Day 14 of The Japanese Tea Marathon 2021 has arrived; only one more day to go after this. I’m going to miss doing this each morning so much, but I’m thankful I was able to have the experience and share it with all of you as well. Anyway let’s talk about today shall we? For Day 14 we are off to Ibaraki. Located north east of Tokyo, Ibaraki is known for its beautiful landscapes as well as science and technology. It is home to Japan’s largest science city in Tsukuba, that houses 200 research facilities including the Tsukuba Space Center and Tsukuba Robotic Center. In addition to that, Ibaraki has Kairakuen – one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan known for 3000 plum trees. The Hitachi Seaside Park is also a gorgeous park with different flowers blooming in every season.
Situated on Kanto plain – the biggest plain in Japan, Ibaraki is also a large agricultural producer. It ranks No.1 in the production of Natto – Japanese fermented beans; and also produces a large amount of bell peppers and cabbages.
Talking about tea, Ibaraki is known as the northernmost place for commercial tea production in Japan. It is said that tea cultivation here started in 1593 when Buddhist monks of Saifukuji temple in Ibaraki – Tsunean, Yamei, and Keimatsu brought tea seeds from Uji in Kyoto and planted them close to the temple. In 1859 (after a long period of Japan’s self isolation – ‘Sakoku’) when Japan started trading with the world, the very first tea exported to the USA is said to be Satsuma tea from Ibaraki.
With 260t of tea made in 2020, Ibaraki takes 15th place in tea production in Japan. The production is divided into three key areas: Daigo town in the north with Okukuji tea brand, Shirosato town in the middle with Furuuchi tea brand, and lastly Bando city and Sakai town in the south with Sashima tea brand. Due to being located further north than other tea producing regions, tea harvesting in Ibaraki starts later – from around the middle of May. Additionally, in contrast to most other tea producing regions, tea in Ibaraki is only harvested twice: in spring and summer. The most common teas made here are Sencha and Bancha. Because of the cold weather again like the prefecture we learned about yesterday, it caused the leaves to grow stronger and thicker.
The first tea producer that joined us today is Hiroyuki Fujita, who is a 3rd generation tea farmer and the president of the family tea farm Shimizuen in Daigo region of Ibaraki prefecture. The small tea farm manages about 1.2ha of tea fields in one of the most northern tea producing regions of Japan. They use conventional and organic methods and tea is harvested using hand held machines . In addition to that, Fujita-san is also the president of the Okukuji Chakyo Kumiai, a tea cooperative that was established in 1958 and aims to unify tea producers in Daigo town. He took the role in 2017 and now the cooperative has 35 members (29h between all members). The members of the association produce various kinds of Japanese teas, including Sencha and Hojicha.
The tea they provided today was an open field (unshaded) deep steamed Yabukita Sencha, which was produced using the following processes in their factory: Steaming (a little bit of a deeper steaming because the leaves are thicker), then they are put into a cooling machine to take out the added moisture, soft rolled, strong rolled, middle rolled, and then fine rolled (which helps the leaves to achieve their desired shape), then finally they are dried. This tea ware prepared the following way during today’s session: 5g of tea, 200ml of water at 70-80C, steeped for 60secs for the first steep.
Tea lovers in today’s chat described their experiences with this tea in the following ways: Aroma- umami, sweet, not so astringent, very light and grassy, fresh, seaweed, corn, cucumber. Very smooth, bright, vegetal, herbaceous, vivid, parsley. Cooled off: much more umami, stronger vegetal notes, a fruity-bitter edge, like purslane, or red grapefruit.
The second tea producer that join us in today session was Masahiro Yoshida, who is the 6th generation tea farmer and president of Yoshida Chaen, a family tea farm in the Koga region of Ibaraki prefecture. The family farm was started nearly 200 years ago in 1839 and has 2.5ha of tea fields in a really urban setting. Yoshi-san is lucky to have 3 young sons who help both on the farm as well as in a recently opened cafe. Yoshida Chaen makes several green teas, including Sencha and Hojicha, but they also produce a few interesting black teas from some rare cultivars. They use conventional methods and the tea is harvested using driven harvesting machines as the land is flat. Sashimacha was the first tea to be exported to the US, they started off as a hand picked hand rolled factory but around 1928 they switched to become machine rolled.
The tea they provided for today’s session was Izumi Cultivar Wakoucha, that was processed in the following way in their factory: Sun withered, brought into factory and put into a container overnight to finish withering, soft rolled twice, brought to dryer which is around 100C and it is filled many times, changing the height of the tea regally as the temp and moisture is different at different heights. Then after that is is bought to another dryer and after that it is completely dry. It was prepared in today’s session in the following way: 2.5g of tea, 150ml of 100C water, steeped for 4 and half minutes.
Tea lovers in today’s session has the following things to say about their experiences with this tea: The aromas of the dry leaf are pretty cool. Cola, camphor, medicinal, apple shisha, bottled milk tea. It comes off very similar to a Darjeeling first flush. Okra, seedy, fennel or nigella seeds, good mouthfeel, potent and heavy right away, honey, the sweetness builds up, oiliness, delicate. Very light and floral style for a Wakoucha. has sweet (lollipop-like) aftertaste, oft yet round, full of flavor!
As a lover of black and especially Japanese black tea, I added this right to the top of my list of teas that I want to try. The other tea lovers in this chat who were lucky enough to get the marathon set of teas made this sound incredible and I knew straight away that I needed to add it to my collection and do as many tea session as I possibly could with it.
Day 14 was yet another fantastically informative session, although tomorrow is the last day I’m really looking forward to seeing what the last session of the marathon is going to bring. I’ll definitely make sure that going forward here on my blog I keep doing more informative blog posts based around the world of Japanese tea. If there is anything you want to see featured in the future, be sure to let me know.
Until tomorrow. Happy Steeping – Kimberley