Located in the middle of Japan, Aichi is known for its rather healthy economy. Its capital city – Nagoya is one of the three major cities in Japan. Aichi is also home to Toyota Motor Corporation. Hence, it has had the highest export value of manufactured products for more than 40 years! The importance of Aichi is not just recent, many military rulers of Japan in the Muromachi and Edo periods came from Aichi, including Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu etc. Nagoya castle, constructed in that time, was one of the most important castles too. All of Japans castles are so much more beautiful and opulent than the ones we have here in England. Nagoya Castle was destroyed in 1945 during the bombing of Nagoya in World War II and the reconstruction and repair of the castle has been undergoing since 1957.
Looking at the cultural importance, Aichi is the origin of a pottery style called Tokonameyaki. Tokoname is one of the ancient kilns of Japan and presently Tokonameyaki is known for Japanese teapots – Kyusu being the most well known.
Aichi also has a long history of tea cultivation. The main story is that in 1271 a Buddhist monk Seiichi Kokushi brought tea seeds from Japan to China and planted them around Jissoji temple. Then in 1872 the chief priest of Kojuin temple introduced tea making technology from Uji, and that gave the start to matcha production in the region. In 2020, Aichi produced 744t of tea and currently ranks No. 11 in tea production in Japan. The largest tea producing area in the prefecture is Shinshiro city, but Nishio city and Toyota city are quite well known too.
The main tea made in Aichi is Matcha, and about 90% of it is used for food production (I never knew this and it’s so interesting to learn these little facts about each prefecture, it give you a little bit more of an insight into the decisions made within the tea industry doesn’t it). Most of the Matcha comes from Nishio city and in 2009 Nishio Matcha was registered as a trademark – the first trademark in Japan to apply specifically for Matcha. In addition to Matcha, Aichi also makes some Sencha and Kabusecha.
The first tea producer we spoke to today was Masamitsu Akahori is a 5th generation tea farmer and president of Akabori Seicha, a tea farm in Nishio region of Aichi prefecture. The Akahori family started tea farming in Meiji period about 150 years ago. Now they manage a tea farm, tea factory and cafe. All of their tea is cultivated organically, and they use driven farming machines; Their Matcha however is handpicked.
The main product of Akahori Seicha is Matcha, but they produce other popular Japanese teas as well. This tea producer provided a Matcha for this session and this is the process it goes through in their factory. Light steamed, blown up and down in big nets, conveyer with 5 layers inside furnace, then the leaves go through a machine that separates the leaves from the stems (becoming Tencha), it is then ground and becomes Matcha. Their organic Tsuyuhikari Matcha is what was prepared during during this session, they prepared this tea in the following way: 1g of Matcha, water 10ml at 20c and then 50ml at 100C, whisk until prepared to your liking.
Tea lovers in today’s session described the aroma and taste of this matcha in the following ways: Strong pistachio aroma like a chocolate pistachio cake or rocky road bars. No bitterness at all, creamy like milk, spinach, nutty, with clean astringency. Vanilla undertones, naturally very sweet and soft. Light, smooth, sweet lingering gentle finish. It is surprisingly light, no plant taste at all until perhaps the last drop. Sounds like a fantastic matcha to me. This matcha is shaded for 45 days making it a triple shaded Matcha which is something I have personally never heard of before, triple shading achieve a better aroma and a bright color, but it can not be done with all bushes and all cultivars. It takes them a lot of hard work and effort but it is clear from what the people in today’s session has to say that it definitely paid off.
The second producer we spoke with today was Yoshimasa Yamauchi is the 5th generation tea farmer and president of Hekien Ocha no Junpei, a small family tea farm in Toyota region of Aichi prefecture. The Yamauchi family started tea production in 1870, Yamauchi-san worked at an established specialty tea shop for some time before returning to take over the family business. The main teas made by the Yamauchi family include Matcha, Kabusecha and Hojicha. They have a tea farm size is about 4ha and they use conventional and organic methods. His great grandfather Junpei Yamauchi invented the Mikawa style Tencha furnace in 1920. Before then everything was done by hand, even in other regions as well. A lot of their tea is still hand picked including the Kabusecha provided by them for today’s session.
When hand picking they use Shigoki picking method which is unique to Aichi which involves bending the stem and trying to make sure that only the leaves come off, but Yamauchi-san did say that sometimes the younger newer stems can break off because they are not as hard as the lower parts where the darker leaves are. Their tea leaves are sorted by hand in the traditional way rather than by machine. The leaves are then also inspected and sorted by hand simply using tweezers to make sure any contaminated or bent leaves that are not the correct shape are removed. Double layer shading for 32 days takes place, which is long for Kabusecha as it’s normally 14 days. This makes the tea very similar to gyokuro. Yamauchi-san says that a lot of people who try his tea end up falling in love with it and then they want to become a part of producing it so they will often come and volunteer at his farm to help them produce the teas.
The Yabukita (the king cultivar of Japanese tea) Kabusecha provided for today’s session was processed in the following way in their factory: hand picked, steamed, rolled by a machine, sorted by hand, final sorting by two people using tweezers to remove anything that may have been missed previously. 5g 50ml of water at 40C, steeped for 2 minutes in a flat Kyusu, the reason for using a kysus like this is that because the leaves are flat and needle like, it gives them more chance to open up.
Tea lovers in today’s chat had the following things to say about this teas aroma and taste: aroma notes of nori, edamame, thick umami, round, zucchini and melon. rich in umami, fresh broad beans, dry leaf smells like seaweed cookies. Taste notes: sweet with a touch of astringency, velvety, very viscous texture, smooth, velvety, umami bomb, almost salty, very sweet, zucchini braised in butter, later on honeydew melon, salted butter, vegetable stock, garlic fried in butter (not browned). very long after taste and sweet, chestnut sweetness. The empty cup aroma is like sweet milky rock melon.
Such different notes compared to yesterday Kabusecha, lots of people in the chat said they didn’t expect such a punch of flavor from this tea and were quite taken back by how complex it was. That’s because this tea was produced to taste like Gyokuro but look like Kabusecha. I’m seriously going to have the longest tea wish list by the time this marathon is over because almost everything that has been features bar one or two that were only made for the marathon is now on my wish list. Hopefully I’ll be able to get my hands on them and feature them further on my blog in the future.
Another fantastic session today filled with opportunities to learn new things about Japan, Japanese tea and just how much work goes into producing the teas that we all love so much. To me it’s so interesting learning all the in’s and out of the tea world and just how different production methods change dependent on location, knowing that just slight differences in picking methods and fertilizers and enlivenment really can effect the tea so much. Tomorrow will be day 12 of the marathon and for that session we will be travelling to and learning more about Saitama prefecture.
Until tomorrow, Happy Steeping – Kimberley