Monday, October 20, 2008
TopValu 16 Hato Tea Blend (16 ハト茶ブレンド)
Back when I was working in a Japanese office, my (Australian) boss used to buy 2 liter bottles of tea called "ju-roku cha". "Ju-roku" in Japanese is 16 and "cha" is tea. I'm not sure why 16 is the magic number for these types of tea blends, but I fondly remembered working with him when I saw this bottle of tea. Incidentally, "hato" means "dove" in Japanese. I don't know if this is supposed to be "dove tea" or if the name carries some other meaning, but there's no reason for doves to be connected to the contents of the bottle. Well, let's just say I hope doves are in no way a part of it.
When my boss was drinking this tea, he offered me a taste, but I turned him down because it smelled very "earthy" to me. In fact, I jokingly used to call it his "dirt tea." The brand he drank was bottled by Coca-Cola Japan. The brand I decided to buy is clearly a direct knock-off and is made by TopValu. TopValu specializes in making cheap versions of popular items. Most notably, they make a KitKat copy for about 28 yen (27 cents) less than the real deal. This 500 ml bottle of 16 Hato Tea Blend was 78 yen (77 cents). A similarly-sized bottle of the brand name ju-roku cha would be at least 100 yen ($1).
The tea is a blend of many other teas including barley (Hato barley), 2 kinds of green tea, and oolong. It includes brown rice, persimmon leaf, ecommia bark, jiagolan, wolfberry (all three Chinese herbs used in traditional medicine), shiitake mushroom, orange peel, vitamin C, kelp and "herb tea". It's quite the potpourri of earthy elements. It's no wonder I called it "dirt tea".
When I opened this bottle, I mostly smelled the mugi-cha (barley tea) and oolong elements. This sort of tea is marketed mainly at the health and beauty market and it is so for good reason. It tastes as good as the mixture of ingredients sound like they might taste together, which is to say not particularly good. The tea is unsweetened (the whole bottle has only 6 calories) and no effort has been made to really do much about the flavor. While you drink it, it's not so bad, but once you stop and your tongue has a moment to process what has just passed its way, it is a little bitter and tastes like you stirred a glass of oolong and barley tea with a dirty mushroom. In fact, I think the tagline for this tea should be something like, "mushrooms you can drink!" Honestly, I think it tastes like water that has been wrung out of an old, dirty sock.
If you're really interested in Chinese medicine or are willing to adapt your palette to a new flavor (or are a serious fan of mushrooms), this may be for you. If you love mugi cha, you may find this more appealing. Personally, I couldn't finish the bottle though I really did try. After choking down half of it, I had to throw in the towel.