A Tea by Any Other Name... Souvenirs from Japan

When I travel, I’m one of those people who buy souvenirs for friends and family back home. You might be the same- always looking for something unique, something with a “wow” factor. But I’ve run into a problem lately. Many items from Japan– such as origami paper, Pocky, cosmetics, and incense, for example- can now be found in other countries. And it seems everyone is buzzing about Japanese green tea, but it's become so popular that my local grocery store carries it. So what to do? In this article, I’ll introduce you to a few unusual Japanese teas. Tea makes a great souvenir because it’s tasty as well as portable. But what options are available besides the ubiquitous green?
Photo credit: Susan Gavin©

I recently saw a bottle of gobo tea at a convenience store in Tokyo.  Gobo (also called “burdock root”) is popular in Japanese cuisine- you may have had it in kimpira gobo, a delicious side dish with sliced gobo and carrot. It was surprising to see it bottled in tea form, but that got me thinking- maybe there were other teas that could make tasty souvenirs for friends at home.
Photo credit: Susan Gavin©

So I found my way to the tea aisle in a grocery store. It was there that I first saw packages of soba tea (called soba cha). The yellow buckwheat kernels looked mellow and enticing, and perhaps best of all, the package was light and compact. And as an edible gift, it wouldn’t become another dusty tchotchke on someone’s shelf at home. Soba tea is low in calories and contains natural antioxidants called catechins, so it makes a healthy gift for your adventurous tea-drinking friends.
Photo credit: Susan Gavin©

Then I tried a sample of kuromame cha, or black bean tea, in a traditional sweet shop. As I drank the dark liquid, I noticed the actual black beans at the bottom of the cup. The edible beans had been soaking long enough that they were no longer hard or crunchy. A good source of protein, the beans also contain anthocyanin, which works as an antioxidant in the body. And the package, like the soba cha, was light and portable- perfect for packing into a suitcase to bring home.
Photo credit: Susan Gavin©

Grocery stores are always on my “must see” list when traveling in Japan- in addition to well-known items like Pocari Sweat, Calpis, and Kit Kats, you can also find hidden gems like these teas. Check out other varieties, too- such as barley tea (mugi-cha), cherry blossom tea (sakura-cha), and kelp (kombu-cha) tea.
 
*And just a note- since they’re not made from the leaves of the tea plant, soba tea and black bean tea aren't technically  considered to be teas, although they’re often referred to in that way. Both are actually “tisanes,” which are infusions made from dried flowers, roots, spices, seeds, or herbs. 

Susan Gavin