Hello, thank you for supporting d:matcha Kyoto. This newsletter is filled with monthly updates from our team in Wazuka, Kyoto. We hope that you enjoy reading!
Update from d:matcha’s tea fields: Soil Nutrient Levels and The Role of Fertilisers (by Aka.H)
The healthy growth of plants requires a range of nutrients that all contribute to an ideal growth environment. Liebig’s Law of the minimum explains that the yield of a plant acts in direct correlation with the availability and quantity of nutrients available during its growth. A deficiency in any of these nutrients would hinder the plant from reaching its full potential.
There are three nutrients in particular that play a significant role: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium or “NPK” as they are commonly referred to. As these three nutrients are absorbed in large quantities, they need to be replenished frequently through the application of fertilisers; especially for harvestable crops. Each different type of plant however, consumes a different ratio of NPK and farmers often look at the condition of the leaves to navigate accurately. Aside from the nutrient consumption rate, the depletion of certain nutrients can be caused due to a variety of factors such as naturally low soil pH levels or natural events such as heavy rainfall.
In the cultivation of tea, one of the most common nutrient deficiencies spotted is that of zinc. Depending on the circumstance, phosphorus and zinc are mutually antagonistic. Higher levels of phosphorus in the soil often hinders the roots of the tea trees from the proper absorption of zinc. When there is a zinc deficiency in the soil, the young shoots of the tea trees tend to become spotted, or grow in a small and twisted fashion. This results in a decrease in harvestable young shoots, thus also decreasing the quality of the end-product.
To combat this, we used a fertiliser that was made with oyster shells, which are rich in macrominerals such as zinc. Since we started using this, the condition of the young tea shoots drastically improved and the initial concerns disappeared!
The Beauty of Raku Wear (by Ryhan)
There are many facets to the world of tea and one other area that I am particularly interested in, aside from farming, is tea ware. Potters, like farmers, are craftsmen who devote their time and energy into creating items that are one-of-a-kind.
Raku-yaki is special because each piece is kneaded and pinched by hand with a technique known as tezukube. A potter’s wheel is not used to shape the bowl, with the final product being solely reliant on the craftsman’s skill and technique. In addition to that, during the firing process a muffle kiln with binchotan is used. This plays a crucial role in creating the perfect conditions for both the baking and glazing process.
The Raku Family has a deep and intricate history with Japanese tea ware. Tanaka Chojiro, the forebearer to the Raku family was said to have been commissioned to produce tea ware for Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s palace and Sen no Rikyu. The Raku seal was presented to Tanaka Chojiro by Hideyoshi and eventually adopted as part of the family name.
The next time you take a sip of tea from specialty tea ware, it may be worth inquiring about the history of the product!
Part two: Looking after your Tokoname ware (by Azusa.U)
In my previous newsletter I wrote about the qualities and benefits of using Tokoname tea ware. This time I would like to explain the proper way of storing and keeping your tea ware.
Since your Tokoname tea ware was made to withstand high temperatures, you can soak your tea ware in boiling water for 15 minutes. After the tea pot has been boiled, remove it and air dry. This removes any dirt or dust that may have been trapped. Please also ensure to cool the tea ware after removing it. I would recommend doing this especially if you are using the tea ware for the first time.
Your Tokoname tea ware is extremely delicate and can absorb strong smells. This is why instead of using detergent, I often wash my tea ware simply with warm or hot water. Using water of a higher temperature also washes away any astringency left by the tea.
When cleaning the spout I would recommend using a fine brush or cotton swab. The spout is also the area where astringency may accumulate the most so it is advisable to wash this part thoroughly. If you do not have either of those items on hand, you may also use the pressure of the water from the tap.
For frequently used tea ware, we would recommend soaking the items in water for an hour or cleaning them gently with baking soda. For the latter, after pouring hot water into the tea ware, add approximately 1 to 2 teaspoons of baking soda and mix to dissolve. Allow the water to cool and then rub the tea ware gently with a toothbrush or cotton swab.
Drying your tea ware properly is the final and most important step of the cleaning process. As the surface of the tea ware is made of clay and is sometimes uneven, germs can easily germinate if water residue is left to accumulate. I would recommend drying it thoroughly with the spout overturned to allow the water to drip out.
Part four: Nodate - Having a picnic while drinking matcha (by Seiya.H)
(Pictured: The two images show the tools used and method of laying them out during a nodate ceremony.)
Have you ever seen the word 野点 or “nodate” at tea shops? This word translates to open-air tea ceremony. Nodate was also used in reference to the breaks aristocrats would take when they were travelling distances on a palanquin.
Similar to how there are a certain number of set procedures when a tea ceremony is held in a tea room, the number of procedures during a nodate are also specific. The urasenke style of nodate is also known as chabako or “tea box”, and is now commonly organised in tea ceremony rooms.
Most of the tools used during this ceremony are stored in a wooden box, which is hence why the name of the ceremony is “chabako”. Only the tools used to prepare the boiling water or to cool the hot water are prepared and packed separately.
As the ceremony progresses, tools such as tea bowls, natsume (tea caddy), chasen, and so on are removed from the tea box. The tools however, should not be placed directly on the tatami mat. For the nodate ceremony, the tools are usually placed on a board that can be found attached to the lid of the tea box. The layout of the box has been devised specifically with an outdoor ceremony in mind. In other words, nodate can easily be enjoyed anywhere!
The minimum tools required for a nodate are: hot water, chasen, a matcha bowl, and matcha. Whenever I organise a nodate, I place the tools needed in my chabako, hot water in a thermos, and then head out. When restrictions were in place for indoor events due to COVID-19, my friends and I would enjoy matcha outside through a nodate ceremony.
I find it extremely relaxing to take a sip of matcha while soaking in the beauty of the nature around me. During spring, the best place to take a sip of matcha is of course while watching the cherry blossoms.
Part seven: Establishing d:matcha - Finding a physical store in Arashiyama（by Misato.T)
(Pictured: A vacant property in Arashiyama. I cycled around to look for vacant properties near our apartment.)
Part of our initial plan was to open a physical store in Arashiyama. We chose this area because it was popular among tourists and was easily accessible. Arashiyama is located 15 minutes from Kyoto Station, and the location is popular for its matcha desserts and products.
Finding a store in Arashiyama however, was far more difficult than I had expected. Even if a property may be vacant, it might not be listed on the real estate market. The transactions that take place in Kyoto are often based on your connections, so if you do not have the right acquaintances it is almost impossible to negotiate properties. This is the reason why it is often difficult for newcomers (who are new to Kyoto) to start a company. Even if you can pay the rent, you need the right contacts!
Seeing the side of Kyoto I felt truly exposed to the city’s culture of “一見さんお断り” or a ‘customer’ who comes to a place for the first without any connections or recommendations from ‘frequent customers’. On the other hand, perhaps this strict ‘filtering’ is to ensure the traditions Kyoto is known for is upheld.
This was a bump in the road I wasn’t expecting so I decided to consider other options such as heading to Kyoto City. At this point I was also participating in a Venture Entrepreneurship Course sponsored by Kyoto City. This course provided me with business and economic aid for starting up the business and I was extremely grateful to have support from the prefecture.
The instructor of a Venture Entrepreneurship Course sponsored by Kyoto City then gave me this advice: “Why don’t you open a store right in the heart of the production site? If you can tell your story from the production site, it might help customers understand the production site better too.”
Prior till then the thought of opening a store in Wazuka never crossed my mind because of how rural it is. I am grateful for that instructor’s invaluable advice.
(Pictured: There was discussion on whether we should enter the market as a cafe affiliated to a hotel near Togetsukyo bridge. The hotel however, did not open.)
(Pictured: We also considered opening a store on the same street at the souvenir shops near Kano Nenbutsuji Temple, the northernmost part of the Saga area. Looking back, I think if we opened a cafe here, our business would have fallen victim to COVID-19.)
d:matcha Special Pop-up Event (by Natsuki.I)
When the tea trees lay dormant in winter, the d:matcha team heads out to different parts of Japan to sell our products!
This February and March we held a pop-up event in Nara. From the end of March till April, we will be holding a pop-up event in Tokyo. Our loyal customers who follow us through SNS have expressed their excitement and we received comments such as “I’m glad that you are coming to Tokyo!”. Reading these comments makes me very happy and proud to think that our matcha sweets have touched the hearts of people around the country.
While the range of the products being sold at the event venue is limited, we have carefully selected and chosen the best line-up to compliment the season. For our spring product range, we specifically chose our strawberry matcha mousse cake. This is a staff favourite that has an elegant refreshing sweetness. Once you have had a bite I’m sure you would not want to share it with anyone else!
Location: ECute, Ueno at JR Ueno Station (within the station gates)
Duration: 3月/28日 - 4月/10日
My second time interning at d:matcha Kyoto (by Michael.M)
Hi I am Michael, and I have been working at d:matcha as an intern for the last three weeks. This is my second time interning in Wazuka, Kyoto, and I really enjoy it. There are a lot of programmes going on at d:matcha and as an intern I have been lucky enough to experience so many different tea related activities.
Here are some things that I have learned:
1) Be flexible and prepared to get out of your comfort zone. I have been out on the tea fields applying fertiliser, cutting tea leaves, and was even able to plant new baby tea sprouts. I felt grateful for the d:matcha team members for their patience in teaching me. As someone who has grown up in the city, all these farming activities were very unique for me.
2) There is so much more to tea than it seems. From the different cultivated varieties (cultivars) of tea, to learning about the different characteristics of each cultivar, to the different tastes and processing methods; being here on the farm at d:matcha has given me first-hand experience that I am grateful for.
3) My creativity and inspiration levels have spiked! Experiencing first hand d:matcha’s mission of rejuvenating the tea industry has illustrated to me all the different ways in which one can go about tackling complex social problems. The way the d:matcha team has come to a rural town and brought about new approaches to a traditional industry is extremely fascinating. This made me think of all the possibilities out there for my own future. Japanese creativity never ceases to amaze me.
Replanting new Kyoto cultivated varieties in Yubune (by Daiki.T)
This March the team and I finally replanted two Kyoto tea cultivars in our tea field in Yubune, Wazuka: 鳳春 (“Houshun” or Spring Phoenix ) and 駒影 (“Komakage” or Shadow of a Horse’s Hoof). Japanese tea farmers often replant new tea trees once every 40 years to cultivate tea with the maximum taste and optimal yield. The replanting process is however, quite tedious.
First the old tea trees are cut down to their roots. The huge branches and twigs are then burned to ashes. The remaining roots, which sometimes run almost one metre deep into the ground, are pulled out with an excavator. As the tea tree is a regenerative plant, if the old roots are left in the ground, they could potentially hinder the growth of young seedlings.
This part of the replanting process is done in winter while the trees are dormant due to the cold. After the field has been cleared and flattened, the actual planting of the young tea trees is completed in March. Lastly, to prevent the growth of weeds, as well as to retain heat and moisture, the topsoil is covered with rice straw. This rice straw is actually a by-product from the rice we harvested last year! We planted a total of 3000 seedlings.
These young seedlings will take approximately five years to mature, and can only be harvested then. While this is a long wait, I am patiently looking forward to it. Both hoshun and komakage are highly recommended varieties in Kyoto Prefecture. They are also suitable for the production of gyokuro or any type of Japanese tea that needs to be shaded. Even after being placed into a comparison set with 12 other varieties, our customers selected these two varieties as their top choice!
I often visit the tea field because I am worried about the young seedlings. I hope they grow well and are not trampled on by the deers.