We will continue to share a couple more posts about my participation in the 2018 Japanese Tea Export Council (JTEC) study tour. If it interests you and you have the intention to advocate and sell Japanese tea (the criteria from this year's application process) in the future I highly recommend connecting with JTEC and asking to be placed on the notification email when applications open again in future years. Unlike many of these lists where you are uncertain as to whether anyone tracks it I can assure you that if they confirm they will add you it will be done. A beautiful thing about Japanese culture.
Let me start by saying I am such a sucker for shaved ice desserts, whatever name they are disguised by bao-bing, tsua-bing or patbingsu in other countries, I felt fortunate to try Kakigōri (the Japanese version of shaved ice dessert). Despite ordering something completely different I was not at all disappointed when this arrived!
The study tour had a mix of theoretical and practical components. We spent 6 days in Shizouka, one additional day due to the weather. And 2 days in Kagoshima. The post to follow is our experience in Shizouka.
In Shizouka the programme had us visiting tea farms, participating in business matching (a speed dating-like experience for quick introductions to tea producers and wholesalers), experiences with Nihoncha tea brewing, matcha preparation, introduction to quality inspection and evaluation techniques of Japanese green tea, a visit to the newly opened Shizouka Tea Museum, plucking at the Shizouka tea research station and hand rolling tea leaves for black tea as well as a visit to the Shizouka tea (auction) market.
During our group's producer and refiner visit we were fortunate to visit a family run organic tea garden, Tarui Tea Farm, near Hamamatsu in Shizouka. The tea is grown by the family and they also finish their tea. The non-stop conveyor belt processing is something that I found very interesting in the production of Japanese green tea. Still understanding many of these processing methods I was told that the continual movement and speed at which the leaves run through the machinery results in the leaves staying cool and not overheating after the completion of each process. The equipment at Tarui Tea Farm is quite unique and interesting on its own and it took me a number of times following the conveyor belts to understand what was happening. And it would warrant a few visits back to really understand this.
Whilst examples of producers that are also the refiners of their tea exist throughout Japan this is not the usual or traditional system for tea making in the country. Typically the producer, refiner and wholesaler are all separate entities within the process with the raw or crude tea from the producer heading to prefecture market auctions. The business and economy of the Japanese tea industry is interesting in its own right and warrants a whole exploration on its own. It also makes me want to examine systems in other countries in more detail.
One of the more interesting facts I discovered in Shizouka was that all the tea auctions are still carried out traditionally. The tea producer (farmers) wear blue hats, the buyers wear yellow hats and the green hatted men are the tea market negotiators. Whilst we witnessed a 'reconstructed' market negotiation I think it would be incredible to be here in the middle of the Spring harvest season. Producers set a price in consultation with the negotiator, buyers cup the tea and make an offer using a false abacus' (so that no one around can really tell what the figure is) to the negotiator. The negotiator is responsible for getting the best price from the buyer but we were told the price rarely moves down more than 10%. The deal is concluded with 3 claps and the tea market negotiator takes 2.3% of the final price.
One of the best experiences I had in Shizouka was participating in a tea blending workshop at Chakuukan (in Japanese 茶空間). For me the real skill in blending tea comes from Master Blenders that have trained as tea tasters and evolved into tea blenders over decades of experience. The skill in blending to a customer, product or client profile cannot be underestimated and I think it is a shame that this real skill is often overlooked. I also learnt so much about tea brewing from this man, one of many unconventional brewing techniques I encountered but won over based on tasting the tea liquor. I am still yet to open my packet of blended Yabukita but when I do I just might post a little more about this experience.
Can you believe this is the only true cupping I experienced when I was in Japan? Apart from being taught how to evaluate and taste Japanese green tea I think it was a shame we didn't get an opportunity to cup tea properly from the producers and wholesalers. Just a small complaint and one that didn't impair the overall learning experience. Where this cupping is taking place will remain a mystery because I hope to bring you a very special tea from this producer in the coming months.
So that concludes the highlights from Shizouka. I hope you enjoyed it. Next week we will travel to Kagoshima to continue the journey.