Q+A: Ito En
Ito En is a Japanese tea company with its US headquarters right here in DUMBO! The company came over to the US fifteen years ago, and has since launched a whole line of products specifically for the US market. We sat down with their Chief Operating Officer, Jim Hoagland, to learn more about Ito En and why they love DUMBO.
How did Ito En get established in the US?
Ito En got started in the US in 2001 based on the company's desire to expand outside of Japan. The company was founded fifty years ago in 1966 with a mission to bring healthy drinks all over the world. The first market outside of Japan that they really wanted to reach was the US.
What goes into brewing each bottle of tea?
It's complicated yet simple. Ito En is vertically integrated, which means we own everything from the farms to bottling the product or creating the tea bag or tin of matcha. We own the tea farms, so we pick the leaves and dry them. Then, they go to one of our plants to be bottled. So when you look at our unsweetened green tea, it's very simple. It's a really clean product with only three ingredients, water, green tea, and vitamin C. We make this product the same way you would make a cup of tea at home. We have really large tanks and we put tea leaves in there, pour really hot water over it, and then the water passes through the leaves into our filtration system. Once the tea leaves are removed the finished product goes right into the bottle.
How has Ito En changed over the past fifteen years?
When we came to the US fifteen years ago, we felt like Oi Ocha, our main tea brand, was too intimidating for the US consumer. So we created the Tea's Tea brand to become more approachable for the US consumer. However, if you look at the ingredients, they are exactly the same. If you notice a slight difference in taste between the two, it's because we use organic tea leaves in the Tea's Tea brand. Flash forward to today, and people are really embracing authenticity. We are finding a lot of consumers are gravitating towards the Oi Ocha brand because they feel like it's the real thing. We've also created a lot of products that are unique to the US market, like mint green tea. In Japan we do not have mint tea, but we know in the US people like mint so we created a product for that market. When we first started in the US, we were just taking products that were being sold in Japan, putting them in a new bottle, and selling them here. Now we are focusing on what the US consumer wants.
We're curious, what are some of your favorite spots around DUMBO?
One hidden gem is Shibui, which sells antiques from Japan. It's amazing the antiques he brings back from his trips to Japan. Sometimes on my lunch break I will go out and see some of the things he has out. It's nice to see some of the new restaurants open up around the neighborhood. Jacques Torres is a nice place to step into. Sometimes it's nice to walk into Brooklyn Bridge Park, especially on days when you are really busy and do not have a break. The views of the two bridges and Manhattan are amazing and it really recharges you. One other favorite spot is Brooklyn Roasting Company. Their coffee is phenomenal.