In Japan, organic farmers, father and son

I’d like to introduce you to Kitano Shuichi. Of all the farmers I’ve met in Japan, he’s the most passionate and inspiring about organic practices. He’s been using these methods for 30 years, introduced by his father. The latter, convinced of the health benefits of organic tea, suffered financially for ten years, due to very low yields, but he pulled through. Today, he sells his tea for a good price because demand for organic tea is higher. Kitano Shuichi and his father make their own compost, while others buy it in from outside. But most significantly, they never use anything to do with animals in their compost. So that means no cow manure, for example. They believe in biodynamic methods and use them successfully. They’re so proud of their compost they insist you taste it. But if you want to know their exact recipe, you can ask all you like but they’ll reveal nothing save their good humour, with a smile. 


Posted in Country : Japan by François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , ,

Japan, the end of the single variety

Tea plants in Japan

Last week I talked about how the mixing of tea leaves by Japanese co-operatives can limit the range of flavours in the country’s teas, but there are also some very positive developments coming from Japan. For example, a few decades ago, the country could be described as mono-cultivar: the vast majority of growers used the Yabukita variety. Happily, today, there are an increasing number of cultivars used in Japan, such as sae-midori, oku-hikari and asatsuyu. A greater range of cultivars means that once the tea is infused, it produces a wider palette of aromas and flavours. And that is good news for tea lovers.


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Combining leaves limits flavour variety

Tea fields in Japan

I have a regret when it comes to Japanese teas. My Japanese friends know it and share it. It is this: in Japan, few farmers produce finished tea. They are not usually set up to do this in terms of equipment. Most farmers focus on growing the best possible tea and harvesting it at the optimal time, but then they immediately sell the fresh leaves to co-operatives, who finish the production process. However, these co-operatives don’t keep the batches separate so they can process them individually. They put all the tea harvested by different farmers together. This results in a certain uniformity of flavour, whereas if each farmer took care of the production process right to the end, we would undoubtedly get a wider variety of flavours and aromas.


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Mr Kumada, a farmer attached to his land

Mr kumada in Kagoshima

I’d like to introduce you to Mr Kumada. He lives with eight cats and grows tea on seven hectares in the extreme south of Japan, high above the city of Kagoshima, far from anywhere, even the smallest village. Mr Kumada took over from his father, who was also a farmer. But he only grows tea, unlike his father who also grew tobacco, and raised cows, pigs and silkworms. When I asked him what he’d like me to talk about on my blog, Mr Kumada immediately replied that he was proud of his farming methods, and of the organic certification he has obtained. He wants to keep the environment in the best possible condition; he is responsible for it, he says.

Mr Kumada produces green teas, of course, but also a black tea, which I’ve just chosen. It’s the first time I’ve tasted such a good black tea from Japan, an interesting tasting experience. Mr Kumada’s very likeable personality does play a part in my choice: I taste all teas blind, but it increases the pleasure I take in being able to promote his excellent tea.

 


Posted in Country : Japan by François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , ,

In Japan, tea is harvested three or four times a year

Tea fields in Kyushu

In Japan, harvesting is often done by machine due to the high cost of labour. So instead of picking the leaves every week, as is the practice in some parts of the world, they are harvested three times a year, in spring, summer and autumn. On the island of Kyushu, which is hotter than the islands further north, tea can be harvested four times a year – in April, June, August and October. The most prized harvest is the first one, known here and elsewhere in Japan as Ichibancha.


Posted in Country : Japan by François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , ,

The author

François-Xavier Delmas is a passionate globetrotter. He’s been touring the world’s tea plantations for more than 20 years in search of the finest teas. As the founder of Le Palais des Thés, he believes that travelling is all about discovering world cultures. From Darjeeling to Shizuoka, from Taiwan to the Golden Triangle, he invites you to follow his trips as well as share his experiences and emotions.

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