Monday, March 3, 2008   2:23 PM

Tea and Tesco

Calamity struck the other day as my precious supply of teabags finally ran out. Now, one thing Japan is not short of is tea - in an emergency (and we're talking about natural disaster send-in-the-troops type emergency here) it's even available in pre-warmed cans from your local neighbourhood vending machine. However, probably due to my British genes I prefer to brew my own tea using teabags of the kind sold in packs of 960, with each individual bag packing enough punch to inject the teaine or whatever they contain directly into the bloodstream, no mucking about with blending or aroma or other poncy stuff, thankyou very much.

Unfortunately, as with many things in Japan, while teabags are widely available, the price gives one the impression they are individually hand-crafted by artisans on the southern slopes of the Himalayas. Consequently it is my mission to find a source which will help me maintain my chronic drinking habit without too-disastrous financial repercussions. So it was with some excitement I learnt that a British grocery shop called "Tesco", as part of its drive for world domination, has opened a chain of stores across Tokyo. Unfortunately none near Provisional Penguin HQ, but there is one near Meidaimae Station (明大前駅), where I was headed anyway to scout out a more permanent location for Penguin HQ, so yesterday I popped in for a sniff around and maybe to take one or two surreptitious bloggery photos.

Tesco Express, Meidaimae, Tokyo

Well, it was more like any other Japanese supermarket than Tesco as I remember it. There were a couple of shelves of original Tesco products, including Red Label (own brand) tea in Japan-sized 40-packs, but at a tad under 300 yen (1.50 pounds or 2 Euros) they weren't really worth the extra expense and time of the train journey.

Tesco Products in Tesco Express, Meidaimae, Tokyo 

Looks like I'll be dependent on Don Quijote's bargain basement for a while (100 normal bags for about 400 yen) - unless anyone has any hot teabag tips for me, in which case feel free to post them here.

Posted in Life in Japan
I've never understood why tesco has open stores all around the world.. but never opened one in Germany..
Maybe the German's general dislike for ready-made meals..? Which we all know is the staple diet of most Brits..

Is everything sold at tesco manufactured in the UK and then shipped to Japan? Or is it home-made Jap stuff just with british style packaging?

Strange, I had you down as a "four o'clock Earl Grey, first tea then milk type.." and then you mention tea bags? whoaa that's bordering on the perverse..

I must admit, I've can live without anything British apart from the tea.. that's the only thing I instantly miss when in "real" foreign parts..
Posted by: IsarSteve | 2008-03-03 20:03
Oddly, tea is one of the things I dislike most about my trips to the UK. The endless tea. Cauldrons of tea. Lakes of tea. Tasteless, watery, milky, scummy (I mean because of the scum on the surface) tea. Still, I am sure the Japanese know their way round a teapot and I hope you're getting a thoroughly good brew.
Posted by: BiB | 2008-03-03 22:56
Both my Nan and my Mum sent me plenty of Tesco tea bags (why just Tesco, I have no idea. I'm more of a PG Tips person, to be honest).

I can't believe that there's Tesco in Tokyo! I knew there was one in China but Japan... I know loads of Japanese girls who are in love with Tesco in the same way that they are in love with Louis Vuitton...
Posted by: Cutetwirler | 2008-03-03 23:27
IsarSteve, I think the German chains have the domestic market pretty tightly in their grip, witness the recent failure of Walmart to make any headway. The Tesco here had the same stuff you get in any other Japanese supermarket, except with a couple of shelves of exotic products from the Far West, including baked beans. I'm not really an Earl Grey type, and first milk! Then tea.

BiB, I know exactly what you mean. I can recommend my paternal grandmother's tea as particularly yucky (in fact I think the Japanese canned tea manufacturers got their recipe from her).

Cutetwirler, welcome to my Penguiny blog and I hope Nagoya is treating you well. Is Tesco really ranking up there with Louis Vuitton? I know Boots is pretty popular (although their venture into Japan a few years back seems to have failed). There are some Tescos outside of the Tokyo area, but the nearest one to Nagoya is in Toyota-shi:
Posted by: ThePenguin | 2008-03-04 07:47
YOu were born with a tea cup (full of tea of course) in your hand. No silver spoon for you, just tea and more tea. It's in the genes I'm afraid.
Obviously BiB hasn't been to the right places - tea from cafes is AWFUL but still not as bad as your paternal grandmother's tea - it used to be worse when paternal grandfather was around. He used to stew it on the hob....
Well I know what to send you as a present now.
Posted by: Mummy Penguin | 2008-03-04 11:36
My grandma stew her tea on the hob too! memories... which is probably why I don't drink teas when I was younger. :-)
Posted by: lina | 2008-03-04 12:53
There is going to be a CostCo opening up shortly in my area, I'll let you know if they stock anything acceptable to your refined tastes. :-)
Posted by: Contamination | 2008-03-04 14:49
oh goodness- I do feel your pain, My british genes call out for PG Tips ONLY, yet here in Canada there is no such thing. Which is why everytime I go back to London, I stock up on literally crates of the stuff- it keeps rather nicely in the cellar. My stock ran out a week ago though- so I'm a little bit crazy....
Yeah- Tescos is EV-ER-Y where! Except for Canada. What the heck is that?
Well atleast we get teabags reasonably priced here- but it's actually really disgusting. Tetley's tastes like...pencil shavings. urgh.
Posted by: Zainab | 2008-03-05 15:39
Penguin, not sure how you feel about Mabroc, but Hanamasa sells 100-count boxes for less than Don Quixote. Japanese-only store locator is here:
Posted by: John T. | 2008-07-09 01:42
Sorry for the double post. Just came back from the local Hanamasa. The only 100-pack they carried (they've been swapping out some of their brands recently) was a somewhat dodgy-looking "Ex Kobe" brand Ceylon for 350 yen. I was about out of tea myself so I bought some. Not much flavor really...
Posted by: John T. | 2008-07-09 04:10
Thanks for the tips, John T.! I hadn't heard of Hanamasa before, but useful to know. I've just got back from a trip to the big Don Quixote near Shin Okubu station and found there's a branch almost next door. Scored a 110 pack of "Sun Crest" tea bags for 398 yen. Don't know how they taste, but the best monetary per-bag value I've found yet.

They also had 100 packs of "Day&Day" teabags, which are OK for my taste, at about 478 yen, whereas Don Quixote sells them for 398 yen.
Posted by: ThePenguin | 2008-07-13 11:42