To the uninitiated, the idea of a green-tea recycling market is likely to inspire visions of used tea-leaves rescued from strainers. Not so for Nobuyuki Kakizaki, the manager of tea-shop Uogashi Meicha Tsukiji Shinten, located in Tokyo’s Tsukiji district. For him it’s an event held early each February that attracts over 200 visitors.

The market — which is perhaps more accurately described as a “tea trade-in” — is about exchanging unwanted tea for new tea (made by Uogashi). “In Japan people receive lots of tea as gifts — for example, after a funeral — which might not be very high quality,” said Kakizaki.

And it’s not just funerals either. Green tea, and in particular the most common variety, sencha, is a popular gift for occasions such as the birth of a child or recovery from illness

“Green tea lasts for a long time,” said Kakizaki, explaining its popularity. The only problem is that these days people tend to, well, skimp on the tea. And that’s where Kakizaki’s market comes in.

For this year’s event, he opened his store for two days to disgruntled bearers of substandard leaf. His staff weighed and judged the offerings, and, if they passed, exchanged them for almost equivalent volumes of Uogashi product.

“We make (the unwanted tea) into hojicha brown tea and donate it to local welfare centers,” Kakizaki explained.

Green sencha is just one step away from hojicha — roast it over a flame and it browns and acquires a savory aroma.

While judging the tea for exchange, Kakizaki’s staff look out for qualities liable to affect the quality of the hojicha, such as the presence of matcha green tea powder — the type used in tea ceremony.

“Matcha is often added to poor-quality sencha to give it a green color,” explained Kakizaki. “It will burn if you try to turn it into hojicha.”

Kakizaki also noted that the exchange allows him to check on his competitors: “We get to see the packaging other manufacturers are using,” he said.

This kind of business-mindedness is now an essential part of the increasingly competitive green-tea market. “These days, people aren’t giving green tea as much as they used to,” Kakizaki lamented. “We’re trying to show them that tea is not sacred, that it can be enjoyed in any number of ways.”

For details about the Tea Exchange events, contact Uogashi Meicha Tsukiji Shinten at (03) 3542-2336 or visit www.uogashi-meicha.co.jp.

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