Kochi is the largest prefecture in Shikoku island, but its population is the third smallest in Japan. Because 84% of its land covered in forests, Kochi is known as the greenest place in Japan. No surprise then that it has an active timber industry. In fact, a long time ago timber from Kochi was used in the construction of Osaka castle, Nijo castle in Kyoto and Edo castle in Tokyo. Due to the long coastline facing the pacific ocean, Kochi also has an active fishing sector. It is especially famous for Jackfish Tuna (Katsuo). The consumption of Katsuo in Kochi is the largest in Japan, and a lot of the local catch can be enjoyed in several local fish markets. Kochi is also known for its Yosakoi festival, which involves folk songs and traditional dances. It was started after WWII with the goal to liven up the local population and has since grown famous all around Japan.
The start of tea production in Kochi is not completely clear, as it is believed that tea was already made from native mountain tea trees – ‘Yamacha’ (ヤマチャ) long time ago (Yamacha is what I was sipping on while doing today’s lesson and it’s incredible – go here to read my review of a Yamacha). A few written records indicate that by the 16th century tea production in Kochi was well underway. Tea cultivation was further encouraged in the 17th century, but full scale cultivation didn’t start until the early 20th century. With just 168t of tea in 2020, Kochi ranks No.17 in tea production in Japan. The tea production is concentrated around two large rivers: Niyodo (that was declared one of the cleanest rivers in Japan) and Shimanto. Largest tea producing areas include: Niyodogawa town, Tsuno town, and Shimanto town. Due to the mountainous terrain in Kochi, 76% of Kochi’s tea is grown on steep mountain slopes with a gradient of over 10%.
For a long time Kochi was known for post-fermented dark tea – Goishicha, the origin of which is traced back to China. In the early days it was used for trade in exchange for salt. However, a few decades ago the production almost went extinct, with just one tea farmer remaining to continue the tradition at that time. Since then a few more tea farmers joined the effort, and the production has slightly increased (so great to see a traditional tea make somewhat of a resurgence). The main tea made in Kochi today is Sencha, that is valued for its natural sweetness. However, very few people know about tea from Kochi, as the majority of it is sold to Shizuoka for blending. Tea produced in Kochi is called Tosacha and since 2009 Kochi has started to sell and promote its tea under the Tosa tea brand (Tosa – name of Kochi prefecture).
Today we were able to talk with and learn about two different tea producing co-operatives. The first of which being Ikegawa Chagyo Kumiai, a tea cooperative based in Nyodogawa region of Kochi prefecture. It was founded in 1993 and currently has 10 members. Most of the tea farmers are in the second generation of managing their family farms and together they farm about 15ha of tea fields around Nyodogawa river. They use conventional methods to grow and harvest their teas. The members of Ikegawa Chagyo Kumiai make various Japanese teas including Sencha, Kabusecha and Hojicha. The cooperation started in 2002 and almost all of their teas are open to the sun and not shaded aside from a small area that is shaded. They produce teas most of three cultivars Yabukita, Asatsuyu , Sayama Kaori, with 95 percent of their production being Yabukita cultivar.
To make their sencha they harvest leaves, bring into the factory for evaluation, ranking and light steaming (the most important step). It is then soft rolled and strong rolled to create that traditional needle like shape. Their Sencha (which won an award today becoming no.1 in Kochi) was actually the tea they provided for today’s session and prepared for us traditionally. They prepared this tea the following way: 5g of leaf, 120-180ml of water at 65C, and finally steeped for 90secs. Other tea lovers in the chat described this tea in the following ways: aromas of white chocolate, peach and nuts with a toasty undertone. Most in the chat described it to have a round taste with a touch of astringency and a beautiful balance. Umami but not overpowering with a round and silky mouthfeel. Notes of melon and green peas were also noted. Certainly sounds like a delicious Sencha doesn’t it!
The second tea cooperative were were able to speak to and learn more about today was Otoyo Goishicha Kyodo Kumiai, a tea cooperative located in the Otoyo region of Kochi prefecture. The cooperative brings together tea farmers who are making Goishicha – a unique post-fermented tea in Japan. In the 1950s there was only one tea farmer remaining who was making Goishicha and there was a real threat that the tradition would disappear completely. Gradually a few more farmers joined the effort and now the cooperative includes 4 of them.
Started in 2010 with a tea farm size 1ha, they use organic methods to grown, harvest and produce their teas. The tea they provided for today’s lesson was a Goishicha which is a tea I have never actually had before! Nobody knows the origin of Goishicha but it was produced over 400 years ago. It used to be used for tea porridge, used it almost like a stock. Mostly consumed around the island area, the largest production was 100t around 100 years ago. It is known to be a very good tea for you digestive tract.
Harvested by hand from Yamacha wild tea (Yabukita + Yamacha), it is steamed in wooden barrel using fire wood, then they separate the leaves and the stems by hand. This is followed by 1st fermentation for around a week (aerobic fermentation), 2nd fermentation for a few weeks (anaerobic fermentation but in wooden barrel and pressed from the top), it is then chopped into 3-4cm pieces, finally being sun dried for three days (the hardest step of the process). This is the tea they provided for today’s session and they prepared this in the following way: 1 tea cube, 300ml of water at 100c, steeped for 4-5mins. With one cube you can actually use around 2l of water but obviously you can adjust to the amount you want to prepare.
Other tea lovers in the chat described this teas taste and aroma in the following ways. Tea aroma: cherry-hibiscus, malty, wagon wheels, chocolate + cherry + malt + sweet, tangy, pickled ginger, fermented pineapple. Tea taste: sour, bitter, sweet taste, lemon tea, fermented beer, licorice, dried blood orange, hibiscus, orange peel. This sounds like an interesting tea to me that I would absolutely be open to trying but I do think that it might be another tea I can’t have due to my allergies as it’s fermented. But I’m going to do some research into it and see if I’ll be able to experience this for myself. If you want to give this tea a try for yourself you can find it here on the Yunomi website.
As with the previous session that have now passed from this week I was able to learn so much and now have a new tea to add to my must try list that I had never heard of before! It was great to learn about two different tea cooperatives and find out about their traditions and processes in such an in depth way.
Speak to you all tomorrow for day 8! Until then, Happy Steeping – Kimberley