Located on the west side of Kyushu island, Nagasaki itself has the largest number of islands in Japan. For a long time Nagasaki was known as the gateway to Japan, with it’s geographical location making it one of the main ports for trading with Asia and Europe. During the isolation period of Japan – ‘sakoku’ (1639-1854), Nagasaki remained one of very few ports open for trade. Nagasaki has active agriculture and fisheries, it ranks second in fish catch and potato production in Japan. Influenced by both Chinese and European cuisines, Nagasaki has a unique cuisine too. Famous from this region is a noodle dish – Nagasaki Champion, and moist cake – Castella.
It is said that tea cultivation in Nagasaki started in 1191, when a Buddhist monk Eisai brought tea seeds from China and planted some of them in Hirado, where a tea garden remains until today. Centuries later another Buddhist monk – Ingen, who brought loose leaf tea culture to Japan, is said to have arrived through Nagasaki too. Eisai is also said to have introduced the Matcha method to Japan as well. In 1610, the very first tea exported from Japan was exported from Nagasaki to the Netherlands. About two centuries later, when trade was permitted again, a female trader – Oura Kei went to export Nagasaki tea to the USA, the UK and the Arab world. Currently Nagasaki ranks No.12 in tea production in Japan, and in 2020 produced 578t of tea. Over 60% of Nagasaki’s tea is made in Higashi Sonogi. Other tea producing areas include Sasebo city, Saza town, Saikai city, Shimabara city, etc.
Originally Nagasaki was one of the Kamairicha producing centers, but nowadays the main tea made here is steamed Tamaryokucha. Other teas made in Nagasaki include Sencha, Bancha and Matcha. For a long time Nagasaki tea was sold under the Ureshino tea brand (famous in Saga prefecture), but in recent years it has started developing its own Sonogi tea brand.
The tea producer(s) we were able to talk with and learn about today are: Forthees, a group of four young tea farmers from Higashi Sonogi region in Nagasaki prefecture. All in their 30s and 40s they came together to keep the local tea making traditions and to bring the tea to the future. Forthees mainly produce locally popular Tamaryokucha. In 2018 they also built a Tencha factory and started Matcha production. Started in 2018 with a total farm size of 31ha (4 farmers), conventional and organic methods are used to farm here and in 2019 they built a Tencha factory. Four members include: Yoshitaka Ohyama (Director, fourth generation), Shinya Fukuda (third generation), Kosuke Nakayama (Director) and Kazuhiko Onoue (Director, third generation) . All four of them are representative of their region and recently they bought their tea to the world taking it over to America, in trying to expand they are aiming trying to help create a new future for Japanese tea.
The first tea we had today was a Tamaryokucha, shaded for 10-13 days, harvested by driven harvest machines, steamed (competition steamed less that normal), cooled down, soft rolled, 2nd soft rolled, strong rolled (to reduce moisture inside stems, 3 middle rolling machines used (a feature of this tea – until this step moisture is removed but this step focuses on creating the shape), competition tea is dried in a shelf style drying machine.
The first tea prepared for today session was a (Saemidori + Tsuyuhikari) and Tamaryokucha its was prepared using the following perimeters: 8g of tea, 200ml water at 90C, first steep for 60secs. Sadly I wasn’t able to enjoy this tea at the same time as the marathon due to signing up just a little too late (maybe next year) but other tea lovers in the chat that were able to get the set from the marathon organizers described this tea in the following ways: very fruity fragrance. in Scandinavia and Canada there is a wild berry called cloud berry, quite similar aroma! Very jammy, yellow and sort of medicinal green.
It has a little saltiness/ocean flavor to it and a very vegetable base. I have a slight astringency in the back but overall taste is round. Smooth, buttery, rich, vegetal, fruity, steamed green vegetables, bok choy, later bright, fruity, red apple, lots of umami, sweet. This tea sounds incredible to me and the way that other tea lovers described it in today’s lesson honestly made my mouth water. It’s safe to say I’m going to be doing my very best to make sure I get my hand on some of this tea after hearing what they all had to say about it. Like I mentioned in yesterday post I have never had this kind of tea before so it would be a brand new experience for me but I am sure it would be a fantastic experience giving what everyone has had to say about it.
The second tea provide for this lesson was a (Yabukita + Saemidori + Tsuyuhikari) Bo Hojicha. Made from Tencha, to produce this tea the leaves are shaded for around 20 days, harvested by the driven harvest machine, the Tencha is then steamed. After steaming they blow the tea leaves into a net four times to take out moisture and separate the leaves. the tea leaves go into kiln a special machine for Tencha, the burner heats up the kiln to about 210C – 230C. Tencha is not rolled so the next step is to dry, the belt goes through the kiln four times, and each layer has different temp. The leaves and steams are separated, at which point the leaves become matcha and the longer stems become this Bo Hojicha. The stems go through a final drying and roasting while the leaves are ground to produce matcha of various different grades.
This tea was prepared the following way: 5g tea, 200ml water, 90-100C time 60s. The farmers suggest using hotter water for hojicha so can fully experience the aroma of the tea. Other tea lovers in the chat described this tea in the following ways: Sweet because the stem is from Tencha. Sweet, floral, taste mainly sweet, a bit of liquorice. Soft roasted sweetness. Very elegant Hojicha, notes of chocolate and hazelnuts. Roasted sticky rice folded in banana leaf. As you all know I am a huge Hojicha fan and always on the look out for new teas to try so I’ve definitely added this one to my list of things to add to my collection in the future. The tea lover in the lesson made it sound incredible and I just know I would enjoy this to no end.
Just like all the sessions before this one , I was again able to learn so much, and thoroughly enjoyed being able to learn about teas I have never tried before and how they are processed. I’m so thankful to have had this experience and I really hope it can become something that is done annually with The Global Japanese Tea Association as I would like to continue learning more about the teas I have the most passion and interested in, in this way. I’m going to make sure I devote some time in the future when I hopefully feeling a little better to doing the courses that The Association offer to further my knowledge.
Speak to you all again tomorrow for day 7. Until then, Happy Steeping – Kimberley