Day Four of The Global Japanese Tea Association’s – Japanese Tea Marathon has arrived and today we are learning about the tea region of Fukuoka. Just like in all of my previous posts from the marathon I’ll talk a little about the area, tea within the area, it’s history and also what we learned from the guest tea producers that joined us for today’s session.
Located on the west side of Kyushu island next to Kumamoto, Fukuoka is said to be one of the oldest cities of Japan. Its close proximity to the Korean peninsula allowed for the easy movement of people and made it into a bustling place. Even today, when the population is shrinking in most areas of Japan, the population in Fukuoka continues to grow. It is known as the southern center of Japan and has quite a large population with 3m people living in Fukuoka city itself and still has night market street food culture which used to be quite popular but is not done too much anymore.
Tea is said to have started in Fukuoka in 1191, when the Buddhist monk Eisai brought tea seeds from China and planted some of them on Sefuri Mountains (located on the border between Fukuoka and Saga). The tea production started to expand in 1423 when, after coming back from China, another monk – Shuzui, planted more tea seeds in the present day Kurogimachi area. Tea steaming methods were brought here from Uji in 1831 and from the early 1900s Fukuoka started the trial of Gyokuro production.
In 2020 Fukuoka took 6th place in Japanese tea production with 1600t of tea. Producing about 90% of Fukuoka’s tea, Yame city is the largest tea area in the prefecture and Yame tea brand is widely known in Japan. The main tea producing area is crossed with a river that not only helps to make the soil more fertile, but also creates mists that wrap the tea leaves, creating natural sweetness. The main tea made here is deep steamed Sencha (Fukamushicha) liked we learned about on the first day in Kagoshima. However, the region is also known for Gyokuro, that often is still shaded with natural straws and picked by hand. There are many tea production regions with Fukuoka producing 97% of Yamecha.
In today’s lesson we were again able to talk with and learn about two tea producers!
The first was Masahiro Kuma who is a tea farmer and president of YAME tea KUMAEN, a tea farm in the Yame region of Fukuoka prefecture. They have a tea field size of 4ha and use conventional farming methods to grow and harvest their teas.
The Kuma family has been making tea there for over 100 years. They produce various kinds of teas including Sencha, Matcha (I’ve tried some of their matchas and they still stand firm as my personal favourites and some of the best matchas I’ve personally tried), Kukicha, etc… Gyokuro, however, is their greatest pride. Even today, Gyokuro is still produced in the traditional way – using dry reeds for shading, and it has received numerous awards in the Japanese national tea competition winning first place in the national Japanese tea competition in 2017.
Yame Gyokuro has 7 requirements, the first one is that the tea plant has space to grow freely, the second one is that the leaves are shaded for more than 16 days, the third one is the use of dried straw over shelf structures, the fourth one is that the leaves are hand picked, the fifth one is that they must be harvested at the perfect time, the sixth one is that they must have gone through good processing and the seventh one is that they must be properly cultivated with enough fertilizer.
The tea prepared for today’s session with this producer was a Saemidori Yame Gyokuro. Steeped this way: 3g, in 30 ml water at 50ºC for 2 min. As I’ve said previously in my posts I was not able to get my hands on the tea set for the marathon due to signing up too late but I have tried some of this producers Gyokuro before and trust me when I say it’s absolutely incredibly just like their Matcha. Other tea lover in the chat for today’s event spoke of this tea having incredible umami notes, and sweetness with notes of seaweed in it’s aroma and taste. One said that it has notes of kaffir lime leaves and mango among other things, and said that it was fragrant and juicy and reminded them of a broth with marine notes.
The second producer we spoke to on this day was Keita Ushijima, who is the 4th generation tea producer and manager of the Ushijima Seicha – a tea farm and factory in the Yame region of Fukuoka. They are located mostly in Yame but they also have a few tea shops within the prefecture. They have a tea field size of 3ha and use conventional methods mostly to farm and produce their teas.
The Ushijima family began tea production in 1921 and now have celebrated their 100 year anniversary! Originally they started with tea farming, and today they still manage about 3ha of tea fields as well as a processing factory, where they process tea for other tea farmers too. In the meanwhile they have also opened 4 cafes in Yame and further away. His grandfather promoted Fukamushi Sencha in Yame before Keita Ushijima was even born and at the time they were only make traditional Sencha. His chose to do this because it was becoming more popular and consumer tastes were changing.
The tea prepared by this producer for today’s session was a Yame Kukicha, the by product of production of Yame Gyokuro using some of the stems from the Gyokuro provided and prepared by the first producer we spoke to as a collaboration, which would make it Karigane (Kukicha made from the production of Gyokuro). To reduce the greener aroma of this tea he added a little more fire to make the aroma have a little more of a roasted note to it. He noted that this is hard step to do because you have to be so careful with it as to only effect the aroma and note change the taste or colour of the leaves too much.
In today’s session this tea was prepared using these perimeters: 5g x 150ml water at 70ºC x 1min, tea lovers in today’s chat described this tea as having nutty notes due to the extra fire, with a very full and round umami taste. Others spoke of notes of roasted squash, dried seaweed but not with a marine characteristic and also sesame notes among others. Seems like it went down pretty well with the other Japanese tea lovers in the chat and personally I would definitely love to give this tea a try myself. He also showed us different ways to prepare and enjoy the teas including ice brewing/ice extract brewing and cold brewing using a drip carafe for a refreshing summertime cup.
Again just like the previous three lesson I had such a fantastic time and was still able to learn so much. It was great to be able to learn about a tea producer I had previously tried teas from and loved so much, and it was fantastic to be introduced to yet another new tea producer as well. I’ll be experimenting with what I have learn in this lesson through out the summer.
The marathon takes a a day break today so day five will be on Wednesday. I hope you’re all enjoying these posts and learning from them, I’m really enjoying putting them together. If you have any questions at all make sure to send them to me or leave them in the comments. I’ll do my best to answer any questions you have. Just to let you all know if you are interested in joining in with the marathon they are still accepting registrations and you’ll be able to join in with every session going forward should you sign up as soon as possible. You can do that here.
Speak to you all again on Wednesday! Happy Steeping – Kimberley