Yureeka Yasuda has created SAYURI, a luxury green tea and accessories brand honouring Japanese traditions and promoting the health benefits of a daily green tea ritual. SAYURI makes a collection of authentic, traceable, organic green teas and matchas while supporting the artisans of Japan.
US-raised Yureeka Yasuda is the UK’s first female Tea Sensei as well as an art advisor, brand ambassador, cultural curator and internationally published writer. We meet Yureeka to talk about tea and her mission to spotlight this ancient Japanese craft.
How did it all start?
Very organically. I have been in the F&B world for over a decade and am a certified tea sommelier. When I kept on having to pack matcha whenever I’d travel, I felt there was a real opportunity to promote quality tea along with Japanese culture. I didn’t want SAYURI to be just about tea leaves and powders. I knew there was a deeper calling – to share a lifestyle that can benefit everyone, everywhere.
Why is green tea better than coffee?
For many reasons! Firstly, for its natural components: tea has an amino acid called L-theanine not found in coffee. In particular, green tea and particularly matcha are very high in L-theanine, giving it that particular sweet umami flavour. Not only does it taste good, but it works wonders – improves attention, memory, and cognitive function. It also provides a boost to the production of alpha waves, giving you the same benefits you achieve from meditation.
The release of caffeine is also much slower than coffee – avoiding that immediate high and crash that coffee can often have. Tea offers a sustained energy – you’re alert yet calm. Tea also has higher levels of antioxidants which can limit cell damage and boost the immune system. Tea doesn’t stain your teeth but rather helps with hygiene and protect against decay. There are so so many benefits to drinking tea.
What makes SAYURI different and what does it taste like?
We are authentic, believe in a philosophy and we are on a mission. We aren’t promoting a trend or something Instagrammable. Being Japanese and having spent a lot of time overseas has really allowed me to re-appreciate my own culture. I’m really excited to share our traditional values expressed in “chado” or “the way of tea”. Respect, tranquillity, purity and harmony are the key notions that define Japanese tea.
We focus on sourcing from organic family-owned tea fields that take pride in their craftsmanship. SAYURI is all about taste. I spent literally years to find fields and blenders that deliver the calibre of tea that I’m confident to introduce to the world.
How can you tell the difference between a good matcha and a bad one?
Not all matcha is created equal. Although it all comes from the same plant (Camellia sinensis), the various growing methods and harvesting times will drastically change the final product. Here are some tips to help you choose the right one for you:
Think about the grade/harvest – Like wine, the quality of matcha is determined by terroir, cultivar (single or blend), cultivation process (hand or machine- picked), harvest (first, second or a blend) and process method (stone-milled or machine-pressed). There are generally two grades of matcha: ceremonial and premium. For matcha beginners, I recommend ceremonial matcha which would use leaves from the first flush which results in a richer, sweeter flavour of matcha tea.
Check the colour – High quality matcha typically results in a more vibrant, brilliant green so the greener, the better. This indicates the leaves were grown in shade, which is what gives matcha its superior health benefits. As a good rule, matcha that is sold in glass jars or clear plastic containers is a bad sign and even the highest quality matcha will quickly degrade if not properly packaged.
Trace its origin – Matcha is to Japan as Champagne is to France, therefore anything produced outside of Japan is often not monitored and may simply be powdered green tea. There are several highly reputed growing regions across Japan and SAYURI have partnerships with fields which are reliable, family owned for generations, and adhere to the traditional matcha growing, harvesting and processing methods. SAYURI farmers are artisans and take pride in the history, flavour, and quality of their teas.
Pick your flavour – Taste and smell are equally important indicators of a quality matcha. You should be able to enjoy a natural round sweetness due to a higher concentration of L-theanine, which also creates a savoury taste known as ‘umami’. Of course, products will vary a little in terms of the balance of umami, sweetness, and bitterness flavour profiles but your matcha should always be pleasant to drink with a fresh and grassy aroma. There should be little bitterness and no harsh robustness that lower grade matcha often has.
Consider the process – Purity and traceability are important for a quality matcha, as are the harvesting and grinding processes. If the texture of your matcha is gritty, there is a chance it may be a lower quality matcha that was ground by machine. Grinding that is too harsh or that creates too much heat will actually burn the tea leaves and increase its oxidation, resulting in low-grade matcha, regardless of its initial harvest. Incorrectly ground matcha won’t taste as creamy and smooth as slow, stone ground matcha.
Where in the UK can we enjoy SAYURI?
We are being embraced by so many venues! I’m happy to say we are served at 5 Hertford, Monocle Café , Farmacy, Pantechnicon, Louie London, Natalie’s, coming soon to Annabel’s, Isabel’s and Chiltern Firehouse. We will supply the new spa at the Claridge’s too.
Outside the UK, you can find SAYURI In Japan, Canada, Amazon USA and we have activities planned in Hong Kong and Dubai as well later this year.
You are the UK’s first female tea sensei. What are your top 3 tips for people who want to prepare a proper cup of tea at home?
Pay attention to water quality, temperature, and brew time. The art of tea can take a lifetime to master, but like baking – following the basic rules goes a long way.
Water: UK tap water is hard water and high in limescale which flattens the flavour and textures of tea. Use filtered or softened water. A Brita water filter at home is a must.
Temperature: Each tea has a specific temperature and it is important to follow this rule so you don’t burn your tea leaves. If the water temperature is too hot, the tea will be too bitter due to too much tannins being released and much of its delicate aroma will be lost. Pour boiled water into the teacup first, which cools the water temperature by about 10c by the time its poured back in the pot.
Cold-brew tea is an easy and delicious and stylish way to enjoy quality tea. I like to serve them in champagne flutes or wine glasses. It’s a lot smoother because the flavour is slowly extracted over several hours – with reduced caffeine and often said to be higher vitamin levels. “Mizudashi” is the Japanese term for cold brew which literally translate to “water extracted”. Our Gyokuro and Yuzu mint come out particularly smooth, juicy, mellow, sweet, and with plenty of umami.
Brew time: I often see 3-5 minutes on instructions of sencha tea and I cringe. For SAYURI whole teas, our senchas are all superior quality and can be steeped 2 to 3 times, producing new flavours with each subsequent brew. Therefore we recommend 1 minute for the first brew at 70c, 15 seconds for the second brew at 80c and finally 45 seconds at 90c.
What food pairings work best with your teas?
For our traditional matcha, I definitely love pairing with biscuits and dry sweets since the matcha can be quite intense. The subtle, vegetative flavour of sencha on the other hand, I like to pair with light savoury meals like salads and sandwiches.
For our deep steamed sencha, the brothiness pairs well with fish and other seafood dishes. For roasted green tea (hojicha), the aromatic, round, and toasty notes pair well with chocolate, cheese, and even fattier meat dishes like steak and pork chops.
Generally speaking, Japanese tea is often enjoyed with food and sweets so there’s no such thing as bad pairing. With genmaicha, I like to enjoy it as a “ochazuke” which literally translates to ‘tea soaked”. It’s a simple one-bowl dish that involves pouring green tea over steamed rice with some condiments. It sounds weird but it’s like a soupy risotto.
Is there a risk of cultural appropriation when it comes to the mass production of teas that hold significant cultural and traditional relevance?
I’m a fan of appreciation, not appropriation. I think its important to have knowledge of the authentic version of things before tweaking it for convenience or commercialism. Respecting tradition and inspiring the global market are at the heart of SAYURI.
Chado is rooted in a rich history and philosophy promoting respect, purity, tranquillity and harmony. I think in any context, the more you know the more you realise you didn’t know. The beauty is about discovery and learning about tea- and about oneself so it is really philosophical.
Is there a place for tea in the use of complementary medicine?
I believe tea can be encouraged as a form of healing that considers the whole person — body, mind, spirit, and emotions – in the quest for optimal health and wellness. Green tea is a superior for its high antioxidant level and l-theanine content. Tea has mental, physical, emotional and spiritual benefits. Tea rituals symbolise beginnings, endings, safety, comfort and containment.
The act of having a daily ritual reduces the level of anxiety and stress, while the ceremonial aspect of prepping a bowl of match or pot of tea is quite meditative – you completely focus on the now, and it really is an excellent way to disconnect (to reconnect). Emptying the mind is considered a step closer to enlightenment in Zen Buddhism – and chado is an art form that practices just that. It requires focus, deep breathing, calmness, all of which are ways to elevate any moment. Green tea contains about 30% polyphenols (specifically catechins like EGCG), which makes it a very rich source of powerful antioxidants. While these antioxidants fight free radical formation in the body, they also help to ward off many diseases. Even the soothing smell of tea can help someone who struggles to feel calm.
What is next for you and SAYURI?
To keep spreading the love! I feel like I’ve been doing this forever- and yet I’ve only just started. SAYURI will always be a labour of love and my lifework. I feel encouraged everyday as our stockists grow and further opportunities appear.
I really believe in the future of Japanese green tea. We will continue to focus on the UK market but also develop our Middle East and USA business. We are launching a range of matcha ritual kits, growing our line up of teas and powders, working on a subscription model to introduce new teas to a loyal customer base, and I welcome collaborations with the world of art and beauty since I believe tea elevates our everyday.
To discover more about Yureeka Yasuda and SAYURI, visit: sayuritea.com
All imagery courtesy of SAYURI and Yureeka Yasuda.
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