Japanese tea is facing many challenges; younger people are moving to coffee, consumption is going down, tea is changing shape and being consumed mostly from bottles rather than being prepared in the traditional way with teaware like the Kyusu. Tea production has fallen 30% in the last 15 years – younger people don’t want to take up tea farming as a career and without the next generation joining the industry, tea farmers are getting older. in the last 20 years, 4 out of 5 tea farmers have stopped farming tea. Export trends however went up in the last five years and now around 6% of tea produced in Japan is exported.
The Global Japanese Tea Association was started in 2019 and their aim is to create a global Japanese tea community including tea producers, tea lovers, tea traders, tea shops and tea schools. Normally the do a lot of their work in person but have had to switch to lots of online workshops during 2020 and the pandemic stopping all travel. In the coming 15 days we are going to learn about 15 tea regions and meet 20 tea farmers. The 15 tea regions make 97.8% of Japanese tea, only 2.2% was not included.
Day 1 – Kagoshima | 2nd place in agricultural output in Japan, also second in tea production, it has a lot of volcanoes that are still active. Kagoshima has also has many islands, some of which also produce tea. Kagoshima also uses a large variety of cultivars; while Yabukita is a dominant cultivar throughout Japan, in Kagoshima it only makes 32.3%, followed by Yutaka Midori (27%) and Saemidori (13.1%).
Kagoshima is known for Fukimushi deep steamed tea. While only a small amount of the tea produced in japan is organic, 41% of all organic tea is produced in Kagoshima. Tea in Kagoshima is grown on flat land. All Kagoshima’s tea (99.6%) is grown on flat land, hence it is possible to utilize modern tea harvesting machinery. Currently 97.5% of tea farm lands are harvested with driven harvesting machines, and trials of using unmanned tea harvesting robots are under way. Nearly half of Kagoshima’s tea is made in Minami Kyushu city, that is sold under the nationally recognized Chiran tea brand.
Nobuo Orita is a tea farmer and president of Oritaen, an organic tea farm in Chiran region of Kagoshima prefecture. It was established in 1965 and has tea farm size 40h. All tea produced by them has a elevation of 100m above sea level and is certified organic. The company’s mission is for organic tea to be more readily available in Japan. Having suffered health issues from the use of pesticides himself, Orita-san places strong emphasis on health, and, thus, focuses mainly on organic tea production.
They produce tea from April – December, and a large amount of their tea is sold directly to the customer with no wholesalers involved. It is mostly sold in big cites like Tokyo in department stores, and is popular because of the use of no pesticides. The tea they produce in December is mainly used for bottled teas and teas like Genmaicha and Hojicha, some Matcha is also produced but is Matcha that is used for cooking. Their tea is available all over the world in places like North America, East Asia and Europe. In Japan the water is soft water and it’s always best to prepare their tea with soft water, however they can also be prepared with hard water and it shouldn’t effect the flavor profile too much. However, no matter the water you are using you should always make sure to filter it first.
While their is a trend in Japan to shade the tea, Orita-san chooses not to do this and prefers to follow the old but traditional way and leave the tea unshaded and open to the sun. The only tea they shade is their Matcha with silver covers. Oritaen mostly produce green tea only now but do produce a little bit of black tea by hand when people request it. Most of their plants are grown from cuttings of other plants as it is easier to do it this way than grow them from seed. Growing tea from cultivars is easier as it ensures that they grow to the same height are ready to harvest at the same time. Orita-san has 2h Zairai which was grown from tea seed.
I was unfortunately not able to get hold of the tea package that was part of the event due to signing up to late but the teas that were prepare on this day were Okumidori Fukamushi deep steamed Sencha and Okumidori Matcha. I have however had both before and prepared some I already had during the morning session so I could sip along with everyone involved. There was around 150 people at this session which was amazing and gave me such a sense of community.
On just day 1 of this event I was able to learn so much, as you all know most of my tea love lies with Japanese tea and my aim is always to learn as much as I possibly can about it, so as you can imagine I was in my element this morning. Having the chance to devote 2 hours to learning about on of my biggest passions was such a great experience and I have to thank the Japanese Tea Association for organising this event, putting so much work into all of the learning materials, inviting all of the tea farmers and answering so many questions.
I’m going to try my best to make sure I do a short blog post like this for each day of the marathon, some days I may have to combine into two but as long as everything goes to plan each day should be covered in some way shape or form.
Speak to you all again tomorrow. Happy Steeping – Kimberley