We all have these moments, when we meet someone for the first time but it feels like you’ve been friends for years! This is what happened when I met Elisa da Rin, introduced to us by a mutual friend, we quickly discovered that our lifes crossed over on numerous levels.
Elisa is not only a gorgeous young Italian lady, but has a knowledge on art, culture and tea that leaves me gobsmacked. From a few things we share in common, tea is one of them and this, let me tell you, is totally her domaine. Not surprised that her nickname is the tea sommelier, she lives her passion.
I am thrilled to introduce Elisa to you here in a brief heart to heart and to haver her part of the Abis’s Journal tribe, writing a monthly column on tea for you here. If you are like me, you will quickly adopt her passion and try some of her tips on tea, and how to use these mystical dried leaves in your life, forever changing your habits. Another way of embracing a toxic free life! We are over the moon!
I have nasty habits; I love them both (tea and coffee)Mick Jagger
Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Where did you grow up? What brought you to Japan?
I was born in a little village in the Dolomite Mountains in the North-East of Italy. I feel lucky to have grown up in touch with the nature in a totally uncontaminated place, and this shaped my sensitivity towards natural things and phenomena; since I was a child I knew that that place was too small for me, and I needed an excuse to escape from there. I found it in the study of languages: initially Spanish, which caused me to move to Valencia in the South of Spain; then English, which took me to London; and later Japanese language, which I studied along with the ancient art, history and literature of Japan at SOAS (School of Oriental & African Studies) in London. After getting my Masters, I worked in the tea industry in Milan before receiving an offer to work for to work for a multinational eyewear company in Tokyo in 2015. Why not? I thought. I had promised myself I would be find a way to visit this, “the Easter Island, The End of The World”, as one of my favorite authors, Alessandro Baricco, writes in his novel ‘Silk’. So here I am: working and living in Tokyo for two years now!
When did your interest in tea become apparent?
My interest in tea started during my studies at SOAS University in London. I was doing some research about the art of Japanese pottery, and it was while studying about how Raku, Shino and Seto ware is made that I actually first began to consider what Japanese people put inside those beautifully crafted cups: Green tea! So, I concluded my MA with a dissertation about The Art of The Tea Ceremony (Cha-no-yu), and I really wanted to find a job related to it. And I found one! It happened after moving back to Milan, where I met my best friend Jurga, who introduced me to the real world of tea, explaining all tea varieties, colors and properties to me. Together we drank countless litres of oolong, pu-erh, white tea and, of course, Japanese green tea! Nowadays I still thank her for this magical induction into the Tea World. Jurga was also the one who connected me to the first teahouse I worked for: Arte del Ricevere, the most prestigious tea boutique in Milan. From there I started to build my career in the tea field by going on to work for two of the most renowned French tea brands KUSMI Tea and Dammann Freres.
What is your favourite morning tea? and why?
This is a tricky question! In fact I usually have “waves of favourite tea”, and this means that I drink the same tea every morning (and several times in a day) until I can’t stand it anymore so I suddenly change. It is a little bit like listening to your favourite song for an intense period, then all of a sudden you cannot listen to it anymore and it takes a while before you want to appreciate the melody once again.
In any case, in the morning I usually prefer black tea, preferably not scented, although recently I found a really nice Earl Grey at Marriage Frères and I can’t wake up without it!
However, I must say that I try to keep my “healthy habit” of having a warm cup of plain green tea as soon as I wake up.
This little cup of green tea completely detoxes my body and activates my metabolism, getting my body ready for breakfast and hydrating me for the whole day!
What’s your take on green tea?
I used to love green tea! I drank exclusively green tea before coming to Japan. First of all because it reminded me of my dream to come to Japan, then because it is said to be the healthier and good for one’s body. Then, after living here in Japan for a while, I probably got used to the very “umami” taste of it and to the fact that green tea is often associated with water (it is very rare to see a Japanese person drinking cold water, they go for tea all day long!). Therefore my predilection changed and I started to drink a lot of oolong, a very low fermented tea, which reminds me of a lot of some green teas with their delicate color and aroma. Here I also discovered the rare black Japanese tea wakocha and I fell in love with it.
Sometimes I spoil myself with very high quality tea from renowned teahouses here in Tokyo, such as TWG or Marriage Frères, where I like to go shopping for Darjeeling and Earl Grey.
(organic green tea field in Kyushu Japan by Wakohen tea manufacturer)
A lot of people have this image of tea lovers being very healthy and not liking coffee? What have you got to say to them?
In a very nice article written by my friend Jurga, she quoted Mick Jagger saying “I have nasty habits; I love them both (tea and coffee)”.
I would say the same. In fact everybody thinks of me as a “pure tea lover”, probably because I am drinking enormous quantities of tea – sometimes I have over the 6 or 9 cups a day! But it is also true that I like coffee, not all coffees, it must be very weak and watery, also with a dash of milk, which is highly unusual for an Italian. I suppose I am a true tea lover at heart!
Where do you go for high tea in Tokyo?
Paradoxically, my favourite tea places in Tokyo are European. Regarding tearooms, I often go for teatime at the TWG dining room in Jiyugaoka, which resembles a classical English tea room. Then I do love the French style of Marriage Frères in Ginza and recently I also found the cozy tea lounge of LUPICIA, also in Jiyugaoka. If I just have to buy tea for home I sometimes go to the flagship store of KUSMI in Tokyo Station, and if I want to astonish my friends with a full meal based on green tea I bring them to the Green Tea Restaurant 1899 in Ochanomizu.
Recently I am doing more tea shopping online, especially as my collaborator on Il Bollitore Alessandra is a master on this: she is my personal tea shopper and I always love her suggestions on where to shop and discover new tea blends!
How do you treat yourself after a long day at work? What is your skincare routine?
The first thing I love to do when I come back home from work (after brewing some tea, of course) is to steep my cold body into a hot bath. I truly love this Japanese routine, and I think it is really efficient in order to relax your body’s muscles and help your stomach to digest the upcoming dinner.
I have to say that after work I usually go straight to my yoga class, it is a sort of fitness yoga, so quite hard, and a bath is absolutely needed after it. Then, I never forget to put toner on first and then facial cream and cover my body with good quality body cream. I don’t use lots of make up or perfume, so the basic moisturizing creams are worth investing in for me.
Just before slipping inside my bed I also treat my hands and feet with a deep hydrating cream and I often use the ready-to-use Korean facial masks – I love them!
(Elisa visiting the Carmien tea estate, Citrusdal, in Cederberg Town, South Africa)
The more I learn about tea, the more I feel like traveling. Where is your dream destination following the tea trail?
After traveling to South Africa in order to discover Rooibos tea few years ago, I understood that I could learn all about a tea only by going directly where they cultivate it. So my dream tea-trip would be to Taiwan, discovering the oolong tea plantations high up in the mountains. I would love to go up to Himalaya region in order to visit the Darjeeling plantations. But for now, as I am living in Japan, I am trying to be more realistic and I am planning to go to Kyushu, in the south of Japan, and assist in the Spring tea harvest.
Make sure you read all the tips on ‘Life with Tea’ by Elisa da Rin for you on Abi’s Journal, starting soon.
Join Elisa’s Afternoon High Tea Crush February 3rd – head over to the event page for details.
Teaet – rose/green tea ¥1,500 Teaet – green tea ¥800
Vanilla flavoured black tea ¥1,640