June 2024 Newsletter

Inspiring New Leader in Japanese Agribusiness Firled (Daiki T.)

Every year in late June, I give a lecture at my alma mater, Kyoto University, specifically in the Faculty of Agriculture, on the topic of making a career in the agriculture industry. This lecture is coordinated with my former academic advisor, Professor Tsujimura, and is part of a series requested by the Kyoto Prefectural Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. This year marks the fourth year of my involvement in this program.

I graduated nearly 20 years ago. Among my classmates, very few are working in the field of agriculture. Despite many students entering the Faculty of Agriculture with a genuine interest in farming, the realities of salaries and other employment conditions often make other industries more attractive. As a result, few of my classmates, aside from my wife and myself, are involved in agricultural production. Many have pursued careers in general trading companies, food manufacturers, government agencies, or completely unrelated fields like finance and consulting.

During my university years, I visited many farms and agricultural corporations. However, I rarely saw an environment rich with growth opportunities, dreams, hopes, or significant social contributions. On the other hand, observing numerous farmers taught me the essentials of running a business in agriculture, which was a valuable learning experience. 

Additionally, seeing my senior colleagues, the Hirano couple, who moved to a small mountain community with about 300 people to engage in regional revitalization based on traditional farming clothes and hydroelectric power, provided me with a significant role model. This experience greatly influenced my current path. My study abroad experiences have also allowed me to integrate a global perspective into my approach.

When contributing to society through business, one way is to expand oneself or one's company to exert a growing influence. However, like the Hiranos, becoming a positive example as a pioneer can also have a significant impact.

With the internet, we can share information widely, and I hope to become a good example of building a sustainable tea industry through business in mountainous regions and preserving the cultural and lifestyle foundations of these areas.

I've been told that there was a student who decided to pursue farming after attending one of my previous lectures, which was the first time this happened since the Kyoto Prefectural initiative began. In the student surveys, many mentioned that they learned about agriculture as a business focus, expressed a desire to contribute to the maintenance and development of Japanese agriculture, and showed interest in entrepreneurship. These responses have encouraged me to continue striving in my business and to put effort into these educational activities, hoping to contribute to a broader movement across Japan.

The Joy of Serving Tea for "Tea Moon" Guests (S. Mahdaria)

“Do you want Sencha, Genmaicha, Gyokuro, Houjicha, or Matcha for your breakfast?” That’s the typical question I ask our Bed&Breakfast “Tea Moon” guests. During the breakfast, I will always serve them tea, unless it’s my days off then there will be Misato-san or Hiroki-san preparing the tea. This moment is one of the activities I’m very looking forward to since it always excites me every time the guests order Matcha Latte!

The majority of my coworkers at d:matcha prefer drinking Usucha instead of latte, so the only time I can practise is either when I make latte for myself or when there’s a customer's order. I love matcha, especially matcha latte! In the future, I dream of having my own matcha specialty slow bar in my country, Indonesia, or any other countries I don’t mind. Whenever I whisk the matcha, I genuinely feel the joy in my heart, bring a bright smile to my face, and my positive vibes spread like a perfume. Well, it sounds too much now haha, but it’s actually true. Making any kind of matcha drink helps me hone my matcha whisking skills and matcha drink making. 

There was a time when the guests were tea lovers and had knowledge of tea, so they ordered Gyokuro. I didn’t expect that! Gyokuro is a special Japanese green tea that is also well known as a “treasured drop” due to its treatment and distinct flavour. “You don’t expect that, do you?” the guest teased me. I served her the tea, and she told me, “Wow it’s really nice! How many stocks do you have? I want to buy a kilogram?” Again, I didn’t expect that! I have that little proud feeling in me whenever our teas match the customer's taste buds and makes them want to bring our tea home.

It’s exactly a few days ago when we had 5 guests from the United States. They order 4 hot matcha latte and 1 ice houjicha latte. I served them happily like I always do. Suddenly, one of them came to me and asked if they could have 3 more cups of hot matcha latte. OMG I’m so delighted! They said that it was really good and they wanted more of it. I said “Yes” right away amidst my schedule in preparing Tea Farm Tour and Tasting. 

I believe the happier I am in making my tea, the better it tastes. I hope my sincerity towards the teas that I make can reach the heart of those who drink it, bringing them joy as much as I have while making it.


Diving Into My Passion at d:matcha (S. Nakajou)

Coming from Niigata Prefecture, I decided to join the d:matcha team as a Confectionery Assistant in June this year. My name is Nakajou. After graduating from high school, I went to a pastry school and obtained a certification as a pastry hygienist. I became fascinated with making sweets during high school and decided to pursue a career in the confectionery field. After graduating from pastry school, I worked at a local cake shop for a year. There, I learned the know-how of making sweets and the difficulties of managing a business. Although it was a short period of just one year, it was a year of significant growth for me. This experience has led me to where I am today.

Now, why did I join d:matcha? The reason is simple. I love matcha. I fell in love with matcha when I was in elementary school, and whenever I found matcha-flavoured sweets at convenience stores or cake shops, I would light up with excitement. At some point, which I can't exactly remember, my mother ordered a matcha cheesecake from d:matcha for my birthday. The strong matcha flavour paired perfectly with the rich cheese, making it an irresistible treat for a matcha lover like me. This experience sparked my interest in d:matcha, and I set a goal to create sweets at a matcha specialty shop. Additionally, while browsing the website and Instagram, I came across the Wazuka Tea Full Enjoyment Tour and participated in it with my family last November. I fell in love with the charm of Wazuka Town and thought it would be the perfect place to make my dreams come true. Therefore, I moved to Wazuka Town and joined d:matcha.

At d:matcha, I mainly assist with confectionery and tea-related tasks. Under the guidance of my senior, Mr. Aka, I make the most of my previous experience and strive every day. Mr. Aka is a matcha specialist and one of the people I respect. We work together, sometimes strictly and sometimes chatting casually. The tea-related tasks are physically demanding, but I feel refreshed after completing them. The best part of this job is that the work content changes daily, so I never get bored. Since all tasks are related to matcha, it feels like a dream job for a matcha lover like me. Although I still have a lot to learn, I hope to gradually get used to the job with the support of everyone at d:matcha.

Moving forward, I will do my best to get accustomed to the work and eventually hope to deliver my own matcha sweets to everyone.

Tasting Comparison of 12 Matcha Cultivars (Seiya H.)

Currently, d:matcha handles 12 varieties of matcha, and the other day, for the first time, I compared all the varieties with my fellow employees. Even with the same matcha variety, the taste and aroma can change depending on the harvest year. Although I taste the matcha that I grind daily on a stone mill, I can notice differences when comparing the same variety from two years ago to last year's; one may have a stronger bitterness, and I can enjoy subtle differences in umami.

Recently, we compared all 12 varieties again on the same day and rated them based on taste, aroma, and colour. Although I respect the characteristics of each matcha, I inevitably end up ranking my personal preferences (half-jokingly, customers sometimes ask me which variety I like the most and which one the least). While drinking, I found myself thinking, "Was this cultivar always this aromatic?" The atmosphere was different from my usual daily cup, and my increased focus on each matcha's qualities allowed me to enjoy them more than usual.

When I compare the varieties again or try newly harvested matcha, my personal rankings may change, and the matcha I recommend to customers may vary slightly. For example, I have always liked a variety called Tenmyo enough to place it in my top five, but I didn't usually recommend it to beginners (unless they specifically wanted strong umami). However, after the recent comparison, I found that this year's Tenmyo had a well-balanced umami and was easier to drink, making it more recommendable to newcomers.

In a few years, we plan to add even more new varieties/cultivars of matcha, so I am very much looking forward to the next tasting comparison.

Tea Making Experience #Part2 (Hiromi)

Last time, I introduced you to making Japanese black tea at a friend's house. This time, I would like to share my experience of making oolong tea. Black tea is made by oxidising the tea leaves, while oolong tea is a semi-fermented tea where the oxidation is stopped midway. Oolong tea is delicious with its sweet, floral aroma and rich yet refreshing taste, and I often find myself buying loose-leaf oolong tea whenever I see it. Although oolong tea is often associated with a brown color, it is actually classified as green tea among Chinese teas, with a yellowish-brown hue that has a bluish tint. The first time I drank loose-leaf oolong tea, I was surprised by how different it tasted and smelled compared to the bottled or packaged tea.

This time, I also had the opportunity to pick tea leaves at a friend's tea plantation. For oolong tea, we harvested "one bud and three leaves," which means selecting stems with one bud and three leaves attached. The buds were quite large, and some stems and third leaves were firmer due to their growth, but we picked them regardless.

The harvested tea leaves were exposed to sunlight for about 30 minutes, turning them over occasionally to reduce moisture gradually and let them wilt. Next, we gently shook and lightly loosened the leaves and stems to create small bruises. This process, called "Yaoqing," facilitates the mixing of oxidising enzymes and polyphenols within the cells. If overdone, the fermentation would proceed too far, making it resemble black tea, so we carefully monitored the progress with some nervousness.

When the leaves started to curl vertically and emitted a good aroma, we stopped the fermentation by heating the leaves, a process called "Shaqing." There are various methods to do this, but we used a wok this time. As the tea leaves quickly released steam upon heating, we steamed the leaves to lock in the aroma. I didn't touch the wok directly, but the occasional bursts of steam were quite hot.

After heating and cooling the leaves, we rolled them. Since the fermentation was already halted, we gently rolled the leaves, aiming to shape them rather than the vigorous rolling required for black tea. At some point, my sense of smell became desensitised, making it difficult to judge, but since the leaves turned a greenish colour, I believe we succeeded in making oolong tea. Finally, we used a hot plate to dry the leaves, completing the process.

Oolong tea can be broadly categorised into Chinese and Taiwanese types, each with different cultivation methods, production techniques, tastes, and aromas. The method we used was one my friend devised after extensive research, so it may not be the official way of making oolong tea, but it was a refreshing experience that evoked a sense of foreign lands.

About the Tea Fields (Hiroki A.)

The first tea harvest has ended successfully, and the second tea harvest season is about to begin. Most of our tea plantations do not use pesticides to control pests and diseases. From around June, temperatures gradually rise, leading to increased activity of insects and fungi that harm the tea plants. One of the most significant pests during the second tea harvest is a bug called the Tea Green Leafhopper.

The tea green leafhopper, scientifically known as Empoasca onukii, belongs to the order Hemiptera and the family Cicadellidae, resembling a small cicada. This pest causes damage by sucking sap from the leaves and stems of young shoots. The affected shoots experience stunted growth and turn yellow, and in severe cases, they may die. Thus, the damage caused by the Tea Green Leafhopper significantly affects both the yield and quality of the tea.

Damage from the Tea Green Leafhopper during the first harvest is caused by overwintering insects and the first-generation individuals born from eggs laid in April. However, the population is small, so the damage is not substantial. In contrast, the damage during the second harvest comes from the second and third generations, which have increased explosively in number, resulting in significant damage. Normally, the use of pesticides can largely control these pests, but in pesticide-free tea gardens, the Tea Green Leafhopper can cause severe damage.

Interestingly, the extent of damage caused by the Tea Green Leafhopper varies depending on the location of the field, the variety of tea, and the sprouting time of the second tea. Some fields produce a good yield of second tea, while others do not. If we can clearly understand the reasons behind these differences, we could potentially make the challenging task of pesticide-free second tea production more profitable.

The Story of d:matcha"s Founding, Part 34 - Stanford MBA 2023 (Misato T.)

Every summer, d:matcha welcomes interns from the Stanford MBA program. This internship program attracts many students each year, and among the various internship destinations such as renowned consulting firms and venture capital companies, d:matcha is actually the most popular choice! This is likely because d:matcha's business is entirely different from the others, focusing on Japanese culture, tea, and a small family business, making it stand out.

Hosting interns is not easy for us, as it requires a lot of time and effort to provide housing, meals, and work assignments. However, through these interns, I also gain various inspirations and learnings.

In the summer of 2023, we had Cherie, a Stanford MBA student. Cherie is an influencer with 160,000 followers on Instagram. Her audience consists of young women who aspire to build their careers or pursue an MBA. By sharing her MBA life, she conveys the learnings and joys of student life. Cherie was surprised by the sheer number of videos she recorded daily at d:matcha. She created multiple short videos at a rapid pace, utilising a customised phone with large storage capacity to produce various content. Coming from a tech company background, she used various apps and AI technologies to create content quickly and efficiently, contributing to our Tea Moon guesthouse content.

Many Stanford MBA students have come to d:matcha, and most of them, having backgrounds in consulting or large tech companies, are highly logical thinkers suited for consulting. They are quick thinkers, and their logical thinking and strategy formulation skills are world-class. On the other hand, in a small business like ours, I often feel that execution power—how to implement beautifully crafted strategies—is more important. While correct strategies are necessary, the speed at which these strategies are executed, with hands-on involvement, is crucial. Additionally, since we are in retail, the speed and quality of conveying stories, information, and branding to customers through design are essential. Even the same information can have different effects depending on how it is presented and designed.

Cherie was a rare talent who possessed both the logical thinking skills honed at Stanford and the ability to produce outputs with design skills and speed. Her tech-savviness, typical of Stanford students, seemed to enhance her capabilities to the fullest (she also made excellent use of fragmented time). At the same time, I reflected on the need to improve the quantity and quality of my own outputs.

One more thing that impressed me about Cherie was her cheerful approach to challenges. Many Stanford graduates go on to careers in consulting, finance, or IT, leading high-income elite lives. However, Cherie chose to become an independent influencer after graduation. Pursuing what you want to do and living a unique life requires considerable courage and comes with significant risks, but she tackles her desires with joy and without fear, making her a captivating figure.

I am very excited to see how Cherie will grow in the future. Her social media is full of useful business knowledge, so please follow her if you are interested.

June 2024 Newsletter