Off-the-Eaten Path Food Experience in Japan. "Meet the People and Places behind your Plates! "

Sunday 27 March 2016

Tea tour (1) Cultural Landscape and Tea Experience in Wazuka, Kyoto

Cultural Landscape of Japanese green tea 

88th days from rishun 立春 (the beginning of spring) around 2nd of May is a symbolical in traditional japanese calender.

Uji in Kyoto and Shizuoka are the most popular tea production area in Japan.
Uji tea plantation and its livelihood was designated as one of the important cultural landscape by Agency for Cultural Affairs, Japanese Government .

In fact, Wazuka town, located in south-western Kyoto, produces around 50% of uji tea produced in Kyoto and tea produced in Uji city is much less than in Wazuka. 

Tea trees are everywhere around their housing in wazuka, as if their house is floating in the middle of the tea plantation, and wazuka is one of the 50 members for ”the most beautiful villages in Japan".

tea plantation scenery in Wazuka town.

tea plants in the left side is nursery
tea leaves can be picked 5 years after the transplantation, and can be harvested until 50 years old in general.
older tea plant is also grown in the less commercially produced areas generally in the mountains. some plants are above 300 years old.

shuraku (community) and tea factories

This vallage called Yubune湯船, and there are many tea factories to process tea leaves.

chimnnies can be seen on the top of their roofs,  and local residents are also unique to accommodate migrant labors working for their tea plantation. the labors are said to be from wakayama, where orange is main cash crop and temporary labors are working there in winter season and started to migrate tea plantation in spring time. 

About Green Tea

There are two types of tea; fermented or unfermented (woolong tea is semi-fermented).
black tea is fermented, and green tea is unfermented tea.

there are two production methods to make green tea; one is covered by yoshizu (marsh-reed screen), called "ooishita" and the otehr is uncovered "roji", or open cultivation.

Characteristics of ooishita (plantation covered by marsh reed screen) 

the merits of ooishita cultivation are as follows;
1. leaves are thick green colored
2. broader leaves
3. thinner leaves
4. smell and flavor become thicken

by covering tea leaves by the screen, the amount of sunlights is limited and therefore, photosynthesis capacity of the plants is enhanced; the leaves become thick colored and soft, and its smell and flavor will be strengthen.

Left: ooishita, covered by black screen for 3 days.  Right: open cultivation

tea produced by ooishita cultivation is called "Gyokuro玉露" or "Tencha碾茶", which can be sold at a higher price compared to outdoor cultivated tea, called "Sencha"煎茶.

ooishita cultivation

● Ten cha:this tea leaf is used for processing match tea powder, and it is getting well-sold nowadays. after dried in brick oven, chop dried leaf and packed.

●  Matcha :  ground tencha leaf

●  Gyokuro : after boiled, tea leaves are rolled, and become thinner like needle.

●  Sencha : same process as gyokuro, but tea leaves for sencha are not covered and tea leaves for gyokuro are covered.

sun-block screen for ooishita cultivation

Processing Green Tea

In 88 days after the spring, around 2nd May, is a season for tea picking.
It starts in the early morning generally under the gentle sunlight.

"Isshin Sanyo 一芯三葉" means one stem and three leaves.
this is the criteria to pick up tea leaves perfectly for tea pickers, usually ladies working as temporal labors in the tea farms.

Nowadays, most tea leaves are harvested by machinery, but hand picking is also undertaken especially for making high valued tea products and for contest tea called shuppin cha .

after steamed tea leaves, cooled down and rolled by hands on japanese traditional paper called "washi 和紙" coated by persimmon tannin, kakishibu 柿渋. 

burned charcoal under the board, tea leaves are warmed. 
and 4 hours later...
leaves become thinner and thinner like pine-needles...

This tool is called "bote", made from bamboo and japanese paper also coated with persimmon tannin.

A tea farmer told me that growing persimmon trees and tea plants in the same fields is a perfect combination; both grow very well with strong supplement with each other.

Tea Experience

●Tenku cafe (sky roof cafe)
Waduka cha cafe offer rental tea cafe at the great location with panoramic view of tea fields.

●Tea tour Experience at Kyoto Obubu Tea Farm


to visit wazuka, it takes around one hour from Kyoto station.
take trains bound for Nara from Kyoto station, and change train at JR kizu 木津 station to Kamo station 加茂.
then take bus from Kamo to Wazuka.