Posted in Kafevend Blog
As this old year draws to a close and the new year beckons, we here at the Kafevend blog have decided to send off 2015 with a look at the oldest tea company in existence. We hope you'll find it as interesting as we did!
The longest standing tea company of them all can be found in Japan near the city of Kyoto. The city itself is very old, dating back just over 1,200 years and served as Japan's capital for over a thousand years from 794-1868. Laying in a wide basin surrounded by mountains on three sides, to the east of Kyoto lies a big lake from which stems the river Uji. It is on the bank of this river as it meanders south of Kyoto that you will find Tsûen tea house, first built hundreds of years ago in around 1160.
The tea house was established by a veteran samurai named Furukawa Unai. Taking up the name Taikei-an Tsûen Masahisa when he laid down his swords, he built his retirement plan on the east end of a bridge crossing the river. He unfortunately died in battle a couple of decades later as a battle engulfed his new home town, but his tea house survived, along with his family who took on the name Tsûen.
Given the location of the tea house near to the country's former capital city, it will perhaps come as no surprise that the family has some links to the great and mighty. The head of the eighth generation of the family served as the chief tea master to Ashikaga Yoshimasa, who ruled as shogun (a powerful military leader) from 1449 to 1473. In the next century, the family became trusted by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, an influential warrior and politician, and they would draw water from the river to be used for his tea. His chief tea master, the renowned Sen no Rikyū, also drew water from the river at the tea house for a famous tea gathering amongst Toyotomi and many daimyo (feudal lords) and other tea masters in 1585.
Whilst the current tea house isn't the original, it is still an old building dating back to the 17th century and is recognised as a cultural property thanks to its unique architecture. Whilst it may not have the money making clout of the big tea companies like Twinings, Tsûen tea's long and variegated history and position as the oldest tea company on the globe is certainly a tremendous claim to fame. If you happen to be particularly learned in your Japanese script you can even visit their website for more information!