Sadly the last day of the Japanese Tea Marathon has come and gone (I’m a day late to posting this because I had my first covid jab yesterday) but just because yesterday was the last day of the marathon, it didn’t mean that the session wasn’t just as jam packed and informative as the ones that came before it. For Day 15 we travelled to Shizuoka Prefecture which is located in the middle of Japan. Shizuoka is best known as home to Mount Fuji – the tallest peak in Japan and a world heritage site. Shizuoka was an important place from the old times, Tokugawa Ieyasu – the founder of Tokugawa Shogunate, known for the longest period of peace in Japan that lasted over 250 years, spent his youth years as well as his final days in Shizuoka.
Even today, Shizuoka remains an important place and it has a strong manufacturing industry. Honda Motor Company was started here. Suzuki Motor Corporation, Yamaha Corporation and Kawai Musical Instrument Manufacturing Co. were all founded and are still headquartered in Shizuoka. Shizuoka has a strong position in fishing and agriculture as well, its Yaizu port is the largest port in Japan for Tuna and Bonito. Lake Hamana in Shizuoka is famous for Eel farming too. Shizuoka also produces the majority of Japan’s Wasabi. And of course, Shizuoka is known for Japanese tea.
It is believed that tea cultivation in Shizuoka started in 1244, when a Buddhist monk Enji brought tea seeds from China to Japan and planted them in Ashikubo, Suruga. Suruga, therefore, is regarded as the birthplace of Shizuoka’s tea.Tea production expanded much more at the end of 19th century, when a large Makinohara plain, that did not seem to be suitable for rice growing, was reclaimed for tea cultivation. In 1899 Shimizu port in Shizuoka was opened and soon it became the largest tea exporting port in Japan.
Shizuoka is also known for various achievements in tea production. It was here that in 1908, Hikosaburo Sugiyama bred the first and still the most common cultivar – Yabukita. The very first Yabukita plant – Yabukita Mother, counting over 110 years is still alive and well in Suruga-ku. Shizuoka is also where a lot of tea harvesting machines were invented: portable one person harvesting machines in the 1950s, portable two person harvesting machines in the 1960s and in 1971 the driven harvesting machine was invented.
While challenged by close competition from Kagoshima, currently Shizuoka remains No.1 in both tea cultivation area and tea production volume. In 2020, Shizuoka produced 25,200t of tea or about 36% of the national total. Tea cultivation is spread out across the whole prefecture and the largest tea producing areas include: Makinohara city, Shimada city and Kakegawa city – all located in the plains close to the ocean. Other important tea production areas include: Kikugawa city, Shizuoka city, Fujieda city, Fuji city, Omaezaki city, etc. The main tea made in Shizuoka is Sencha, that is usually the longer-steamed kind – Fukamushicha. Other teas made in Shizuoka include Bancha, Matcha and Kabusecha.
For the last day of the marathon the tea producer we were joined by was Eiichi Honda who is the 5th generation tea farmer and the future president of the Marumo Honda Seicha. The tea farm is located at the foot of Mount Fuji in the Fuji region of Shizuoka prefecture. The Honda family started making tea in 1927 and counts over 90 years of history. From around 1975 they started making fukamushicha – Japanese deep steamed green tea, that became really common. Currently Marumo Honda Seicha makes various Japanese teas including Sencha, Hojicha and more.
The Honda family have a tea farm size of 9ha and use both conventional and organic farming methods in addition most of their tea is harvested by hand picking, hand held harvesting machines and driven harvesting machines. They produce mainly Sencha and do both deeper steamed and lighter steamed versions. They work with 15 different cultivars so their processes differ depending on the cultivar and also what kind of tea they are aiming to produce.
Their Sencha that was provided for today’s session was produced in the following way in their factory. Leaves are harvested, then brought into the factory. The first step within the factory is the steaming – the machine that tea tea goes through for steaming depends on what level of steaming you want they have two machines one for deep and one for light. then the tea is soft rolled twice, and strong rolled once, middle rolled, fine rolled and then it is dried.
Their non shaded – Koshun Tsuyuhikari Sencha was prepared during this session and was prepared in the following way: 4g of tea, 90ml of water at 80C, steeped for 60secs (for the first steep). Tea lovers in the chat of today’s session had the following things to say about their experience with this tea: Aroma of sakura mochi / Sakura leaf, smells like a meadow with daisies and dandelion. Sweet but not strongly sweet, very smooth, velvety, umami, vegetal, herbaceous, spices, cookies, fresh cut grass and spinach but combined with chamomile. Citrus notes in the aftertaste, very mint like aftertaste now, mixed with umami, unusual.
I have to say that out of all of the Sencha’s that have been show cased during this marathon this one sounds like the one that I would enjoy the most, it’s sounds like it has such a fantastic flavor profile that came across to me like it was quite bright and sunny like a meadow in spring. I’ve definitely added this to my list and I hope to be able to order from this tea producer at some point in the future so I can try their Sencha for myself.
The second tea provided by this tea producer was a Hojicha which was produced using the 3 leaf from the top of the tea plant and after their Sencha process they roast so it’s in a way a by product of their Sencha production. It’s roasted over three days (not continuously) and the heat is applied gradually to heat it from the inside of the leaves/ stems outwards to produce a well rounded flavor.
It was prepared in the following way during the session: 4g of tea, 90ml of water, steeped for 40secs for the first steep but can be steeped over and over. Tea lovers in the chat of today’s session has the following things to say about their experience with this tea: butterscotch aroma, juicy dried plums with a hint of heavy red wine, caramel katsuobushi, maple syrup, birch syrup, tootsie rolls (aroma). Taste notes- naturally very sweet, a roasted sweet potato in bonfire – sweet, caramel, butterscotch, rice syrup, a hint of citrus, sourness and astringency at the end. Almonds and a kind of very tasty scotch, round sweetness, caramel and pine nuts. Sadly the previous Sencha was prepared specially for the marathon but Honda-san says that he sells his Hojicha on their English website so I’m going to have to try this at some point. Straight to the top of my must try list along with all the other teas from the marathon haha.
Day 15 was another amazing session as I said toward the start of this post, I was again able to learn so much from the hosts of the Tea Marathon and the guest tea producers. All in all this marathon has been one of the best tea experiences I’ve ever had, everyone at The Global Japanese Tea Association did such a fantastic job putting this all together over the last four months, it was clear to see they all put so much hard work into this and it definitely paid off. Outside of this I don’t think there has ever been an event like this that has enabled so many tea lovers from across the world to come together and learn about so many tea producers across a large part of Japan. I’m hopeful that because of what we have all learnt over the last 15 days that we will all be able to work together to help out the current situation the world of Japanese tea is in and introduce many more people across the world to countless amazing Japanese teas and get that overall production rate and export rate to an all time high.
If you have any questions at all about anything I have talk about in any of my marathon recap posts over the last 15 days either stick them in the comments or send them to me on Twitter/Instagram @teaisawishblog and I’ll answer them all as soon as I can.
I’m going to take a little bit of a break while I recover from posting every day for just over two weeks but I’ll be back soon and when I do come back things may be changing a little bit. See you all soon. Happy Steeping – Kimberley