In order to give you the full experience of the difference between this year’s harvest and last year’s, and so that you can discover not only how tea changes depending on the different weather conditions but also how it can mature and change after processing, our Tea Club this month featured a shincha from this year and the same tea by the same producer from last year’s harvest: native seed-grown sencha from Kasuga. We encourage you to take some time to brew both of them and compare how they are similar and different.
Tokuya’s approach to tea farming is not at all a conventional one. While he faces a lot of criticism from other farmers, he aims to stay true to his own beliefs which involve exclusively natural methods. These do not employ any pesticides or fertilizer at all. In my latest meeting with Tokuya I was able to discover more about his philosophy. In this article I present a summary of the main points of focus that he observes when cultivating his tea.
The roots of the tea bush grow towards gravity. The bushes that grow on a horizontal surface first penetrate the shallow top layer of soft arable soil and then gradually reach the deeper layer of hardened subsoil. Topsoil is softer and contains more air, which makes it easier for the roots to penetrate and grow deeper. On the contrary, subsoil is a more densely compressed stratum in which it is more difficult for roots to spread into.
Mountains are creations of nature that have taken millions of years to reach their current grandeur. Mountains are formed of layers of soil that can be traced back to different eras in history. These layers of soil are formed of a variety of soil and rock types, housing different microcosms of bacteria and little organisms that produce nourishment for vegetation and regulate how nutrition is maintained or transported in the pores of the soil.
In similarity to wine grapes, tea bushes too are sensitive to the circumstances, the terroir of their surroundings. Weather conditions, altitude, the farms direct surroundings, soil composition, etc. are features that not only affect the taste and character of the final product, it often also imbues the tea with a distinct local trait; an individuality that only can be obtained at this specific farm.
Mechanized harvesting methods require an even surface and regular pruning in order for the harvesting equipment to be effective. Just before spring, before the first shoots appear the bushes are pruned once at a set height. During harvest, the leaf that has grown above this surface; ea. the fresh spring buds, are harvested by mowing the surface at approximately the same height as during pruning.
The original image of a traditional tea farm is long gone. Only a handful of places either maintain a small area of a truly traditional tea garden as an image of what was current in the past, or – as in Mandokoro in Shiga prefecture and Kasuga in Gifu prefecture – traditional tea harvest and …