It’s the tea that brought us to Kyushu!
Having travelled from the top to the bottom of Japan for over two years searching, sampling and sipping, we think we’ve pretty much nailed it in terms of location for the best tea in Japan. In 2013, Holly finished writing Green is the New Black – the Glorious Rise of Japanese Green Tea, a tour de Japanese green tea and well worth a read if you fancy delving into the details.
Here we'll give you a bit of an overview of the tea served at the café and available on this website:
In the Western part of Kyushu (in Fukuoka Prefecture) is Yame, one of the most well-known smaller tea producing areas in Japan. It’s famous for Gyokuro, the highest classification of loose leaf tea in Japan. This is where we source our Matcha. Picturesque Yame has the perfect climate and soil constitution to produce some of the finest Matcha and Gyokuro in Japan. The tea plants used for our Matcha are grown along side the plants selected for Gyokuro and are shaded in the same way.
Our farmer is one of the last few remaining who uses an ancient technique involving handmade straw mats to cover the plants about a month or longer before harvest. The straw not only provides shade for the plant but it filters the rain water, something the modern method using black netting has lost. Shading allows the nutrients to swell in the leaves, and is one reason why Matcha is the superfood it claims to be. The tea leaves are plucked by hand under the shaded straw roof by delightful giggling ladies.
After harvesting, the leaves are separated at a certain point in the production process. One batch heads out to become Gyokuro, while the other is destined to become Tencha, the tea that is then milled into Matcha. Tencha becomes Matcha! While you can certainly enjoy Tencha as a loose leaf tea when it’s steeped, it’s rare to serve it this way because the value is in the finished milled Matcha powder. This powder is finer than the smoke of a cigarette. Imagine that! Just one 40g can of our Matcha takes 2 hours to mill and more than double that for our 100g can of Mystic.
Here’s a secret: most of the best Matcha never actually leaves Japan. It’s created by artisan farmers from tight-knit family businesses that have been producing Matcha for generations and their in-crowd are the Japanese tea ceremony masters. But these small enterprises either don’t know how or simply don’t want to export their amazing tea. It’s too complicated and the language barrier as well as the cultural barrier is too high. Sure there are big brands that dominate the market, hailing from Uji, but that's not what we are all about. We want to know WHO exactly is handling the leaves that end up in your cup!
So you’ve got to go deep into the country, meet these farmers, build relationships, and then maybe, just maybe, they’ll open up to the idea of selling their tea to you and creating a unique product. And this is exactly what we’ve been doing to bring our stunning Matcha to you.
Our loose leaf teas come from Kyushu, Kagoshima Prefecture and Fukuoka Prefecture in particular.
Kagoshima is a Prefecture as well as a city. The city of Kagoshima overlooks the ominous active volcano, Sakurajima, sitting proudly in Kagoshima bay. In fact Kagoshima Prefecture has eleven active volcanoes and much of the area is covered in a layer of ash known as “shirasu”. This ash contributes to the abundance of minerals in the soil, and coupled with perfect climate and ample rainfall, tea and agriculture from this area is some of the healthiest in Japan.
Kagoshima is at the forefront of producing new varieties of camellia sinenses cultivars and this is celebrated in our tea selection. The Yabukita cultivar is the most well-known cultivar in Japan, representing 76% of all tea plants, but over the past three decades, Kagoshima producers have created an astounding variety of cultivars, including Saemidori and Asatsuyu. These cultivars are not widely seen in other tea growing regions.
Our kabuse teas are grown in the small samurai town of Chiran, the most famous tea district in the Kagoshima Prefecture. As we drive through the town up to the mountaintop to view the tea farms below, we pass by hundreds if not thousands of stone lanterns lining the street, each a memorial for fallen kamikaze pilots (the secret squadron originated in Chiran).
Yame City in Fukuoka Prefecture is another area where we have family...namely our Matcha farmers and our Hon Gyokuro farmers. And Yame is where it all began. It is here where Zen priest, Eirin Suzui planted the first tea tree imported from China. It is such a famous region, especially deemed the first true birthplace of Japanese tea, that around 45% of Japan's gyokuro comes from here. Gyokuro is the top classification of tea, so it's no wonder Yame has perfected the art.
The reason Yame continues to be such a producer of award-winning teas is not only the rich soil constitution, but the climate. Think foggy mornings that are chilly then the sun comes out to heat everything up for a short period before it all cools down again. There is plenty of rainfall to refresh the leaves but the mist and fog is what you will particularly notice. When we make our morning drive to Yame, about 9:00 AM or so, we see steam rising from rooftops as the sun is evaporating the morning dew. It's quite a sight indeed and looks as if the entire area is up in smoke! All of this fog is a beautiful thing because tea leaves can't handle sharp sunlight. The climate is responsible for creating the flavor-producing elements in the leaf, theanine, in particular. Theanine is the amino acid responsible for giving tea it's sweetness and is why Yame is synonymous with sweet tea. We absolutely LOVE it!