January 2024 Newsletter

Winter Frost (by Aka)

In winter, it's common to see tea fields covered in frost. This sight appears almost magical and beautiful as if the fields are clad in garments of ice. During the cold early mornings, the entire tea fields in Wazuka Town are often covered in frost, creating a beautiful winter landscape.

However, such frost can sometimes adversely affect the tea. If frost occurs during spring, the young, tender buds in the initial growth stages of the first harvest may struggle to withstand this cold, reducing the quality and yield of the tea. In severe cases, harvesting becomes difficult. While well-developed mature leaves are less affected, even these can struggle in the face of particularly harsh frost. In such cases, parts of the leaves might experience partial withering, resulting in a condition called 'red sunburn,' which can also impact the quality of the first harvest.

The winter season is crucial for the tea bushes to rest and prepare for the first harvest. Some cold weather is necessary as it is believed to enhance the taste and aroma of the 

first harvest. However, excessively cold weather can lead to conditions like red sunburn. Hence, a moderate cold is desirable. The seemingly passing climate of the winter season holds significance as an indicator for the quality of the first harvest.

Picture: Appearance of frost during winter (left), and Appearance of symptoms of 'Aka-yake', reddening of leaves (right)

New Accomodation(by Seiya.H)

I decided to live in the employee dormitory space located above the d:matcha store from January 2023. Initially, being fond of urban life, I had no intention of living in the countryside. However, due to d:matcha relocating to the Yubune area and the increased commuting distance from Kizugawa City, the neighbouring town where I used to live, I resolved to move.

While searching for a house to live in Yubune, a local resident kindly offered an empty house for rent. I had the chance to see the house, which was originally built for multi-generational living. Despite being a splendid house, it posed difficulties in management for someone like me living alone, and the rent suggested by the owner was high, so I had to give up on renting it. Finding a single-person dwelling in the countryside is challenging. (Even in Kizugawa City, located near the previous residence in Wazuka Town, most rooms were designed for families, making it time-consuming to find accommodation suitable for a single person.)

Eventually, I ended up residing in a room on the second floor of the store. A year has passed by in the blink of an eye. Although it has become more difficult to go to the city, I find solace in the view of the tea fields from my room after work or on weekends. The scenery reminds me of the tea fields I saw while visiting my mother's family estate (located in Shizuoka Prefecture), which is also surrounded by tea plantations. The water in Yubune is remarkably delicious, making it a perfect match for the tea I drink daily.

Living here has allowed me to experience things that were not possible when I lived in the city. Personally, I feel like I'm gradually getting used to it. I'm looking forward to my second year of rural living.

Picture: The view from my window

 d:matcha Founding Story Part 29 - Surviving the Pandemic: Running an Online Shop (by Misato.T)

One of the biggest changes when the pandemic hit was the decline in foreign tourists. We had been focusing on tea field experience tours for international customers, accumulating reviews diligently, and had just started to accept group tours, not just individual clients. So, it was a real shock.

However, we had previously planned to strengthen our online shop, so we took this as a great opportunity and dedicated our efforts to expanding it.

Developing an online shop required several skills: 1) photography, 2) photo editing, 3) banner design, and 4) crafting persuasive product descriptions. These were not my expertise as I had been primarily involved in café operations. Luckily, I found these skills not only necessary but also enjoyable.

I had minimal experience using a DSLR camera before. I experimented to learn how to capture appealing product images: composition of tea and sweets, adjusting camera focus and brightness, manipulating light for different effects—especially vital was 

understanding backlighting or front lighting. (Choosing the right dish and background colour also proved essential.)

I started experimenting with Photoshop for photo editing and banner design, learning necessary techniques through online searches and emulating existing works found on the internet. Initially, it took a lot of time, but gradually I became more adept at it.

When writing product descriptions, I consciously focus on listing the product's attractiveness and selecting wording that best expresses these features. I aim to create memorable text with catchy and impactful phrases to leave a lasting impression on the reader.

While hiring professional photographers or designers for product shoots is an option, in the retail business, profit margins are narrow. For small-scale companies like ours, the budget for such promotional expenses is limited. Moreover, d:matcha's style involves developing an immense number of new products rapidly, so internalising all these processes is crucial for timely and cost-effective launches.

We can release new products the day after their creation by swiftly moving from product photography to editing, creating product pages, and launching them, maintaining a dynamic pace.

In food photography, using backlight or side lighting often makes the dish look more appetising than front lighting. Since the subject usually involves green elements, employing a red background creates contrast, adding depth to the image.

I focus on capturing the balance between shadows and light to give depth and dimensionality to products that tend to appear flat.

Choosing what kind of text to include in the photograph is also an important point when creating a banner.


闘茶会の思い出 (by Hiromi)

During the colder months when the work in the tea fields slows down, the town organizes a "Tosha-kai" or tea comparison gathering. Tosha (also known as "Chaka-fuku" or "Chaka-buki") involves tasting several types of teas and guessing their respective origins. This tradition is said to have originated from China during the Kamakura period and is now practiced in various regions, serving as a means for tea industry workers to exchange techniques and promote tea appreciation among the general public.

Previously, when I lived in the district called Ishidera, I was kindly invited by a tea farmer whom I knew well to participate in the district's competition several times. If one achieves a high ranking, they qualify to represent their district at the town-level competition. At the town event, two representatives from each district, both male and female, compete against one another. While some districts strive seriously to win, it generally fosters a relaxed atmosphere for interaction and promotion.

In the competition held in Wazuka, five types of tea are served: Uji Gyokuro, Yame Gyokuro, Wazuka Sencha, Shizuoka Sencha, and Kagoshima Sencha. Each participant samples one brewing of each, and subsequently, casts one vote for the origin of each tea. This process is repeated five times, totaling 25 points, as each tea variety gets evaluated. These five types of tea, collectively named "Hana Chofugagetsu Kaku" in some regions, are referred to as "Yuryo-cha Wazuka" in Wazuka. When I participated in the Ishidera district competition, it was called "Yuryo-cha Ishidera."

Green tea, whether it's Gyokuro or Sencha, appears to have distinctive characteristics based on their place of origin, but as all of them are brewed with hot water, it becomes challenging to grasp their specific tastes and aromas. Regarding Wazuka Sencha, which should be "ordinary tea" for me, I even lose track of recognizing that. Experts seem to judge based on aroma and colour without tasting the tea, but as an amateur, I repeatedly try to taste it, resulting in numbing my taste buds by the end. The descriptions of the tasted tea aren't just simple terms like "mellow" or "bitter"; rather, they are expressions spun from a person's unique experiences and sensibilities, like "the scent after cutting summer grass."

Despite being given the experience multiple times, I often score just one or two points, yet occasionally, by chance, I manage to get a full score, which is quite addictive. The town competition for tea tasting had been suspended for a while, but I've heard it resumed this year. Therefore, I believe it's crucial to cherish such cultural practices to ensure their continuation.

While conventional tea comparisons are good, occasional tea events with playful elements like this one can also be enjoyable. For those new to the tea culture, incorporating relatively distinguishable teas like houjicha or genmaicha allows for a more enjoyable experience.


January 2024 Newsletter