One might read of well organized tea-theme group trips (if you haven't then read about this one, organized by Tealet, or there is a more obscure one in Korea this May), but you typically don't see so much about how to turn up tea leads on your own going places (in Asia, presumably, but of course tea is in lots of places).
I'm about to go to Japan and Korea (Tokyo and Seoul, to be specific), and while my wife plans for outings like Disneyland and Unesco World Heritage sights, or maybe to see sakura blooming (cherry blossoms), I'm looking into tea. But how would one go about that?
I guess this will be worth a look too (this week, from FB friend)
I'm no travel expert but here are some thoughts, also related to this subject coming up before and in Vietnam and Cambodia last year (in Singapore it seems easier; go to Chinatown).
Having friends where you travel would make for a great lead, and a guide. Even an online contact could help, a forum friend, or someone from a Facebook group (etc.). I indirectly "know" a number of people in different places and this is still not so simple since you need the right person in the right place to help answer relatively specific questions.
But it could work. If you come to Bangkok feel free to ask me.
Almost should be first in this list, right. Google knows a good bit about lots of things, and combined with Google Maps it's possible to be very specific about locations, and even search by location.
One catch: Google works much better searching in English in English speaking countries. Even here in Thailand, where English use is much more common than in Japan or Korea (my take, but kind of an informed one) lots of blind spots turn up. But the highest profile places Google will know about aren't always the best options.
This gets into a different kind of trip than I typically take, more related to the Amazing Tea Race subject. I go on family vacations where I try to stop by tea shops, or even tea districts if a city is set up for that (like Beijing). I guess the same type of search could apply, just supported by a lot more effort and networking, and without relying on direct internet search quite so much.
A more indirect approach could still work, but there would have to be a way to find people that know people that are hard to contact, willing to act as leads and share contacts that are hard to come by. That last part would probably be the catch. Just finding your way to a tea growing region wouldn't be so difficult--no secret where the main ones are--and the subject would come up a lot there, along with lots of related shops and tour options.
Trip advising sites:
For example, the one called Trip Advisor, which posted this entry about the O'Sulloc Tea Shop in Seoul. The Lonely Planet is another familiar reference, where you might find something like this entry for the Yetchajip Tea House in Insadong, Seoul, or this one for the Beautiful Tea Museum, not far from both others.
Sounds great, right, three places to buy tea. Maybe, maybe not. A cafe or museum theme might not be the best place to buy tea, even if both sell loose tea, and the main places tourists go might not match the selection and pricing available somewhere else. Would be great to talk to a local that loves tea that's spent years working on all that instead, rather than other tourists using the same types of references. How to do that; good question.
This should be obvious enough to a blogger, right; why couldn't there be someone else sitting at a keyboard in those cities typing out what they experience related to a tea obsession. I did try that type of lead.
Here is a site dedicated to referencing expat authored blogs in different countries, which could help get around the issue of blogs being written in Japanese of Korean. I focused more on Korean teas and blogs out of Seoul just because I'd been reading more about Korean teas lately. I also think we'll have more free time in Seoul, and I'm hoping to have better luck due to everyone drinking tea in Japan. Also references on Korean oxidized teas sound so interesting, like this one by the World of Tea.
You'd think I would be about to explain how this approach cracked it, but not really so. Other than references to the three places Google mentioned others cited only tea cafes, which didn't seem promising as loose tea shops (like this one, about a tea cafe, with the cool blog name "cute in Korea.") If anyone is going to Seoul in June you are absolutely set because there is a tea festival / expo then, related to information in this blog post / reference site, but that doesn't help me.
Or there are Western oriented blogs that talk about Korean teas, like this one on tea types (Tea at Morning Crane Tea blog), or this blog that covers lots about such teas (Mattcha's blog). The problem is that typical tea blog entries don't lead back to physical tea shops very often (certainly not if written by an online vendor), so these could more often help you order tea but usually not to find it walking around Seoul or Tokyo. Of course there could be exceptions, but looking up and reading dozens of tea blog entries is problematic.
Forums, discussion sites:
I don't think Steepster or Teachat is going to help--although maybe, but I didn't try them--but there are countless other forums covering countless other topics. Again as an expat I thought expats might be one way to get around language problems, so I looked in places like an online penpals site.
Get the impression I have too much free time yet? Or maybe also that wasting it is sort of a hobby. Of course that didn't work, but it is one of many ways to talk to strangers, if that sounds like a good thing.
I went through all this not so long ago, actually, in Hanoi (not all of it; I've escalated the online research part, sort of my thing, trying new research directions out). There I had the best luck in talking about it on a forum afterwards (the expat blog one I already mentioned), and someone told me about a great reference online, a shop in Ho Chi Minh City, Hatvala, which is not even where I was in Vietnam, or probably all that close to where most of the tea is grown.
I ran across some really nice teas in Hanoi by luck (see a few other blog posts in the last few months), and Google Maps pointed out some other shops (many I didn't get to; gotta go back to Hanoi at some point), so a relatively standard approach and some luck can work. Time is a part of it; if I had a couple of days to dedicate only to the search for tea it would be easy, but different family members have different agendas, and I'm the only one inclined to focus on tea.
China was a similar story, but I was much less obsessed when we visited back then (a year and a half ago). My first work trip there started me on tea and a later vacation helped push me over the edge.
I guess there is more to life than tea (really!) and places like World Heritage Sites and Disneyland deserve attention too. It's nice the travel planning can extend so far into the online world as it does but in my experience the last steps are in real life, and not just related to actually drinking the teas, but often also to finding the best places to get them. Or there are online shops; of course that works too.
I didn't get far in this particular search beyond identifying the shops I mentioned, which might work out. A real-life friend will help me find tea shops in Seoul (good luck having one in that city). The posts that follow about different teas, or lack of such posts, will tell the rest of the story.