Tea gardens of Scotland research visits
A few research groups have taken some of the gardeners around the world to interesting places:
Srilanka Visit in Sept 2017
Japan Visit- Follow this below:
A tea learning trip to Japan in October 2017
This was organized by Miki Okuda, Hiromi Wilk who translated throughout and Alison Johansen who is a tea grower in Devon, who kindly included us in this incredible experience.
We arrived at Shizuoka airport on mainland Japan and the tea adventure began. Within 15 minutes of leaving the airport our wonderful host Miki took us to a farm shop specializing in all things tea. Matcha ice-cream in strength graded flavours, green tea noodles, shampoo, cosmetics, beautiful bow pots and tea pots, iron pots and registered for duty free so a tourist honey pot! Dinner was tea pairing – tempura tea leaves, tea infused fish dishes – so different from a farm shop in Scotland.
The next day we were privilidged to meet Mr Toshifumi Shibamoto, whose tea farm is located in the foothills of the Makinohara mountains and make tea with him using the Kamairicha method of roasting the tea in the pan on top of a heat source. This removes moisture, then there is the rolling on a wicker basket before transferring to a machine roller, then back to the heat pan to continue removing moisture before final drum drying. The day was a joy, plucking the Yabukita leaf for the green tea and being introduced to his Sakura leaf mainly for black tea. His teas that we tasted were exquisite and some are a combination of the two leaf types. For our Tea Gardens of Scotland project this was so comforting to participate in the manufacture of stunning teas made in tiny quantities with very simple equipment. Making tea in small batches allows for full attention to detail and much of what we saw struck a chord with our TGS ethos.
The following day we visited the Shizouka Prefectural Agricultural and Forestry research institute to learn more about the commercialization of tea growing, planting distances, plant pruning, when to skiff, what to feed. Because yield is the focus the nutrients applied are from cow manure, powdered fish and rape seed and worked out on the yield that is taken from the plant in plucking that then needs to be replaced. They applied huge amounts of nitrogen, but are getting 4 flushes a year. We are lucky to get two! We looked also at machinery in the field and some equipment is ideal for application here in Scotland.
From one extreme to the other, we left the commercial aspect of tea farming, to go to see Mr Masuien (Kawane Teaism). He farms completely organically and believes that if he picks 10Kg (dry weight) of tea he must get 10Kg of nitrogen back to the bush. When he skiffs his bushes he leaves everything as a mulch bedside them in the rows. We tasted his teas in his home and tried some of his experiments, while he talked us through them. Much as we are doing with TGS where people can try our experimental batches.
Then the next day some drama! Mr Moriuchi’s green tea rolling! This was sensational and we had no idea so much work and technique went into making this stunning sencha tea. We gathered around a mini billiard table styled rolling table, heated from underneath and rolled in so many different styles to get the stunning glossy green look to the leaf that left you craving for a cup of it! To drink it afterwards the water was heated to 60C and the lower temperature allows the amino acids to be tasted. The second cup can be a little hotter as you want to get the catechins and tannins. Brewing times are important too and with the second or third cup a sweet snack goes well because of the slight bitterness of the catachins.
The Japanese tea ceremony is a must. The sweet snack is served with the first cup of matcha that is so beautifully presented in a way that allows tranquility of the mind, that worries disperse and you focus on just simply the cup of tea.
Our trip also involved researching tea equipment and actually using some of the machinery which we did thanks to an unforgettable visit to the Kinezuka family who make beautiful organic green, black and bancha tea. Our visit co-incided with the Bancha season which is an autumn tea, (so you can boil the water to 90 or 100C and steep it for 2 minutes and it still will not be bitter). The family live far out in the countryside where they are completely self sufficient in solar power, and make their own compost and food with no need to visit the shops at all. We were allowed to be let loose with the two man strimmer and huge air bags to hold the tea. It is utterly exhausting work where the bags need to be kept supported as the air that blows through. That afternoon we drove up to a view point over tea gardens that were both organic and non-organic. Non-organic have moss on the ground around them and a powdery lichen on the stems where as organic have the mulch around them and clean stems.
We saw their year old and 2 year old tea bushes and like some of us here in Scotland they have planted with plastic between the rows. Luckily for them they can prune over the winter as their frost doesn’t harm them because their winters are so dry. Wish it were so in Scotland! It is after a trip like this that you really appreciate the enormity of what we are doing in Scotland trying to grow tea at a latitude of 57N!