I started to write a long IG post about a new tea entering my catalogue and it inspired me to quickly publish a blog post instead. It has been a while and I have to lean on these whims to share the things I know and think about tea...I hope you find it useful or interesting.
Let me tell you a little bit of what I have learned about Japanese withered teas and in particular the delightful new entry into my tea catalogue, Yumewakaba. Are withered teas a green tea or are they an oolong tea? I'll start with a quote from the producer, Mr Shmizu.
“…there is no need to be (the) “same“ as Taiwanese tea. We explore our own originality to improve the depth of Yumewakaba withering tea in its own right.”
I personally encountered this withered style of tea when I visited Japan for a tea study tour in 2018. What I thought was a new discovery, I came to learn much later that Mr Shmizu's Father had been growing and selling withered teas from the 1960s in Japan.
At the time of my visit in 2018 the withered style of green teas I tasted showed great potential to appeal to a wide taste preference in my home market of Australia and I very nearly bought some to trial in my catalogue. But was side tracked with the discovery of water differences between Japan and Brisbane and dived down another rabbit hole....sorry to digress (lots of blog posts here to read about that topic). Whilst I appreciate and enjoy the umami, sweetness, grass and marine notes that Japanese green teas are well-known for, they can be difficult for those in the Australian market that do not have cultural connections to Japan to fully appreciate. This withered tea is a bit more of a softer entry into the region.
Fast forward to 2022, my long-term tea friend and partner to The Steepery Tea Co, Misato Furumiya, & I arranged a film screening of GOSHISOCHAJI (a Japanese tea documentary that I highly recommend you search out here) for a passionate group of tea practitioners in Brisbane. The withered green tea was highlighted once again. On this occasion Misato had sourced this tea featured in this film for me to try. It was truly delightful and it had benefited from the tea producers continuing to evolve and refine their processing techniques. I tasted and I sampled with a number of my tea friends who agreed it was very tasty...so I am very pleased to now be able to share Yumewakaba with you too!
But the blog post does not stop here as there are some other points to highlight about this tea and the tea producer, Mr Shmizu. I have a slightly rebellious streak when it comes to tea selection for my catalogue. For those following you know I love the traditions, and respect the craft of tea making but my goodness do I love and have a soft spot when a tea producer takes something and makes it there own, they make it unique and become obsessed about it. So this is one of those stories, too good for me to pass up on.
Mr Shimizu’s Father started to grow and sell withered tea from 1960s. They wanted to craft a tea with rich aroma, a unique high-quality tea in the late-harvest area such as Sayama, Saitama prefecture to be competitive and a point of difference to their existing teas.
His Father was so impressed and inspired by the overwhelming aroma of Oriental Beauty in Taiwan. He became obsessed with Taiwanese tea after learning of Oriental Beauty processing that resulted in the purchase of the machine from Taiwan for his own farm. They have been experimenting ever since. They have named the style of tea “withering tea”. Recognising similarities in production methods of oolong tea yet differences compared to Taiwanese oolong tea.
And we return to the quote above. There really is no need to replicate teas from another region, become comfortable with originality and focus on improving what you have. Is this a green tea or an oolong? I'll let you decide. The process is intentional and it involves many steps.
- The tea leaves are picked from a garden called “Nogi-en”. It is a small garden, devoted to hand-picking, that consists of an area less than 0.1% of Mr Shmizu's whole Japanese tea fields. The tea plants are harvest only once per year, they are not ridged but grow naturally so that the tea leaves must be picked by hands. The producer is very clear that the value of hand-picking tea is not the fact it is “hand-picked”, but the production of withered tea requires the leaves to larger that can only be collected through a hand picking process.
- Tea leaves are spread on a straw mat and are withered under the direct sunlight. This accelerates withering by evaporating the moisture. After an hour, leaves gradually start to wither and change colour from yellow-green to blue-green/dark-green, and the fragrance is released. This fragrance depends on how they are withered and stressed. Carefully observing the sunlight and the temperature, the tea leaves are then moved to bamboo trays and brought indoors to slow down withering.
- Then, fermentation process is added by agitating the leaves. Agitation and still standing (withering about 90-120min inside the house) are repeated 4 times which takes several days. This process is critical to enhance and achieve optimal fragrance. Then the leaves are pan fired pan to dry and kneading process undertaken.
- The leaves are then put in a fired pan to refine and finish up.
A very big thank you to our friend Misato who has helped be the conduit for the information you are reading. My hope is that this allows you to enjoy Yumewakaba beyond it's taste and gives you the information to appreciate this tea is a different way. Order your tea here.
Other tea makers that fall into this category include Arakai Estate (Australian tea makers), Mr Masui (pioneer of black tea making in Japan), Milan Kumari (teas crafted by the first female tea grower and producer in Nepal), Taitung Oolong (a Taiwanese oolong sourced by Cuppa Cha that embodies that growing region) and Mr. Miyazaki (an oolong style tea from Japan). Actually all the teas in my tea catalogue have a bit of this rebellious streak ;) Go and explore!