When in Japan, you eat lots of sushi, drink Japanese beloved cold coffee and most certainly sip on green tea. But you could also catch a train to Kyoto suburbs to admire tea fields and learn about tea harvesting. That’s exactly the adventure I embarked on last spring when visiting Japan.
Wazuka – a famous tea producing region
Kyoto is one of the biggest and oldest green tea producers of the country with tea farms and plantations sprouting all across the region. The Wazuka tea plantation, located in a small town about 40 km South of Kyoto, is famous for its historic Harayama tea fields and is home to some 300 passionate tea farmers.
Daiki, who was our guide for that day, had quit his corporate career a few years ago to study tea industry and dedicate himself to tea farming. His tea business is based on a farm-to-table concept shipping directly to consumers in 18 countries.
I learned from Daiki that 99% of tea produced in this region is green tea. It is harvested three times a year – in April-May (so called first flush), July (second flush) and October (third flush) – picking leaves in the morning and then processing them in the evening. Steaming is the foundational step in tea making here and it’s done to maintain tea freshness.
When it comes to land, it’s scarce and is inherited from generation to generation. So it’s common to lease tea land to those willing to do tea farming.
Fancy some tea picking?
We met up with Daiki at his tea shop d:matcha and were welcomed with a cup of houji-cha with ginger. For those who are less familiar with Japanese tea (I was one of them before my trip!), houji-cha is a roasted sencha green tea that has a strong wooden aroma.
Daiki started the guided tour with an intro about tea types and tea harvesting in Japan. Then we were headed to mount Jubu to begin our hike up to Daiki’s tea fields. The hike first took us through the town’s little winding streets up to the cedar forest, finally reaching the top of mount Jubu. Hilly landscapes are common here and the higher the tea plantation is, the less bugs munching these beautiful tea leaves! Standing on Jubu, we found ourselves surrounded by mesmerizing panoramic views of local tea plantations.
To quench our thirst over conversations with Daiki, we were served cold-brew sencha he had prepared for us a couple of hours before the tour. Scenic landscapes complemented a well deserved break – have a look at them yourself!
Then came time for the next exciting part of Daiki’s tour – picking tea leaves! We were carefully searching and picking the most beautiful leaves off camellia sinensis bushes harvested by Daiki’s family and colleagues. The purpose was to carry these tea leaves back to Daiki’s cafe-shop and try them as green tea tempura. Whaaaaaaat? Yes, here is some crispy green tea leaves on your plate, bon appetit!
The taste of matcha
Back at d:matcha Daiki’s colleague was waiting for us with a tea tasting session and some tips on how to whisk our own matcha. As we were watching and learning a few things from the best, we could enjoy our conversations over one last cup of matcha tea we just whisked ourselves. Pictures tell it all!
Video of one day trip to Wazuka
For those who love video, here is a short summary of my day in Wazuka tea picking, tasting and simply taking in Japanese countryside nature.