April 2020 Newsletter
- d:matcha's tea fields（by Hiroki A )
To create the numerous varieties of tea found in Japan, one of the most frequently used cultivation methods is the shading of the tea trees with a black gauze sheet. Gyokuro, Kabuse-cha, and Tencha (the key ingredient for matcha) are typical examples of tea produced through this method. Covering the tea fields with the sheets blocks out the sun’s rays, altering the metabolism rate of the young shoots in the process. This results in tea trees with a higher content of theanine, as well as less catechins and fiber.
There are two main approaches to the shading: either by draping the sheets directly on the tea trees or by suspending the sheets on a rack built over the tea trees. Generally, the suspension method is preferred as the growth of young sprouts are not physically interfered with. Furthermore, when the black sheets are suspended from a certain height, the trees can be shaded for a longer period of time, resulting in sprouts of a much higher quality. When the black sheets are directly placed on the tea trees, the weight of the fabric, abrasions, or even sunburn due to heat absorption from sunlight may cause unnecessary stress to the young sprouts, stunting their growth.
Last month, the team at d:matcha constructed a new rack for our tea field in Yubune. While the process may have brought upon many new unexpected challenges, this will also provide us with the opportunity to improve our tea. The variety that will be shaded this year is gokou and we also plan to manufacture gyokuro later in the year. Please stay tuned!
- d:matcha has a new dessert （by Natsuki S）
As an experiment for a new dessert plate, I decided to try roasting my own green tea leaves for the first time! (Roasting is a common tea processing method.) This was also a good learning opportunity for me as I have always been curious as to whether roasting tea could be easily done on your own. Imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when a refreshing aroma started emerging from the pan just five minutes into roasting! Amazing! Furthermore, I was excited to watch the green tea leaves slowly turn into the signature earthy brown Houjicha is known for! Needless to say, I was impressed with the taste of my very own roasted tea.: * +. \ ((° ω °)) /.:+
Given the success of the experiment, a new April special dessert plate is now available at d:matcha! Called the “Houjicha Dessert Set”, both children and adults will be able to roast and prepare their own Houjicha leaves in our cafe. Wazuka has also recently become warmer, so if you visit us you will enjoy the beautiful scenery of cherry blossoms ^-^ We look forward to seeing you here soon!
- d:matcha's "Demachiyanagi branch"（by Chisei T）
The last day of operations at our second d:matcha branch in Demachiyanagi, Kyoto City, was on the 22nd March, which coincidentally also happened to be my birthday! Although the store was open for only eight months, the team and myself would like to express our deepest appreciation to our customers who went out of their way to make time for us. I was especially happy to see so many familiar faces. Thank you very much for coming!
The next phase of d:matcha in Kyoto City will be at Hotel Nazuna in Shijo Omiya starting from May. Not only will we be providing our products to occupants of the hotel, but also to visitors who have dropped by the area. Please do visit us at our new store! I’m sure you will also have a wonderful time there.
- d:matcha's pop-up-store（by Saki N）
We travelled out of Wazuka for the Valentine's White Day season and held pop-up stores at both Kintetsu-Nara and Kyoto City’s Isetan! Both department stores had their peak periods, with many customers rushing to buy gifts for their loved ones. Despite being busy, the team was especially happy as we had the opportunity to meet many new faces. By conversing with them not only were we able to share our knowledge of tea, but we also developed a deeper understanding of the needs of our customers.
On a personal note, I felt that the pop-up event was an important way of trying to help customers discover their favorite tea and gifts. The way I approached this was by visualising myself as their shopping companion and listened intently to better assist them with finding the item they are looking for.
We will be organising more pop-up events in Kintetsu-Nara, Kyoto City, and Osaka City from the middle of May onwards. The first harvest season of the year will also be starting in April and we hope to be able to sell our fresh tea to our customers. Please do visit us if you are in the area! â︎
- what's umamiï¼Ÿ （by Ryhan）
When my family and friends found out that I would be moving to Japan, they all had the same pressing question: “Could you go and find out what exactly is umami?”. Used in culinary terms to describe a ‘fifth flavour’, the Japanese are extremely fond of this taste and it is often used to describe a plethora of dishes. Umami, however, is not solely restricted to cooked dishes but is also present and used to describe the difference in the taste complexities between sencha and matcha varieties. That being said, the intensity of umami present correlates to the respective variety and is often categorised as being either light, moderate, or strong.
Being able to evaluate the level of umami found in different varieties, is without a doubt, far easier than providing an discernable description for the taste. A small survey among my peers and these phrases were the ones that popped up the most: “salty”, “savoury”, and my personal favourite, “umami...is umami”.
While I would like to think that I’ve gotten a better grasp at understanding umami, I admit that my foreign tongue still has ways to go before I can fully appreciate it on the level that my newly adopted home does. Till then, I’ll keep consuming a considerable amount of sencha and matcha daily. Ask me in a year or two and maybe I’ll be able to adequately describe it for you!
- a unique tea story（by Misato.T）
“How many times do you harvest in a year?”, a question we frequently receive from both our local and overseas customers. The answer, however, changes depending on the location of the tea fields. For example, in Wazuka, we harvest up to three times a year! While in warmer locations, such as Shizuoka or Kagoshima, farmers can harvest up to four times a year. On the other hand, in Southeast Asia, where countries experiennce a tropical climate, the farmers are able to harvest tea all year round.
Known as “the first flush”, spring is when the first harvest of the year takes place. The taste of umami is also the strongest during this harvest as the tea trees have been storing nutrition over the winter. In comparison, the tea leaves harvested from the second and third flush contain more catechin, an antioxidant, which is responsible for the astringency and bitterness present in green tea. At d:matcha, however, we pay extra attention to the quality of our tea leaves during the first flush (from the end of April to May) and the second flush in June. The two photos below highlight the difference between the first and second flush.
- about d:matcha（by Daiki.T）
This month d:matcha spent our time installing tea racks to further improve the quality of our tea. Black gauze cloth will be draped over the racks to shade our tea trees so they experience less stress as compared to when the cloth is placed directly on them. Furthermore, this method will allow us to shade the tea trees for a longer period of time. With this added feature, we hope to produce matcha and gyokuro with a stronger umami taste.
I also decided to make a trip to Yame in Fukuoka Prefecture, one of the production sites of gyokuro in Japan, to learn more the production process of high quality gyokuro. I chose Yame because I felt that the location and terrain is similar to Wazuka’s - mountainous and valley-like - making it the perfect case study. Within Yame itself, Hoshino Village is well known to grow extremely delicious Yame Hontama.
We also visited Yamaguchi, the best known gyokuro producer in Japan to try their tea. One interesting and impressive point was that their gyokuro was served with a sushi set and you are strongly encouraged to slurp the tea slowly, rather than drinking it all at once. The tea was extremely delicious and had an extremely rich umami taste. The aroma was also much stronger than gyokuro from Kyoto, which I believe is be due to the difference in intensity of the strength of the fire during the treatment process.
We were also impressed by Yamaguchi’s extensive knowledge on the effects of temperatures on the tea fields. For example, a higher rate of photosynthesis occurs during the day, when the weather is warmer. The nutrients produced by these leaves during this process, however, are not completely exhausted and are thus retained in the leaves at night. This build up of ‘leftover’ nutrients is what results in sencha’s delicious flavour. Yamaguchi also shared with us that straw is a better alternative than gauze for shading as the temperature under the covers do not rise over time, and neither is heat trapped. The temperature of the shaded trees follows the time of the day, which is necessary for producing good quality sencha. Lastly, they also shared that hand-picking is the preferred method for harvesting as the tea leaves are allowed to become thicker and many of the old leaves are still able photosynthesise.
D:matcha’s products and services face new challenges each year and we have been turning to PDCA to gather data, as well as organising meetings with fellow farmers and craftsmen in Japan and around the world to learn more. I am excited as through this shared learning I hope we will be able to grow even bigger.