ‘O-Cha’ drunk for centuries, is at the very pinnacle.
The most popular drink from the ubiquitous vending machines is definitely cold green tea; my colleagues drink bottles and bottles of it. Matcha ice cream is as popular as vanilla; you can buy green tea cakes, sweets, chocolate, lattes; grades of the tea leaves ranked and filed according to quality and prefecture; catechin content; strength, cholesterol reduction, competing brands honing their products to tailor-fit the notoriously picky Japanese consumer.
One of the nicest experiences you can have in Kamakura is to go to Kokedera, or The Bamboo Temple, on a rainy week day afternoon and sit at the tea shop down by the cave through the grove of rustling, towering bamboo, beside a waterfall, stirring your frothed, bitter matcha tea in a bowl and listening to the water and the green in the trees. Yesterday, suffering from Friday fatigue, but needing to pay the rent, I went round to my neighbour and landlord and Japanese mother’s house; humid and raining, quiet except for the sultry but balmy cool breeze.
She was alone, Mr Mitomi now retired in his eighties, gone to pay his respects at an ancestor’s grave. Mrs Mitomi herself looked well, better than she has recently, though I was quite shocked to hear that she had been hospitalized for two weeks for a gall bladder operation that we had known nothing about (these days, clad in our masks, all busy and interiorized, rushing around not quite hearing or noticing things properly you sometimes don’t see the wood for the trees…..)
She asked me in and whether I would like green tea or coffee; Over caffeinated already I felt more like cha, which was there in the pot, boiling water at the ready to add to the tea leaves to drink very hot – probably not orthodox in some green tea establishments, but how we both personally like to drink it.
It was a very pleasant and funny half an hour there before I had to head off for work; occasional comfortable silences as we reminisced ( I have known her for almost a quarter of a century now), the taste of the green tea clear and fresh; purifying- both relaxing and energizing at the same time.
I think I feel similarly about green tea in fragrances : they are somehow ‘off the grid’; quiet and elegant; removed from the vulgarity, and this time of year as the temperatures rise they strike me as perfect as a contrast to the humidity : a coolness.
I remember Olivia Giacobbetti’s green tea for L’Artisan Parfumeur, inspired obviously by the classic Bulgari but with a more prominent jasmine facet, being more luscious and citrus. This current version I own is somewhat flatter; more soapy, lackadaisically indolic. Curiously, I have found that by layering it with Roger & Gallet’s take on green tea ( very sharp, bright, fizzing yuzu, ginger, ceding to a lovely clean and lingering green tea note ) which gives me odour confidence on the hottest of days the two compliment each other very nicely, filling in for each other’s mutual deficits. I might wear this combination to work next week, even tweak it perhaps with some Hyouge ( formerly known as Oribe), a perfume that smells of freshly cut grass and newly whisked matcha bubbles – a very unusual scent that takes you out of yourself.
It was strange in a way that I was drinking green tea in the afternoon with Mrs Mitomi, as I don’t really have it so often: a bottle of Tea Tonique by Miller Harris had also arrived in the post in the morning. Earmarking this as a possible perfume for Duncan, though I was quite taken with it myself – the clever thwarting of a gloriously fresh green floral Earl Grey/ Mate tea accord with a rash note of nutmeg and birch tar citrus at the core of the scent creates stark and beautiful contrasts within itself – On me it is a little smoky, refined but still fresh ; on D it smells nothing short of truly SPLENDID -floral, very tea – like; a delicate revelation.