A tea wholesale store based in the city of Makinohara, Shizuoka Prefecture, has developed a technology to ensure a tea stem floats vertically — an omen of good fortune widely believed by Japanese.
Green tea bags from Fukuko, which are sold by Jorakuen, are gaining popularity, with sales increasing nearly tenfold in the last six years, attracting buying as a lucky item for a variety of events — from passing school entrance examinations to closing a business deal with customers.
A tea stem floats upright in the cup by chance if one of the stems mixed with the tea leaves passes through the mesh strainer of the teapot when tea is poured.
In recent years, however, teapots with fine mesh strainers have become popular and it has become rare to see tea stems mixed with leaves.
As a result, the chance of a tea stem floating vertically is close to zero, the company said.
Jorakuen President Masaaki Kato, 65, and his eldest son, Hirokazu, 34, worked together to develop Fukuko, which was completed in the summer of 2011 after much trial and error.
The two men said that to create a floating tea stem they first sift through a huge pile of stem and pick out those that are thick and straight by hand.
“The right type of stem can be found in about 1 out of every 100,” Kato said.
The principle of creating the floating tea stem is similar to that of a fishing lure.
They make the top part lighter by passing it through fire to remove the water from it. Each stem is then cut to 1 cm long with scissors.
For the last step, they paste the stem onto the exterior of the tea bag using edible glue.
When the tea bag is placed in hot water, the glue melts and the tea stem floats.
The glue is colorless and transparent, so it will not change the color of the tea. Each tea bag is also individually wrapped so it does not pose any hygiene issues, according to the company.
A packet of 10 tea bags costs ¥1,080.
The company sold less than 500 packets in their first year, but they sell roughly 5,000 packets every year now.
Customers like to purchase it as a gift during the school entrance examination period, for weddings, on Respect for the Aged Day and other similar events.
With the rising popularity of tea in plastic bottles, demand for tea leaves has stagnated, but Masaaki is optimistic.
“We have created the dream tea. I hope customers can experience the joy of seeing a tea stem floating upright,” he added.
This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on April 6.