I first encountered Marjolein Raijmakers via her beautifully curated Instagram feed all about her passion for tea. We love her images but you will understand (because we like our words) that we enjoy reading her captions equally as much. She takes the time to describe the moment, the intention, the experience so well that you feel as though you are right next to her on the journey.
Whilst participating in the 2018 Japan Tea Export Council's tea study tour who did I happen to be sitting next to on the first day? You guessed it. The most kind-hearted and loveliest tea person you could ever hope to meet, Marjolein. Over the next 10 days I felt so fortunate to get to know this woman better and hear her honesty in sharing her tea journey over the past year.
On the conclusion of her tea travels last year I asked her whether she might be interested in sharing her story on Tealosophy. Whilst the read is lengthy I have decided to leave it almost completely unedited because I wanted to retain the content in its original form as much as possible. It is a wonderful story and I think you will enjoy it immensely.
So now is the time to make yourself a cup of tea and enjoy reading about Marjolein's tea journey.
Where is your permanent home?
I am loosely rooted in Dutch soil. Having lived in a few countries on different continents until I started secondary school, some late roots grew as I remained in the Netherlands for many years. But I’ve never felt entirely at home and this past year I have been happily un-anchored and drifting in search of new soils to dig in to.
How long have you been a tea practitioner? What is your particular area of interest?
There is not one definite turning or starting point that I can pinpoint as my beginning in tea. Like a seed I feel it has always been there, but the last three years my interest in tea has grown ‘tall’. I have a thirst to learn more about tea. Tea culture, history, farming, processing, drinking & tasting - I find it fascinating that until now I still find every aspect of tea captivating. I will open one new door within the world of tea and I find at least a few more doors behind that, and yet more behind everything new I learn. I am not in a hurry, and I am happy to enjoy the process of discovering the worlds behind all these doors.
As a tea practitioner I have only just put my first foot on the path, hoping to get firmer hold in the years to come.
How long were you away from home?
I have been very fortunate to have been able to spend 7 months this year dedicated to tea travel. From the start of spring I spent 3 months in Japan as an intern working on a tea farm, and then till early autumn spent travelling around South Korea and Japan trying to see tea fields, visit tea farmers and learn about tea. These are my first tea regions that I have visited actively for purpose of seeing and experiencing tea.
Our conversation with Marjolein
1. What was your original intention for embarking on a tea travel experience? And now your journey has finished - did your intention differ from the journey made?
I cannot say I had a definite set of expectations or intentions other than ‘I want to learn more’ before I set out to travel. I knew I wanted to use this unanchored spell in my life to jump deeper into the world of tea. Starting with Japan, the country that played a part in deepening my interest in tea on earlier travels, seemed like a good place to start. I wanted to see how tea grows, get a feeling for how tea is processed. Reading from books it all sounds a bit abstract what tea looks like, smells like, how it is grown and processed by farmers. I wanted to get a feeling and gain insight myself. With each new corner of tea I step in to, I feel I want to learn more. In a sense it almost feels like I know less than when I started out on my travels - even though it is only because I can see more of what I don’t know yet. My first tea travel period has ended, yet it has only whet my appetite for more!
2. Based on tea experience prior to this journey, what do you consider to be the biggest learning you have made during this journey?
This round of travelling has taught me a lot. Perhaps my most precious experience was being able to see tea leaves grow from week to week, to notice the change in taste between freshly plucked buds of spring, summer and autumn seasons. To be present during processing and experience how the fresh leaf turns into (Japanese) tea is something inestimable. I feel that it deepens my appreciation for tea and all the work that goes into making it even more.
3. What has given you the greatest joy as a tea practitioner during your tea travels?
The greatest joy has been the people! Meeting other tea enthusiasts and the connection you feel. Instantly bonding over a shared appreciation and love for tea. How unique it is in the tea world to find new friends that feel like old friends within hours of meeting over a cup of tea.
Other than the inspiring, welcoming, warmheartedly wonderful tea people, one of my most joyful experiences was the opportunity to make my own tea. Being handed a bag of 20 kg freshly harvested leaf and being told “you can use any machine in our factory, now go experiment and make some black tea” was just a fantastic challenge I don't expect to experience often.
Additionally, finding a teacher and receiving lessons in the art of senchado (the sencha tea ceremony) are extremely dear memories as I felt part of long continuous time-line of traditions handed over from teacher to student. It was a feeling of no longer being an outsider just looking in, but being able to participate and be part of the tea culture.
4. What have you found to be the most challenging part of this experience?
When travelling, there is no comfort of daily re-occurring rhythms and patterns. Every day is filled with choices: where do I sleep tomorrow, where do I go, how do I get there, what do I do, what do I eat? It can at times feel exhausting to have these questions re-appear every day. But you get used to this and I built in rest periods where I would stay in the same location for a week and take things slow and feel temporarily less like a perpetual stranger.
5. For anyone contemplating following their heart and passion for tea - what is the best piece if advice you would recommend to get the most out of their tea travel experience?
Do not hesitate to reach out and contact tea strangers hailing from where you want to go. It is probably a good idea to start planning and reaching out before starting out so you will have an outline of places and people to visit, but it’s never too late to try and reach out. After a lot of failures I managed to contact a tea producer in South Korea at 9 pm one night and he invited me to visit his factory at 7 am the next morning! Don’t plan your trip completely full; leave some space for spontaneous and last-minute meetings to happen. I had a Japanese farmer, who saw on my instagram account that I was in a neighbouring town, invite me to come visit his farm. Having a fairly loose schedule allowed for these special moments to happen. Even if you have no contacts to start with, just go and try to find anyone or anything tea-related. Talk to other tea travellers: I bet many of them are happy to share names of people or companies who like having tea enthusiasts visit them and share their passion.
6. For us that may not have the opportunity to travel to tea lands what would be your advice for acquiring tea knowledge?
Other than tea books or local tea academies or workshops there are so many active communities around online, open and accessible and welcoming. I gain a lot of knowledge through tea farmers & tea enthusiasts who share their experiences and knowledge on instagram, and there are more and more youtube accounts where excellent knowledge about tea is openly shared. Also: don’t be surprised you may have tea growing closer to you than you think. There are, for instance, tea-growers in Europe (also in the Netherlands!), the USA, South America, Australia and even New Zealand that you may be able to visit.