July 5 2015
This spring we were lucky enough to be invited to a special tea day in Wazuka, Japan. Wazuka is a beautiful mountain valley between Kyoto and Nara, and is home to hundreds of tea fields. Taking the bus through the valley, as you look up at the mountains and down beside the streams, you see tea fields dotted all over the place – hugging the sides of mountains, and sitting in back gardens.
Wazuka is home to a cooperative of tea growers working together to harvest and process their tea. Rather than send their tea away to be processed, or each family having to buy expensive processing equipment, they put together to make their own tea factory where all their teas are steamed, rolled, and dried.
The process of making tea hasn’t changed all that much over the centuries. The only difference today is that the work once done by many hands has been passed to incredibly specialised machines.
The cooperative had a big community day, where locals can come and pick tea by hand in the fields in the morning, then process them in the afternoons using traditional hand methods, helping to keep the old crafts and skills alive. No tea-steaming machines here – just dry heat (Kamairi-cha), bamboo baskets, a giant wok, and lots of elbow grease!
April 9 2015
The Spring tea harvest season is upon us – one of my favorite times of year in the tea calendar. After laying dormant for the winter (rather like you and I) the tea bushes in Japan are waking up with the change in the seasons, producing their fresh spring growth.
On the 20th of April we’ll be boarding a plane and heading back to Japan once again ready to sample this year’s harvest from Wazuka, one of the original tea growing areas just outside of Kyoto. We’ll also have the opportunity to hand pick and process the tea using centuries-old traditional methods, explore the different varietals grown in the area, and catch up with old friends.
But we’ll be putting together a little extra something for you too. I say little… it is a story that we have been researching for the past few months, and decided that, rather write it as a series of blogs, it would be much, much better as a video. So, as well as fresh tea, we’ll be bringing back with us the story of Sen no Rikyu – arguably the most famous Japanese tea master who ever lived. Some of you may be familiar with his work and the tales that surround his life, or you may never have heard of him! Either way, we’ll be delving underneath the traditional telling of his story to explore the upheaval, paranoia, and charged political landscape of 16th Century Japan, where Rikyu’s Chanoyu (way of tea) was formed and developed.
Our trip will begin with a chance to shake our jet lag in Tokyo before heading to Osaka and Rikyu’s birthplace, Sakai. From there we’ll be heading to Kyoto for two tea ceremonies and a rather special temple visit, before visiting Wazuka. Then we will wave goodbye to Kyoto and spend a night in Kanazawa – a town that played a role in a quite spectacular tea room that we’ll look at in our video – and explore their old streets lined with chayas and samurai residences. Owing to its heritage, Kanazawa has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so I am very much looking forward to visiting this beautiful town. After boarding the new Shinkansen line that opened last month, we’ll head back to Tokyo for a few days, before retuning on May 6th. And somewhere in all of this is my 30th birthday…
We’ll be sharing what we find (and eat) on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages, such is the wonder of technology. If you have any recommendations for things to see, eat and explore while we’re there then do let us know! I’m particularly fond of wagashi… (hint hint)