Day 3 of the Japanese Tea Marathon has arrived and just like the previous post I’ll be taking you through everything I have learnt in today’s session including information about the region, tea within the region and information about today’s guest tea producer and the teas they produce. Today’s Tea region is Kumamoto, which is actually very close to Miyazaki the region we learnt about yesterday and because of that, pan fried tea is also very popular in this tea region as well.
About Kumamoto – Kumamoto prefecture is in the south of Japan and is part of the Kyushu Island. It is known as the land of fire and there is a mountain (Mount Aso) which is an active volcano and an aso shrine, which is where the fire festivals are held. There are also a lot of other inactive volcanoes including Kometasku, along with Kurokawa Onsen and over 100 natural hot springs. There are also huge areas of tidal flats, which make a great place to harvest seafood. There was lot of flooding in Kumamoto last year and as a resulted some tea fields were also damaged, Kumamon was created as the mascot of Kumamoto to help to support the area.
Tea In Kumamoto – Kumamoto is the 9th largest tea producer in Japan. Yamacha (wild tea trees) is what Kumamoto is known for in terms of tea. Kumamoto is one of the origins of pan fried tea along with Miyazaki. Aoyagisei Kamamoto is a pan frying process to make the tea using only a flat pan, but there are a few different machines used to pan fry as well. The first natural black tea training center was opened in Kumamoto in 1875, and tea production is widely spread out across the area.
Today’s Guest Tea Producers – For this morning’s session we actually had two tea producers!
Kajihara Tea Garden – located in the mountainside in Ashikita town, Toshihiro Kajihara is the president. They started in the 1950’s and have a tea field of 2ha, their framing method is all organic and is harvested using hand held machines and they produce mainly oolong and black tea. his grandfather started the business after WW2, due to the land having a lot of Yamacha (wild tea), and he wanted to use them to create his own business. Although tea is mainly consumed inside the town, Ashikita is not considered a tea production area. He became a tea farmer around 40 years ago producing pan fried tea for that time, he has never sold his tea in the tea market, because his tea production style is small scale and a family tea business. He also holds a Yamacha hand picking event each year and everyone can come and join in.
Yamacha is a wild tea and propagates by itself and is not planted by a human which is why the tea fields looks little different to pictures you would normally see. Nobody knows the beginning of the first seed, but the belief is that is was naturally growing the the forest and was discovered when the forest was explored and is believe that have appeared by itself and not have been planted there by any human. Landslides caused heavy rains last year and as a result some of the tea fields were damaged and will not repair again due to the areas being to steep.
Kamairicha – Pan fried at 300C to stop oxidization for 1 minute, soft rolled in manner that doesn’t break the leaves (for green tea) and stronger machine for (oolong), pan fried by a machine that uses gas and then fired in a flat pan and dried. The tea prepared for today’s session was a Kamairicha green tea (a blended tea with leaves of three cultivars). It was green with a tint of yellow and clear liquor, a little more roasty, soft and sweet with hints of chestnut. This Kamairicha is quite unique and little bit different that tea produced by others. This difference is present due to the pan frying machine and his many year of experience producing this tea.
Sakaguchien – Was the second tea producer we were taught about in this workshop. It is located close to the border in Minamata city, known for it’s beautiful stars. It is famous for the Yunotsuru onsen, a very relaxing old onsen in the town. Kazunori Sakaguchi is the president of the company and his tea farm started in 1929, it is 3ha is total and uses both conventional and organic method. They produce some traditional Japanese green teas like Sencha and Hojicha. However, their pride is Wakoucha, that has won the Japanese Black Tea Grand Prix in 2020. His grandfather start farming over 100 years ago and seeded Zairai, the field itself is 92 years old.
His grandfather started a Sencha processing factory which is not very common in the area, which is still working to this day. He joined a shared factory and uses a 200kg machine there to produce some of the teas as their bigger machines allow them to produce on a lager scale. They started Wakoucha (black tea) production around 10 years ago, Sakaguchi-san says that the passion behind his tea making is his family and the work he does is all for them.
Wakoucha – Withered for 15 hours (in a machine created by him), rolled strongly with a rolling machine, oxidized for around 2 hours and after that it is then dried in shelf style drying machine at around 100C for 1-1 1/2 hours. While the oxidation normally lasts around 2 hours, it can change throughout the seasons. (Benifuki Cultivar) Wakoucha was the tea prepared by this tea producer and he says that that difference in cultivar definitely translates when it comes to the aroma and taste of the tea. This was organic black tea so no pesticides were used and only a small amount of fertilizer. The tea for the Wakoucha is harvest in spring mostly but also sometimes will harvest in summer and autumn.
Day three was another fantastic lesson and again just like the two day’s before. I was able to learn so much in just two short hours. Getting to talk directly to two different tea producers in one session was fantastic and I’ll definitely be trying to get hold of some of their teas at some point so I can experience them for myself. With each of these sessions that passes I am still so shocked by how much I have ended up learning by the end of the lesson and I’m incredibly thankful to have had this experience.
Speak to you all again tomorrow for Day 4! Until then Happy Steeping – Kimberley