In the bag: Black tea's revival at G Clef

In the bag: Black tea's revival at G Clef

Japan is famous for its killer green and oolong teas, but this Kichijoji tea salon shows you should always bet on black
G Clef tea
G Clef Tea Salon in Kichijoji appeals to the neighborhood's upscale shopper base with gourmet tea and afternoon delights.

Overall tea consumption has been decreasing in Japan since the mid-1990s, and a majority of the tea consumed is either green or oolong. Over the past 14 years, however, Takeshi Kawasaki has worked to buck these trends with his G Clef chain of stores, specializing in black teas. 

He established G Clef in 1996. "At the time, black tea was booming in Japan, but most of the tea was flavored tea or European blends like Fauchon and Fortnum & Mason," says Kawasaki. "Basically, the image black tea had was that of a mass-produced industrial good." 

As Kawasaki searched for higher quality tea, he discovered the effect season had on tea, and this whetted his desire to promote tea as an agricultural product unique to regions and estates. Recently he has been trying to emphasize the importance of organic teas on the environment and personal health. 

Kawasaki imports dozens of teas straight from estates in Darjeeling and Nepal and bags them in a factory ten minutes from the main store. All the tea is packed in crimson bags marked with the G Clef logo. With his expert palate, he can provide the perfect tea recommendation for gifts or home use. He speaks English and Japanese and is always quick to offer samples of any tea in the store. 

G Clef teaWaffle sandwich set at the G Clef Tea Salon.Drinking at G Clef

The G Clef Tea Market in Kichijoji just sells tea in packets but you can now stop in and have a hot pot of Darjeeling on site in the other locations. 

Five years ago, Kawasaki has opened a branch in Koenji that includes a café (Koenji-kita 2-22-9, Suginami-ku, Tokyo, tel. 03 3223 8239). Then two years ago, G Clef opened a small Tea Salon (Kichijoji Motomachi 2-8-4, Musashino-shi, tel. 0422 26 9239), located three blocks from the main store in Kichijoji (Tea Market G Clef, Kichijoji Motomachi 1-8-14, Musashino-shi, tel. 0422 29 7229). Both locations have blogs that are updated with current menu items. 

The menus at both stores are centered on waffles, scones and parfaits. The Waffle Lunch Plate (¥1,050) includes a waffle sandwich (bacon and mushroom or chicken and spinach), soup, salad, a small dessert and a full pot of tea. The waffle sandwich is an ingenious combination of sweet, savory and melted cheese. Pots of tea alone start at ¥630, so the set is great value. 

Darjeeling basics

Darjeeling tea has a year-round calendar. The lighter, fresher tasting first flush is harvested in March and April, followed by the uniquely astringent second flush in May and June. The rainy season produces rain tea, which mostly gets incorporated in blends and sold in bulk domestically because of unwanted aromas. The Autumnals are harvested in October and November. 2009 Autumnals came in stock in December and January and are currently priced from ¥1,260 to ¥1,890.

The most intensely astringent tea in the store is the Muscatel Valley Estate variety (normally ¥2625). G Clef also carries less select teas which are cheaper, some as cheap as ¥630 for 100 grams.

One of the best values in the store is the Hotel Blend, which is the house tea at Sheraton Hotels in India and sells for ¥756 for a 50 gram bag. The blend, which is similar in taste to English Breakfast tea, was created especially for the hotels by a master taster. It can be taken straight or with milk and steeped anywhere from five to thirty minutes. Kawasaki recommends it as a reading tea. You don't have to worry about oversteeping, so you won't have to get up in the middle of a chapter.

So when you want a step up from Twinings, head to G Clef and let Kawasaki guide you to the best possible black.