Modern Master of Tea

Maruwaka Hirotoshi is an award-winning designer and one of the founders of GEN GEN AN by EN TEA, a Tokyo-based tea house that’s actively broadening notions of what Japanese tea can and should look like.

Maruwaka Hirotoshi in an interview with Nippon.com

Even before becoming a tea master for the new millennium, Maruwaka straddled the worlds of commercial celebrity and traditional artisanry. After a career in retail, Maruwaka broke with an industry increasingly moving toward fast-fashion, and tapped into the downtempo pace of Japanese craftsmanship, learning techniques like Kutaniyaki, or porcelain making.

But a move that seemed like an attempt in code-switching to the language of traditional arts was ironically what enabled Maruwaka to speak more fluently as a commercial designer. It was around this time that he produced some of his best-known works, including a candy jar shaped like a human skull, and modern bento boxes in a collaboration with Puma.

Candy Skull Box in collaboration with Kutani Choemon. Photo by Maruwakaya
Puma bento box project. Photo by Maruwakaya

Despite a string of design successes, Maruwaka was troubled by the superficiality of his creations, things that paid tribute to Japanese handicrafts but seemed like so many tchotchkes, Japanese souvenirs for a foreign tourist.

But tea changed all of this. During his travels as an illustrious young designer, Maruwaka had come to realize that Japanese tea was a hot commodity – green tea was by then a global health tonic, and matcha had infiltrated stylish cafes from Paris to Los Angeles. By a stroke of fate, he met Shunichi Matsuo, the progeny of tea growers from Saga Prefecture. The two joined forces to create EN TEA, a company that aims to reconnect the “tea drinker” with the “tea field.”

The tea farm in Saga. Photo by EN TEA
Preparing the tea leaves. Photo by EN TEA

Maruwaka and Shunichi source their tea leaves from organic growers in Japan who avoid pesticides and toxic fertilizers. Using traditional cultivation methods, they create tea of the highest quality, with flavors as delicate and deep as a Japanese tea ceremony.

Like the tea ceremony, GEN GEN AN by EN TEA uses the forms of the ordinary to create something extraordinary. Their custom blends – cold brew green tea, yuzu tea, tea lattes with German chamomile – both honor and defy classic impressions of Japanese tea. In 2017, under Maruwaka’s direction EN TEA took part in a highly-acclaimed interactive art installation by TeamLab in which digitally-rendered flowers appeared in translucent tea cups.

GEN GEN AN’s aesthetic is hip, sleek, and breathlessly Instagrammable, but that doesn’t seem to bother Maruwaka, an artist who has built a career on remixing ideas of conventional craftsmanship. Indeed, it’s through this spirit of innovation that EN TEA is carving out new traditions in the way of tea.

If you are planning to be in the Shibuya area in Tokyo anytime soon, you should swing by their cafe.

GEN GEN AN by EN TEA
4-8 Udagawachō, Shibuya City, Tōkyō-to 150-0042, Japan

Tue, Wed, Sun: 11am – 7pm
Thu, Fri, Sat: 11am – 11pm
Closed on Mondays