2011 August – Japan
Featuring teas from farms in Shizuoka, Kyoto, Fukuoka, Kagoshima
FARM: Hito to No, Shizen wo Tsunagu Kai // Shizuoka
FARM: Kurihara Seicha (Kurihara Family) // Fukuoka
FARM: Kyoto Obubu Tea Plantations // Kyoto
FARM: Ukibe Seicha Haru Ichiban // Kagoshima
HISTORY: Tea has been found in historical records dating as early as 815 AD (Nihon Kouki 『日本後記』), and was a rare luxury available only to high ranking monks and aristocracy. It wasn’t until Zen Buddhist monk Myōan Eisai (明菴栄西) returned from China with tea plant seeds and cultivation techniques learned from his Zen studies that the plant began to be grown in Japan. The form of tea he adopted from Chinese Zen monks is what now is known as the powdered tea matcha, and is the reason why this drinking form of tea developed into the Zen-influenced Japanese tea ceremony over the centuries.
Between the 14th and 17th centuries, producers started steep leaves that had not been made into matcha. This became known as sencha or 煎茶 (the character 煎 also means to brew or steep). In 1738, Nagatani Souen (a tea farmer in Ujitawara, Kyoto) developed a method to dry tea leaves fast in a hoiro or a warmed table. This was the birth of modern-day Japanese sencha.
But the development of Japanese tea did not stop there. In 1835, the 6th Yamamoto Kahei (of Yamamotoyama) invented gyokuro tea, by using shading techniques to cultivate leaves rich in umami flavor (now known to be L-theanine amino acids). In the last hundred years, Japanese farmers and tea manufacturers have continued to innovate, inventing genmaicha – or green tea flavored with toasted rice, houjicha – roasted green tea, and creating hundreds of cultivars that produce different flavor characteristics for different types of Japanese tea.
Tea Farm & Tea Info
FARM: Hito to No, Shizen wo Tsunagu Kai
FARMER: Toshiaki Kinezuka
Having established his farm in 1976, Toshiaki Kinezuka has spent the last 36 years growing tea leaves organically, long before the trend word “organic” found its way into supermarkets around the world. His daughter Ayumi is fluent in English and has given a great interview at samovarlife.com/08-ayumi-kinezuka-presents-her-fresh-crop-tea-1.
TEA: Yabukita Midori – Soil development of a tea field is a decade-long process and Kinezuka-san has had many years to perfect his cultivation methods. The result of that is the Yabukita Midori tea leaf, made from the Yabukita tea plant cultivar and harvested in the week of the 88th day. In Japanese tea culture, the 88th day after the start of spring in the old calendar is when the tea leaves are said to be at their best, and tea made from these leaves is said to grant you long life. The taste is a deep balance of sweetness and astringency.
FARM: Kurihara Seicha (Kurihara Family)
FARMER: Kippei Kurihara
Yame tea is a very special tea that can only be harvested in a very limited area of the southern Fukuoka mountain region. Tradition has it that eight women in the Hoshino and Yabe Village town Zyouyou Kurogi stayed in the mountains where they carefully began processing this special tea. This is known as the “princess tea story” and is the foundation of the The Kurihara Family Tea Farm.
In its third generation, Kurihara Seicha continues to provide high quality teas with a specialty in the delicate process of gyokuro. Visit our website for more information about our product offerings and learn about our unique story. Kurihara is now in the trusted hands of a knowledgeable management team that is committed to producing safe and delicious teas for their customers.
TEA: Old Style Gyokuro – Translated literally as “traditional pure dew drops”, this tea is made with the traditional methods passed down through hundreds of years of Yabe Village tea farmers. Gyokuro tea is known throughout Japan for the syrupy, sweet-savory flavor that comes about by shading the tea leaves for 3-4 weeks before harvest among other unique cultivation and soil management techniques refined over the centuries. “Old Style Gyokuro” utilizes among other things natural shading material such as straw or bamboo; when it rains, the droplets of water infused with the flavor of the shading material fall down onto the leaves and flavor them—hence the name gyokuro or “dew drops”.
FARM: Kyoto Obubu Tea Plantations
FARMER: Akihiro “Akky” Kita
Over 15 years ago, our president and founder, Akihiro “Akky” Kita, visited Wazuka, Kyoto. The tea produced in this rural district is known as the best sencha growing areas for the Uji region, the birthplace of Japanese tea. Akky was a college student in search of his life’s calling, and inspired by a single cup of Ujicha drunk at its source, his passion for tea farming was born. After years of learning to master the art of growing premium tea leaves from master tea farmers in Wazuka, Kyoto Obubu Tea Plantations was born. The name Obubu itself comes from the slang of Kyoto and means tea (in standard Japanese, it would be ocha).
We hope to extend this family beyond Japan’s shores as we seek to educate the world about quality Japanese green tea, to promote both the traditional and contemporary culture of drinking green tea, and to aid other tea farmers as they seek to establish tea plantations in their respective countries and regions.
TEA: Houjicha & Genmaicha – The roasted green tea, or houjicha, produced by farmer & president Akihiro “Akky” Kita at Obubu is harvested in June. Akky uses a small tea leaf roaster to get just the right balance of temperature and humidity for this tea. The process also decaffeinates the tea producing leaves that have almost no caffeine and one that is said to be very effective at warming your body. Akky recommends drinking this tea after dinner or before going to sleep. In the summer time, it makes a smooth, refreshing iced tea or cold-water steeped tea.
Obubu’s Genmaicha, or brown rice tea, is made with new leaves harvested in the summer. Instead of regular rice, Obubu uses sweet rice grown locally in the valley of Wazuka, creating a tea with a strong, sweet, toasty flavor and an aroma that fills the room. Again, enjoy this tea in the summer as a delicious iced tea.
FARM: Ukibe Seicha Haru Ichiban
FARMER: Koichi Yamaguchi
Our award-winning tea possesses an elegant scent and mild taste. Grown in Chiran town, located just south of historic Kagoshima, our tea has a tradition of being one of Japan’s highest quality teas.
Conducting our own soil research we are able to control the amount of fertilizers and other chemicals with which we have to treat our fields. This is our commitment to the customer to only providing the most safe and delicious tea. We take extra care during the processing of our teas to adjust to weather and other external conditions to ensure a well-balanced flavor. Our new mechanical process allows us to provide our same high quality tea to our customer at a fraction of the cost. Come out for a visit to our farm to see for yourself.
TEA: Sencha Superior – Harvested in April, this sencha is made with new tea leaves when they are at their most tender. As a result these leaves create a tea with a beautifully clear but deeply green color. Even before you take your first sip you will feel your heart beating with anticipation. The taste is similar to deep steamed sencha, with a soft, round astringency and a characteristically deep aroma.