And in a blink of an eye our 9 day tea study tour of Japan came to an end. This week we share our very short 2 day experience in Kagoshima. There is no doubt that this was not enough time to do the region justice from a tea perspective but due to the weather events I was grateful to make it at all and we were made to feel like royalty by the Kagoshima tea industry.
I was surprised by how different the tea industry is in Shizouka and Kagoshima prefectures and thought these observations were worth sharing in today's blog post.
The one thing that struck me immediately about the prefectures was the operation of their respective tea markets (auctions). You may recall from my blog on the Shizouka leg of our study tour an image of our visit to the tea market and the traditions that remain in place. Here the 3 parties to the purchase contract of the crude tea (producer, negotiator and the buyer) interact in person: tasting, negotiating and concluding the sale by clapping their hands together. If you missed it take a look here.
In comparison 20 years ago Kagoshima's tea market became 100% automated.
In the peak times (April to May) tea sacks come in and out of the tea market 7 days a week from 7:30am in the morning. 1,400 samples can be evaluated a day during these peak times. Every sample of crude tea coming into the market hall is analysed using the same parameters whilst sitting on an automatic conveyor belt passing through the technology that measures the chemical components of the tea and sends that information back to the producer and the prospective buyers. Whilst I cannot recall the million dollars of YEN investment I can say that this is likely a data scientists dream set of information and one I am provides valuable information to all the vested parties. Bidding occurs online and the auction results are revealed straight away once the highest bidder is identified.
This was really incredible. Another interesting discovery is that there are currently only 24 registered businesses that have the right to bid and buy tea at this tea market. Here there names are published on the wooden board in the image below.
How you get your name on this board sounds like a real challenge as all existing 24 members must approve your application to buy at the tea market. Similarly, as I found Shizouka's traditional system so very interesting it raises questions about the access and open trading here. I don't mention this as negative as I don't have enough knowledge of the topic but it makes me curious to do some further research.
The other important takeaway was the sheer scale of production and movement of tea in Kagoshima. It was fair to say that we saw more examples of smaller or boutique tea producers in Shizouka that were growing and processing their own tea. The focus of what we saw in Kagoshima was high volume, automated tea markets and artificial intelligence technology being adopted to harvest the tea fields.
In saying this, I currently source my tea from a family tea garden on Yakushima Island that is a part of Kagoshima. So I suspect that given the Japanese tea study tour was running for the second year in Shizouka that some feedback had been given to the organisers as to the types of producers and style of tea the international attendees were interested in whilst this was the first visit to Kagoshima prefecture.
The last really interesting fact that I found was that meticulous sorting of crude tea is actually really important. I hadn't realised how many contaminants may end up in the tea without sorting. If you look to the picture above, the two trays at the bottom of the image wouldn't make great tea! The image on the left are large waste objects and the tray on the right is metal. It even gives more meaning to understanding how your tea is processed and why quality and ISO standards are really important.
So we truly hope you have enjoyed the glimpse into the tea study tour. Full disclosure - the majority of the ground tour was paid for by the Japanese Tea Export Council but we were free to takeaway from this experience what we wanted. At no stage did I get the sense of any of the experiences being orchestrated and this was particularly so for tea producer and refiner visits. I am very grateful for this experience and it just hits home how important it is to continue gathering tea knowledge but doing it at origin whenever that is possible.
If you want to read the previous posts about our experience on this Japanese tea tour please take a look at our introductory post and our experience in Shizouka.