Feeling connected to a different culture can be an eye-opening experience. It enables us to broaden our horizons and gain an alternative perspective on the world. The Kokoro Files shares stories about people who feel connected to Japan, and in Danielle Geva’s case, she developed a passion for Japanese tea.
An entrepreneur, author and owner of a successful Japanese tea brand, Danielle was kind enough to share her thoughts about how travelling to Japan influenced her life.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with Yamato Magazine about your Japanese experience Danielle. Where did your interest in Japan first come from and what was your first trip like?
My favourite travel destinations are big cities, and Tokyo seemed like the ultimate fast-paced and futuristic city. In my first trip to Japan, I was thrilled to explore the city but also ended up falling in love with the peaceful gardens as well as the ancient temples and shrines.
As the founder of the Japanese tea brand Hojicha Co., you supply premium hojicha to western consumers. What is it about hojicha that makes it stand out from other Japanese blends such as matcha?
As matcha became mainstream in North America, authentic hojicha was nowhere to be found. This surprised me because hojicha has much more potential to be widely enjoyed by both tea drinkers and coffee drinkers.
Since hojicha is naturally sweet, it appeals to people who prefer sweeter drinks especially if they are trying to cut down on sugar. Hojicha also has less caffeine than a cup of decaf coffee, which makes the roasted green tea suitable for drinking any time of the day. The roasting process even makes hojicha stand out in appearance, as it’s the only green tea that is reddish-brown.
For people who are unfamiliar with your products, what kind of hojicha do you sell?
Hojicha Co. offers premium hojicha powder and loose leaf from Kyoto, Japan. As the first and only brand to specialise in hojicha, Hojicha Co. provides authentic Uji-cha with a focus on a single-origin roasted green tea with unique characteristics.
How did you meet your business partner Francois Mathieu and what kind of dynamic does he bring to the Hojicha Co. brand?
Francois and I connected over our shared interest in startups. While I worked with early stage startups, he has more experience with growth startups. Since our skills are complementary, it has helped us establish and grow a more sustainable brand.
How versatile is hojicha as a beverage material and what other drinks would you recommend mixing it into?
One of my favourite things is to experiment with hojicha, and I try to encourage our customers to do the same. When I started experimenting with it, the first unexpected drink was an oat milk latte with the loose leaf hojicha.
It may sound obvious, but since Japanese green tea isn’t traditionally served with milk it seemed weird at the time. It is much more common to use hojicha powder in lattes, and a fun twist is replacing the water with other liquids like maple water or floral teas.
My latest favourite is hojicha latte made with mint tea, which tastes just like ice cream. Now that it’s warmer, I’d also recommend cold brewing hojicha and combining the cold brew tea with sparkling water or using it in mocktail recipes.
How important is sustainability to your sourcing process and are there any sustainability tips that you’d recommend to your customers?
Our customers value sustainability without compromising on taste. Often tea drinkers will switch from tea bags to loose leaf tea in an effort to be sustainable, only to find that the high quality tea also tastes much better. I also always recommend customers to steep their loose leaf up to three times to make the most out of it, as it is still full of flavour.
What differences have you noticed in the processing and sourcing of tea in the west as compared to places like Japan?
I have a huge appreciation for Japanese tea, and pride myself on offering premium hojicha without any additives or unnecessary processing that would detract from its distinct taste.
In North America, tea bags filled with dust and fannings as well as blends with sugary candy are more prevalent. My hope is that as more people taste high quality tea, minimal processing will become more popular.
With Hojicha Co. being recognised by publications like The Japan Times, that must feel extremely satisfying. Are there any other accolades that you’d like to aim for within the tea industry?
In addition to feeling pride when Hojicha Co. is recognised by the press, I’m also appreciative of the chance to share more about hojicha with a wider audience.
During our first event, we won ‘Best Tea 2019’ and many attendees came to visit our booth to taste hojicha for the first time ever. I’m driven by the desire for everyone to experience and enjoy hojicha, and I’m always seeking opportunities that helps me achieve that goal.
For anyone who would like to take part in an authentic Japanese tea ceremony, where would you recommend visiting in Japan?
I would recommend visiting Byodo-in Omotesando Road in Uji, where Japanese tea originated from and the area which still offers the finest Japanese tea. There are many places that offer an authentic Japanese tea ceremony, but more important is reflecting on how to bring the thoughtfulness of the tea practice into everyday life.
Do you feel that drinking green tea has positive physical and mental health benefits?
Whether it’s the nutrients or the ritual, or a combination of both, I have experienced many positive benefits drinking green tea every day. Preparing Japanese tea has become a practice in mindfulness for me.
Every time I reach for the kyusu or bamboo whisk, I take a break from multitasking and the constant stream of thoughts. I become fully present, and am aware and intentional in my thoughts and actions. This helps with any stress I was previously feeling, but also with preparing a better tasting cup of tea.
Outside of your passion for tea, what other aspects of Japanese culture are you interested in?
Being immersed in the world of Japanese tea, I’ve developed an interest in Japanese teaware. The level of attention to detail and craftsmanship of Japanese pottery is awe-inspiring, and I’m fascinated with the acceptance of imperfection. The wabi-sabi aesthetic is also present in tea gardens which I enjoy visiting and learning about.
In addition to your tea company you are also an author and illustrator and have created the book Why to Wake Up. Do you have plans to incorporate Japan into any creative work in the future?
Although Hojicha Co. is my priority now, creating art will always be a part of me. I often make limited edition items with Japanese-inspired illustrations for our customers. Every trip to Japan fills me with inspiration, and will likely continue to influence my art.
Danielle Geva has lived on three continents, and currently resides in Toronto, Canada. She studied Entrepreneurship and Marketing at Ryerson University, and was a founding member of the Digital Media Zone (DMZ). In her professional life, Danielle has helped brands from across the world generate demand for their products, including several Y Combinator, StartX, and DMZ technology startups. As well as being the co-founder of Hojicha Co., Danielle is also the author and illustrator of Why to Wake Up, her first book of illustrations.