February 2024 Newsletter

Changes in the Tea Fields During Winter (by Aka)

The management of the tea fields throughout the year follows a sequence: first tea harvest, bancha cutting, second tea harvest, autumn bancha cutting, and then preparing for the first tea of the next year. Bancha cutting is a preparation to neatly trim the first and second tea. By cutting the surface layer of leaves and stems during bancha cutting, only the new shoots are harvested for the first and second tea, maintaining their quality. The autumn bancha cutting, performed after the second tea harvest, is essentially the same as bancha cutting. However, when it is done in the fall, it is called autumn bancha cutting, and if performed after the New Year into early spring, it is called spring bancha cutting.

After the autumn bancha cutting, the tea fields essentially stop growing until the first tea of the following year. The autumn bancha cutting takes place around late September, a period when the weather is cooler, limiting the growth of shoots. At this time, it may seem as if the surface activity of the tea plants has come to a halt. Although the basic metabolic processes continue at a slow pace, the tea fields utilise this period to accumulate organic substances, such as amino acids, for the first tea.

The changes in the tea fields after the autumn bancha cutting might be challenging to notice, but the alteration in the color of the leaves is intriguing. The tea fields appear deep green immediately after the autumn bancha cutting, but as they experience the cold of winter, the colour transforms into a slightly yellowish and subdued shade. With the arrival of warmer spring weather, albeit gradually, the tea fields return to a vibrant green.

While the exact biochemical processes behind this colour change are not fully understood, it is believed to significantly influence the quality and character of the tea. Local tea farmers in Wazuka often say that after a severe winter, they can harvest delicious tea with a robust aroma. Although the Wazuka tea fields may not exhibit the vivid greenery seen in summer, they offer a glimpse of the landscape that foretells the first tea of the upcoming year.

Pop-up store with Self-made Chocolate (by Seiya, H.)

From mid-January, a Valentine's event has been taking place at Kintetsu Abeno Harukas, and this year was my first time participating in a d:matcha event.

My role was to distribute matcha chocolates that I had made to customers. Although I had some experience with tasting sales from a part-time job during my student days, it was my first time in over ten years, and I felt quite nervous.

Handing out chocolates and hearing customers say, 'It's delicious!' was incredibly gratifying. I also felt grateful to be able to introduce d:matcha to people on the spot.

While I'm usually quietly making chocolates in the confectionery room, always hoping that everyone enjoys them, I realised the different challenges of on-site tasting sales.

Explaining the goodness and characteristics of chocolate, distributing to passersby, and managing the overall situation made the task challenging, but it was very fulfilling. One memorable moment was when an elementary school boy said, 'I didn't like matcha, but I ate this and now I like it.'

Matcha still has the image of being bitter, but I'm happy that everyone who tasted our chocolate got the message that matcha is naturally slightly sweet. In the future, I'd like to continue offering tastings at events, so please stop by if you have the chance.

d:matcha Founding Story 30 - Decision to Move d:matcha Main Store Amidst the Pandemic (by Misato.T)

As the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, the efforts invested in our online shop paid off, and sales were steadily increasing. Consequently, we weren't fixated on sales at the existing store as much.

During this period, it became crucial to recognize the shortcomings of the current store. The existing store's advantage was its location in the centre of Wazuka Town. Although Wazuka is a rural area, being right next to the town hall and the tourist information office made the location very appealing for someone engaged in the tourism industry in Wazuka.

On the flip side, we had already utilised almost all the space and facilities for our business at the current store. As the business grew, the space started feeling cramped. When considering future plans, the lack of scalability in the current store became a significant issue.

The layout, inherited from the time when the place used to be a supermarket, was spacious and included a cooking facility, making it convenient when we started. However, as the business diversified, it started feeling too small. Like any business, the nature of d:matcha's operations evolved over time. Initially, the main focus was on providing lunch and café menus using tea in the store. As the confectionery division grew, and with the expansion of the online shop, we needed space for shipping and packaging operations. Also, there was a need for a workspace for staff doing computer-related tasks.

Another significant issue with the existing store was the relationship with the owner. The owner showed no interest in maintaining the facilities, and they were deteriorating. Rainfall always resulted in leaks. With holes everywhere, it was not hygienic or safe. Despite repeated requests, the owner did not respond to the need for improvements. It was clear that significant repairs would be needed for the store in the long run, but there was little hope that the owner would undertake such repairs. Moreover, negotiating with the owner to purchase the store and getting them to agree to the necessary changes seemed unlikely.

For these reasons, we had been contemplating moving to a new store for a long time. We searched nearby for good land, but finding a suitable location proved challenging. The envisioned location needed to be spacious and have a good view.

Discovering a location that seemed promising sometimes led to expensive price negotiations, and we, as potential buyers, struggled to find a good place. Negotiating land prices in the countryside is challenging. There are no real estate agencies. There is no one to provide specialised advice on what a fair price for the land would be. Buyers have to negotiate directly with sellers. Even with low liquidity properties, buyers, especially for d:matcha, were scarce. This made the seller's intentions more dominant. Many local landowners lack general knowledge about real estate prices. They often assert the price based on their memories and experiences at the time of acquisition, saying they acquired the property at a high price during the bubble era.

The difficulty of acquiring land in rural areas and the scarcity of good locations made finding an ideal place quite challenging. 

However, the conditions for d:matcha's business changed after the pandemic, and during such a time, the idea came up to consider the Yubune area, where most of our fields are located. Having had time to slowly consider relocation during the pandemic was also beneficial. Moving the store requires a significant investment of time and effort.

In the next segment, I will elaborate further on the journey to the new store in the Yubune area.

Interior of the Old Store:

To conceal the interior of the former supermarket, we created walls using white cardboard. Initially, this added a novel and stylish touch, but over time, due to wear and tear, it started giving off a somewhat unkempt impression toward the end.

View from the Old Store:

The tea fields of Mt. Kamatsuka were beautiful, and initially, the nearby rice fields added a charming touch. However, with the aging population, the fields in front gradually ceased cultivation, and the vacant houses in the vicinity became more prominent.

八坂の大杉さん (The Giant Cedar of Yasaka Shrine) - by Hiromi

In the elevated area of Nakaku in Wazuka, there's a small shrine called Yasaka Shrine. Nestled within its grounds stands a massive cedar tree affectionately known as "Ohsugi-san" among the locals. Sometimes, an urge to visit Ohsugi-san arises, and, as a form of greeting, I went there at the beginning of the year.

Ohsugi-san commands about half of the shrine's grounds, looming with roots spread out near its base and awe-inspiring branches. The tree exhibits signs of having been struck by lightning, adding to its formidable presence. Regardless of how many times you visit, the tree never fails to overwhelm you. Gazing at Ohsugi-san, you might gradually feel a soothing sensation, as if transported to another world.

This giant cedar is said to be approximately 1300 years old. It collapsed in ancient times, but eight surrounding branches joined together, giving rise to the colossal tree we see today. The species is identified as "Kitayama cedar," which predominantly grows in northern parts of Kyoto city. However, it's challenging for these cedars to thrive in the relatively warm climate of Wazuka. The reason why this particular cedar was planted here remains unknown, adding another layer of mystery to the enchanting space.

To protect the tree, visitors need to walk on the stones within the shrine's grounds. The path to Yasaka Shrine is narrow and steep, so if arriving by car, it's recommended to park at the B&G Marine Center and walk from there. The surrounding area features old houses, creating a picturesque atmosphere ideal for leisurely strolls. As not many people visit, it's a tranquil space where you can truly immerse yourself.

Additionally, every year on July 7th, a festival known as "Gion-san" takes place, involving a custom of eating "Hanamochi," a wagashi with sweet bean paste filling. While I haven't experienced the festival yet, you can find Hanamochi around early July at wagashi shops and supermarkets in Wazuka, making it something I look forward to annually.

Looking back on 2023 and Looking Ahead to 2024 (by Daiki, T.)

In 2023, there was a major event of relocating our base to the Yubatake district. This relocation significantly increased efficiency as the fields were now within walking distance, allowing us to focus more on tea and rice production. The improved building atmosphere and the enhanced experiential value for customers were also notable benefits. We also launched the Tea Moon-centered accommodation business, offering customers a comfortable experience of tea and rural Japanese life. Through tea tours, we conveyed the beauty of Yubatake's nature and culture, resulting in a significant increase in customer satisfaction.

In June 2023, we opened our fourth d:matcha store in Sapporo, offering authentic Japanese tea in Japanese, English, and Chinese. It was delightful to expand our business with Kanei-san, my former classmate from graduate school.

The discontinuation of the bus service connecting the Yubatake district to JR Kamo Station in March 2023 made us realise the close relationship between our livelihood and business and the local development. In September of the same year, I obtained a hunting licence to deal with the increasing number of deer.

In 2024, prompted by the birth of co-founder Aka's child, we plan to relocate to the Yubatake district and renovate an abandoned house within a three-minute walk. We will focus on operating Tea Moon more extensively and opening a new building. Additionally, we will experiment with growing "soba" and "hato mugi" in the neglected fields and explore the values ​​of traditional Japanese rural life such as poultry farming and goat cheese production.

While gradually revitalising the neglected fields and homes, we aim to contribute to the development of the local community.

Tea Tree Growth

Tea trees are replanted approximately every 40 years as a general guideline. At d:matcha, we have been conducting replanting every year, utilising support received from initiatives like the "Adopt a Tea Tree" project.

In March 2022, d:matcha undertook its first replanting with the "houshun" and "komakage" varieties, and we are eagerly anticipating their remarkable growth. As it was the first attempt, we did not use mulch for weed prevention, resulting in a considerable amount of weeding work, occurring approximately every two weeks during the summer. As the tea trees have grown significantly, we plan to prune the tops and encourage lateral growth by branching in the coming spring. Although it will take 2-3 years until harvest, we hope for their continued healthy growth.

In March 2023, we planted "Ujihikari" and "Yumewakaba." This time, we utilized mulch, but due to a complaint from a local resident stating that the white side of the mulch, which is normally placed facing up, was too bright, we intentionally used the black side facing up. It's worth noting that white mulch is gentler for tea trees as it doesn't absorb as much heat. Unfortunately, during the intense heat of this summer, some young trees died due to the high temperatures. While most people in the rural areas are kind, newcomers like us occasionally face such unpleasant situations. The land here, along the river, has sandy soil with excellent root development and drainage, making us confident that we can produce excellent matcha.

In 2024, we plan to plant "Tenmyo."


d:matcha's winter work focuses on utilizing tea in confectionery making and selling those sweets at events in urban areas. Unlike the traditional winter tasks of tea farmers, such as making persimmon tannin by boiling persimmons or crafting straw ropes from rice straw, we engage in activities related to tea-based sweets. In November 2023, we held events at Daimaru Umeda Store, and in December, at Hakata Station and Hankyu Department Store Umeda Main Store. These events provide an opportunity to introduce high-quality matcha-infused sweets to a wider audience, contributing to expanding the fan base for tea. It's an essential activity for promoting the appreciation of tea.

New Year's Day (January 1st) is an important occasion for the Japanese. It's a day to express gratitude for the past year and make prayers for the upcoming year.

In Japan, to welcome the gods, people decorate the entrance of their homes with a sacred Shimenawa (sacred rope). In Washiki Town, there is a tradition where tea farmers, during the quiet winter season for tea, make Shimenawa. d:matcha has been annually purchasing Shimenawa from local young farmers.

Moreover, leveraging the "Adopt a Tea Tree Project," this year we donated a "Suzu-o" to the Hakusan Shrine. With the number of shrine supporters decreasing each year, we aim to involve our customers in preserving and nurturing this historical and cultural asset.

February 2024 Newsletter