Located on the west side of Kyushu island, Saga is known as the birthplace of Japanese ceramics, especially Japanese porcelain. To this day, there are several areas that make Japanese porcelain including Arita, Imari and Karatsu. Saga prefecture is the smallest in Kyushu island, but it has an active agriculture. Some wheat, barley and rice are grown here. Saga also farms Ariake Nori, named the best in Japan.
The history of tea in Saga starts with the Buddhist monk Eisai, when in 1191 he brought tea seeds from China and planted some on Sefuri mountains (on the border between Saga and Fukuoka). The production of tea started to pick up in 1440, when a Ming dynasty potter from China moved to Ureshino and started to produce tea for his own use. Then in 1504, another Ming dynasty potter from China brought Nanjing pan and gave the start to the pan-frying method in Japan (isn’t it crazy that it can all be traced back so far). In Saga, the pan-frying method prevailed for centuries until it was almost completely pushed out by the steaming method after World War II which still remains most popular across tea produced in Japan.
At the moment Saga, ranks No.8 in Japanese tea production and in 2020 produced 1140t of tea. Tea production is mostly concentrated around Ureshino town. During 2002, Ureshino was registered as a trademark and is applicable to tea, 100% of which comes from Saga or Nagasaki prefectures. Currently the main tea produced in Saga is steamed Tamaryokucha. This was actually not a tea I had heard of until today’s lesson but I will be making sure to get my hands on some to try and focus on learning more about it. Additionally, some Kamairicha, Sencha and Kabusecha are also produced Saga. Saga is also home to one of the oldest and largest tea trees in Japan, called Ureshino Daichaju. It is 4m tall and counts over 350 years! Ureshinocha was the first exported tea in 1856. There is also a tea museum in Saga, along with just 1 tea market in Saga & Nagasaki and recently they started tea tourism in the region which you can learn more about it here.
In today’s lesson we were again able to talk with and learn all about to different tea producers from Saga, the first of which was Inoue Seichaen. They started at least 100 year ago and have a tea field size of 3ha and the tea is harvested and produced using convention methods. Kenji Inoue is the 4th generation tea farmer and president of Inoue Seichaen – a tea farm in the Ureshino region of Saga prefecture. Inoue-san went to study about tea in Shizuoka. After completing the program he came back to Saga and took over the tea farm from his uncle. Today Inoue Seichaen mainly makes Kamairicha, Hojicha and Wakoucha. Inoue-san also likes to flavour his tea with other local plants like mint and yuzu.
Kenji Inoue hasbeen a part of Ureshino Chadoki since 2006 which is a a network of local makers and blenders, hotels, spas and potteries that has been created through Ureshino Chadoki. This unique collaboration links several craft traditions and makers in the region, together offering the unique Ureshino Tea Experience. This project holds tea tastings, dinners and events, and even brings guests to intimate spaces on tea farms tucked away in the forest or overlooking the ocean. The Ureshino Tea Experience serves a variety of different local teas; green tea and roasted tea form part of this selection; each type has a variety of grades and can be served at different temperatures. Surrounded by the natural atmosphere, guests are served a course of tea and sweets prepared by tea growers themselves. There is also an option for a tea sommelier to organised personalized tea experiences and pairings for guests staying at a traditional Japanese inn (ryokan). The program embraces the tradition of the tea ceremony and through the experiences offered by Ureshino Chadoki, guests can take a quiet moment to enjoy the surroundings, their company and the pottery.
Inoue Seichaen provided a Tsuyuhikari Kamairicha (pan fried tea) for this lesson which they prepared following these perimeters: 5g of tea, 200ml of 80C water, steeped for 2 minutes. Other tea lovers in the chat who were preparing the tea from the set described this tea as having a full, round umami taste. They said it is not bitter at all and had notes of green vegetables. Others noted it was very buttery with slight nutty notes like hazelnuts and almonds along with notes of the sea. It sounds like a delicious tea and I’ll certainly do my best to get my hands on some so I can try it and have this experience for myself.
The second tea producer for today’s lesson is Nagao Seicha Kojo, Currently Nagao Seicha Kojo manages about 6ha of tea fields and produces various teas including Tamaryokucha, Fukamushicha and Wakoucha. Shunsuke Nagao is the 9th generation tea farmer and the president of Nagao Seicha Kojo. For today’s lesson Nagao Seicha Kojo provided a Marishi Tamaryokucha which they produce using following this process: the tea is deep steamed, then a machine is used to take out moisture from the deep steam, it is then soft rolled, medium rolled, strong rolled (by machine), finally it is put into a machine that rolls the tea while firing from underneath, producing a bent leave shape.
Marishi is a rare cultivar and they started a Marishi tea field (started with 10 trees but now has 6000) in Tara which is the next town over. This tea field faces the sea, the field has an abundance of water as it’s on the mountain which is used to protect the new shoots in spring from frost using a sprinkler system which can cover the field evenly unlike fans which are normally used. The Marishi cultivar shoot really early in spring when there can still be frost so they have to make sure they stay on top of protecting the leaves. In Nagasaki it is only Nagao Seicha Kojo that produces tea of this cultivar.
The tea he provided was prepared in the following way during today’s lesson: 5g of tea, 200ml of water at 60C and steeped for 90s. The tea is of a Marishi cultivar from a tea that is in it’s 8th year and has produced 4 harvests so far. The tea steeped up a beautiful medium shade green but quite vibrant (usual characteristic of this cultivar) and the second brew was even darker which really surprised me. Other tea lovers in the chat described it in this ways: Sweet, elegant, light veggie taste. Lovely aftertaste passion fruit lingering in the mouth!, A bit umami, but more sweet, like grass in spring. Much less umami and no astringency. To me it sounds like another absolutely fantastic tea just like all other from the marathon. If I am able to at some point I would love to try some of this tea so that I can experience tea from this unique and rare cultivar.
As always today was another fantastic session and I was yet again able to learn so much in just two short hours. I now have several more things to add my my bucket list and here hoping open day I can achieve them and visit Japan for myself to immerse myself in tea culture. I’ll be back again tomorrow with Day 6 coverage where we will be learning all about Nagasaki and talking with learning about another new tea producer.
Until Tomorrow, Happy Steeping – Kimberley