After taking a break yesterday so that everyone could relax and refresh themselves, the Japanese Tea Marathon is back today for day 11 and today we are travelling all the way to Mie. Located in the middle of Japan, Mie is home to the most important shrine in the country – Ise Jingu. The shrine is dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu and has a bright natural wooden structure that actually has to be rebuilt every 20 years. Being called the soul of Japan, every year Ise Jingu receives several million visitors.
Mie also used to be one of the main ninja centers. Ninjas were special Japanese warriors that acted in secrecy, and their appearance and techniques have been widely portrayed in popular culture. While with the change of times ninjas have more or less disappeared, it is still possible to see and experience ninja culture in Iga and Koga ninja museums .Among traditional cultures, Mie has a distinctive Bankoyaki pottery style too. The style originated in Asahi and now is mostly practiced in Yokkaichi city. It is recognized for the unique purple-looking clay. You can find many tea utensils in Bankoyaki style, especially ones used for Sencha.
Talking about tea, Mie also has a long history. It is believed that tea cultivation started here in 1191, when Buddhist monk Eisai brought tea seeds from China to Japan and gave some of them to another monk Myoe Shonin. He then planted some of the tea seeds in Kyoto, Shiga and Mie. Gradually tea production grew and expanded. In 1859, when Japan opened the borders and started trading with the world again, tea was one of the most important export items and the majority of it was from Mie. Observing the world trends from 1874 tea farmers in Mie were encouraged to produce black tea. Tea production kept growing and in 1892 Mie had the largest tea cultivation area in Japan.
Currently Mie ranks No.3 in tea production in Japan and in 2020 produced 5,080t of tea. Most of Mie’s tea (about 70%) is made in the north of the prefecture, that includes Yokkaichi city, Suzuki city and Kameyama city. Another tea producing area is in the center of the prefecture and includes Matsusaka city, Watarai town and Odai town. Tea made in Mie is generally called Ise tea. For a long time though, the name was not very known and Mie’s tea was largely sold for blending to Kyoto and Shizuoka. However, in 2007 Ise tea was registered as a trademark and has started gaining some recognition. Mie produces a lot of common Japanese teas like Sencha or Bancha. However, it is the most known for and is the largest producer of Kabusecha – shaded Japanese green tea.
The tea producer that we were able to talk with and learn more about in today’s session was Masaru Nakamori who is a tea farmer and future president of Nakamori Seicha, a family tea farm in Watarai region of Mie prefecture. Nakamori Seicha was officially established in 2004, but the Nakamori family all together counts 17 generations. Currently they are managing about 1.5ha of land, and the tea they produce is the closest to the famous Ise Jingu temple. They use conventional farming methods and driven harvesting machines and the fertilizer they use is cattle manure fertilizer and they will use tonnes a year. Nakamori Seicha makes various Japanese teas including Kabusecha, Sencha, Hojicha, Bocha, etc. They dedicate their tea to the Ise Shrine each year.
Double shaded Yabukita Kabusecha, the first tea provided by Nakamori-san today, is processed in this way at their factory: harvested by driven machines, the fresh leaves are then deep steamed, the tea leaves are then dried to get rid of the surface moister, it is then soft rolled twice, then strong rolled, then middle rolled to help it achieve a desired shape then it is dried and filtered for grading. Personally I have had double shaded Kabusecha before and my experience with it was a very unique one and at that point it was unlike any tea I had ever tried before, so I was excited to see what the tea lovers in today’s session who had never tried it before thought of this tea.
The tea way prepared in the following way during this session: 6g tea, 120ml of water at 70c, steeped for 2 minutes. The tea lovers in today’s chat described this tea in the following ways: A cozy umami soft smell, fruity, floral, vegetal, sweet corn, very sweet – like a green tea marshmallow, baby leaf spinach, caramel, floral geranium. Very umami, steamed vegetables. Sounds like a delicious tea doesn’t it, honestly if you have never tried Kabusecha or double shaded Kabusecha it’s simply something you have to make sure you experience for yourself as soon as you get the chance, because it’s an experience that is very unique to Kabusecha alone. Nakamori-san says that Kabusecha falls between Sencha and Gyokuro.
You can find my experience with Kabusecha here and here. I’m yet to review the double shaded Kabusecha I have but I’ll get around to it at some point. Be sure to let me know in the comments if you have tried Kabusecha or double shaded Kabusecha and what your experience was like with it.
The second tea provided by Nakamori-san for today’s session was an Ise Bocha, made using the stems taken out from Kabusecha and high grade Sencha. Nothing but the stems of leaves and shoots are used, only 10% of which is yielded by Aracha of the first picked tea leaves. Aracha is the tea leaf dried up immediately after harvested. Moisture uniformity of stems is made possible with the use of the far-infrared heat, then the stems are roasted again. By doing so, their deep insides are roasted without being scorched. This is the process making the aroma of the stems of the first picked leaves so pleasant. a component called Pyrazine is present in Hojicha / Bocha is what gives it it’s mouth-watering aroma. I did not know that fact until today and it’s so interesting to know about the science behind teas. Pyrazine has been said to help prevent lifestyle related diseases and in addition it can relax the mind and is said to not only be useful for eliminating frustration and anxiety (probably why I drink so much Hojicha).
It was prepared in the following way during today’s session: 6g of tea, 250ml of water at 100C steeped for 3 seconds (for the first steep). Tea lovers described it as follows: Malted biscuits and milky coffee sweets, milk chocolate with salt, black olive focaccia, almonds and peanuts, brandy. Smells smoky, but doesn’t taste smoky. It’s deliciously sweet. sweet nougat, very light in the mouth, subtle notes of brandy, Sweet, a bit saltiness, a bit umami, earthy, grains, nutty, toast, coffee. Aftertaste tingling, peppery, cooled off a bit acidic, fruity. The tea lovers in today’s session made this tea sound absolutely incredible and as a big fan of anything and everything Hojicha something tells me I would no doubt thoroughly enjoy this tea. I will definitely be on the hunt for somewhere online where I can purchase this tea to try for myself.
Yet again another fantastic session in which I was able to learn so much about not only a new prefecture of Japan but also about a small tea producer who’s tea production is centered around beautiful traditions and family. It was great to learn more about two different teas and the ins and outs of they production. I’m so excited for another session tomorrow and will be so sad when the marathon is over in a few days. But I will use the inspiration from this marathon to further fuel my love for Japanese tea and will continue to learn as much about them as I can.
I’ll be back again tomorrow with day 12, until then Happy Steeping – Kimberley