In February 2020, we were very fortunate to be invited and selected to participate in Shizuoka’s 1st Tea Study Tour by the World Green Tea Association established by the Shizuoka Prefectural Government, as the center of operations and learning. This unique program provided an in-depth knowledge of the tea making process to deepen our understanding of Japanese Green Tea from production, brewing, blending, evaluation and tasting; while working side by side with tea growers and Japanese Tea Experts.
Why go there: Shizuoka is the no.1 producer & distributor of tea in Japan. It has 8 major tea-producing regions, so there are many tea farms and tea tours available. Generally, the teas can be categorized in 2 areas: the mountainous areas (the north & western areas), providing shorter sun exposure and morning mist fog, which yields to thinner & softer leaves, with shorter steaming time in the tea production; while the flat land areas at the southern part with lower altitudes have more sun exposure. The leaves in this area are generally thicker, with a bitter and astringent taste, so it requires longer steaming time. This area is known to produce fukamushicha. “Fuka” in Japanese means “deep” and “Mushi” means “Steaming.”
The experience: During our visit, we were provided a briefing of Japanese Teas, the local tea industry, followed by a tea brewing exercise by Asako-san at the World Green Tea Headquarters. This was then followed by an unforgettable, informative program with various Tea Host companies for the week.
There were many informative activities we did. One of them was the Tea Evaluation exercise. Similar to a professional tasting exercise, the teas were poured with boiling water to stress the teas and detect nuances of the tea profile. The differences a tea can make at the throat and after swallowing are quite important in judging a tea.
The Sencha Tea blending exercise was also fun, when trying to create a unique flavor, fill in gaps or intensify a taste. We used a variety of sencha based on their roast level – light (yowabi), medium(tsuyobi) or deep roasted (cho-tsuyobi). It’s more of an art than a science. Generally, the tea manufacturer must have specific knowledge of which finished teas & breeds can be blended. Some teas create excellent harmony when infused together. And we’ve managed to create a balanced blend we loved!
One of the interesting topics we still talk about is organic & conventional farming in Japan. We were fortunate to meet a few organic certified tea farms directly and bring some fresh stock back to Dubai. Generally, as the country’s farmers retire, few (of the next generation) are interested in tending the crops, preferring instead to head to cities for employment. However, it’s not all doom & gloom. We’re seeing budding interests from the younger generations and have met driven & motivated Tea growers (they started a few years ago in their 30’s) who cultivated farms that have fallen out of use and revitalized them, without fertilizers and pesticides and using solar panels. Matcha Organic Japan, for example, have implemented an innovative farming practice by running the solar-powered panels. The solar energy helps offset the power needs of the factory and cuts down the cost for farmers since the excess energy can be sold. They also use the framework of the panels to hang the shading cloth (underneath the panels). It’s innovative & promising! We love their story and will be keeping our eyes out for these guys with a promising future. We also can’t forget their immense hospitality, omonetashi おもてなし at best when they prepared an amazing home cooking at their abode, using herbs & roots from their garden
Another unforgettable and interactive activity, which we highly recommend was learning how to prepare Matcha & create 練り切り Nerikiri Japanese sweets, a class taught by Kaori Osada at their facility. This was a hands-on enjoyable experience, especially if you’re a matcha lover and happen to be in Japan!
Getting there: Shizuoka is about a 1-hour ride by Shinkansen from Tokyo Station. Both Tokyo and Shizuoka are connected by the JR Tokaido Shinkansen. The ride takes about 60 minutes by Hikari or 90 minutes by Kodama. Nozomi trains do not stop at Shizuoka Station.
Where to stay: Shizuoka City in Shizuoka Prefecture is one of the many cities in Japan that is often ignored or skipped by international travelers due to the lack of information about the city. To the locals, it is known for their Tea production. Shizuoka City has three major wards: Aoi-ku, Suruga-ku and Shimizu-ku. Each one of these wards has its personality. During our Tea Study Tour, we stayed near the World Green Tea Association’s Headquarters, which is very close to JR Shizuoka Station. We found this to be very convenient with nearby restaurants and local shops as well.
Tea Farm Tour: We can’t think of anyone more knowledgeable of the local Shizuoka Tea landscape than our dear friend Akito Ohashi, one of the Founders of The Tea Bridge, and a Shizuoka native. Akito-san was also one of the official English Translators during our Tea Study Program. If you’re interested in a unique tea farm experience and want to learn directly from a certified Japanese Tea Instructor, definitely reach out to them on Instagram or The Tea Bridge.
The Bottom line: Overall, the experience was truly meaningful and impactful. We are immensely grateful for this opportunity. The relationships, partnerships, and friendships created was probably the most important take away for us. We highly recommend tea lovers to visit Shizuoka and consider the Shizuoka Tea Study Program. Nothing is more valuable than learning directly from the local growers themselves.
Do visit our IGTV Channel to watch the Tea Study Tour videos!
Please feel free to contact us should you have specific questions or queries about the Program or Tea Farm Tours. We’d be happy to assist in any way.
Written by Yvette A.
Posted on April 2020
Cover Photo by Osada Seicha