ARTIST INTERVIEW: Lauren Purvis of Mizuba Tea Company
Company: Mizuba Tea Company
Artist: Lauren Purvis
Born and raised in sunny Santa Barbara on countless glasses of iced tea, Lauren began her study, collection of, and obsession with specialty tea when she was in high school. But it was a trip to Japan in 2013 that opened her eyes to how exceptional teas can be made accessible and enjoyed by all. A frothy cup of matcha in the community of Uji revealed to her the depth of Japanese tea’s complex flavor profiles. What’s more, the friendships she made over those cups of tea were just as wonderful as the quality of the tea itself. The experience spurred Lauren toward a dedication to study Japanese tea cultivation, production, and culture.
A connection with a traditional Uji matcha producer solidified her commitment to bringing traditional shade-grown and stone-ground matcha to the United States with her company, Mizuba Tea Co.® Mizuba has since grown to be the matcha of choice by over 200 specialty coffee shops nationwide, and has been featured in publications such as Vogue Magazine UK, Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, Edible Magazine, Food52.com, etc. Mizuba Tea Co. is recognized by the farmers she works with via the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce as one of America’s only “official Uji-cha Tea Dealers.”
How long have you been participating in the Echo Park Craft Fair?
This will be Mizuba’s first EPCF appearance! We are so thankful and incredibly honored to share a booth with our dear friend Lori of Lori Food + Cakes. We’ll be showcasing our matcha tea alongside her amazing edible floral treat spread, and we absolutely cannot wait to serve everyone our farm-direct Uji matcha green tea in celebration of EPCF’s 10 years of magical community. We have 6 matcha teas to share, all with their own unique flavor profiles and taste experiences. You can read about each one on www.mizubatea.com.
What techniques do you use to produce your designs? What is the history behind those techniques, and does that inform how you use them?
Mizuba’s mission is to uphold Uji tradition in our matcha collection, so we strive to support traditional Japanese tea production and techniques that our farmers continue to utilize & keep alive. There is so much rich history in matcha, from where it starts in the ground to how people have prepared and drank it for centuries!
I feel it is very easy to lose matcha’s heritage in all the iterations we find the “green powder” in in America. You might have tried a matcha that was either laden with sugar, mixed with additives, promised a myriad of health cures, or thrown in with all sorts of other ingredients. I wanted to cut through all the noise around the tea and instead simply showcase the beauty of traditional matcha teas that are unique in flavor, production, and craft.
Uji is the historical home of matcha and is revered because it is where the first tea seeds in the nation were planted. At one time in Japan’s history, (see Simone’s book) tea production in Japan was prohibited in any region except for Uji. Therefore, tea from Uji became known as “honcha” or “true tea.”
In order for true matcha to be called “matcha” (literally translated, “rubbed tea” or “ground tea”), the tea must meet four criteria:
* Quality matcha must be from Japan. It’s like the scenario with champagne, where true champagne must be made in the Champagne region in France. There are 2 reasons with matcha: first, matcha is so intertwined with Japan’s iconic tea ceremony history. Matcha is the star of the meditative ceremony in which someone prepares & serves matcha for guests. Secondly, the true umami taste & quality in matcha is not found in other powdered green teas from other countries. You lose the terroir in the taste if it’s from somewhere else. Japan’s volcanic, mineral soil, climate, and special cultivars of the tea plant all contribute to matcha’s renowned and desired flavor.
* Matcha must be shade-grown. Matcha is grown in the sun year-round, but what makes it special is that the farmers put special tarps over the plants for about 3-4 weeks prior to harvest. The tarps inhibit sunlight, which causes the tea plants to strain to complete the photosynthesis cycle, and the plants end up sending nutrients up to the top leaves – most notably chlorophyll & the amino-acid L-theanine. In the sun, matcha concentrates the super-antioxidant called EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), which has a bitter flavor. But the shade-concentrated L-theanine has a very sweet flavor. The two need to be balanced. Without the shade, you won’t find the balance of the prized Umami in matcha.
* Matcha must be made from tencha tea leaves. (Not a different plant – all tea comes from Camellia sinensis!) Tencha is a term for correctly grown pre-matcha tea leaves. You might find powdered green tea that has been advertised from ground sencha or gyokuro leaves, which is technically incorrect – sencha & gyokuro refer to rolled tea leaves intended for loose leaf drinking. The term for the tea plants that have been properly shade-grown are “tencha.” Our farmers look for a deep green color in the tencha tea leaves to indicate quality.
* Matcha must be stone-milled! Hence the name, matcha. Traditional matcha will be milled very slowly as to prevent oxidation and over heating. For example, our modern “ishi-usu” mills are made from soft granite and revolve only 30 revolutions per minute as to not overheat the tea and compromise the quality or flavor.
And it’s a bonus if your matcha is from Uji! Not to be biased! I’ve had great matcha from other regions in Japan. We just happen to looooove Uji matcha!
So how do we keep the integrity of all these techniques in our modern world? You might be wondering my opinion on matcha lattes at this point. Don’t get me wrong – with one foot firmly planted in the specialty coffee world, I very much appreciate the perfectly-made matcha latte. We collaborate and work with awesome folks who also wish to uphold the integrity of our matcha tea. For example, 95% of our 200+ specialty coffee shops we train use the traditional chasen bamboo whisk to craft your matcha! We love how our baristas also enjoy taking the time to present matcha as it’s been made for over 800 years in a modern setting, and envision new ways to enjoy our pure matcha tea.
What impact do you hope your creative work will have on your community?
I feel we live in a special time where we can engage with so many beautiful, cultural treasures from around the world. I do not see my work as “Lauren selling matcha.” Rather, I see myself and my team as a vehicle to share what our farmers want to share with the world. We hope to be a bridge to a rich, tea drinking culture, and with Mizuba, we hope to impart just a taste of the larger, beautiful experience of Uji with you, the drinker. With every sip of Mizuba you take, you help continue to make Uji’s history as vibrant as the color of matcha itself! Tea is also my absolute favorite medium for conversation and connection. Building friendships over tea helps to make a positive impact on the world in the way that we treat people and communities as a business / your trusted matcha purveyor. Mizuba is built on relationships, and how beautiful is tea as a community-builder! I just want to share these blessings.
Are there other communities that have been instrumental to the development of your creative work?
Totally! Growing up in Santa Barbara certainly had a huge influence on the way I taste things. I’m specifically talking about the wine community – my parents were very active on the board of Santa Barbara’s chapter of the American Institute of Wine & Food and we talked about food, taste, and food culture all the time. I’m still an avid wine fan, and I’m thankful that has helped to hone my palette for determining quality teas. There is much crossover in the way one approaches wine as one does tasting tea. Additionally, I believe specialty coffee has helped pave the way for a deeper appreciation of specialty tea in America – which is gaining traction right now! My husband was a barista for ten years, and my brothers-in-law own Good Coffee up in Portland, Oregon. Baristas who care truly know how to present a craft beverage well – I am so thankful for the way baristas are attentive about the presentation and taste of our matcha. I can trust the folks we work with to present Mizuba with integrity and they are certainly instrumental to how Mizuba has grown.
Lastly, I am indebted to our farmers in Japan! I continue to learn from them and am thankful for the opportunity they give me to share their work.