March 2021 Newsletter
Hello, thank you for your continued support. We're extremely grateful to have you as part of our tea-loving family. Here are some of the updates from Wazuka as told by members of our team. Wherever you may be, we hope that you and your loved ones are safe together.
An update from d:matcha's tea fields - Organic fertiliser（by Hiroki.A ）
Whenever I suddenly anticipate the weather to get warmer, the temperature drops again! On the bright side, as I mentioned last month, the colder it is, the more likely the quality of the tea will improve.
The lowest temperature that tea trees can withstand is approximately -5 ℃. If the temperature falls below this, abnormalities or growth disorders may start to occur. The most common growth disorder is withering.
Tea leaves that have withered to a reddish brown colour have been subjected to below freezing temperatures. The cold destroys the tea tissues. This can also be seen in spring when young sprouts are hit by frost prior to the first harvest. This is referred to by tea farmers as 赤枯れ akagare or ‘red withering’.
The other form of withering, which is known as 青枯れ aogare or ‘blue withering’, occurs when the temperature in the soil drops below 3 ℃. Due to the lack of rain and extreme cold, the roots are unable to keep up transpiration levels. Even if there is an adequate amount of water in the soil, the roots cannot absorb enough water to be delivered to the uppermost shoots. The absence of water thus causes the leaves to wither.
While the withering takes place under the same conditions (i.e. extremely low temperatures), the treatment methods are starkly different. For example, our gokou tea trees experienced aogare. We were able to conclude that this was the reason because this tea field naturally has adequate levels of water in the soil. Furthermore, the leaves from this tea field are often used to produce tencha, which means the trees are a significant number of branches. This also infers a likelihood of there being higher levels of transpiration.
Cultivating a certain type of crop is always different as compared to when you let it grow naturally in the while. Tea trees originally grow in the forest, where they are well shaded by other trees. Since we are now cultivating these trees in a location they aren’t built for, it is natural for such abnormalities to crop up. I do feel however, that being a successful farmer lies in being able to balance the needs of the plants, while accepting that such issues may occur. One cannot coexist without the other.
D:matcha’s staff’s tea life（by Natsuki）
I am thrilled to finally be able to reveal our upcoming collaboration project with Shotoku Shuzo, a sake brewery from Fushimi in Kyoto Prefecture! We will be launching our “Uji Matcha Sakekasu Cheesecake'' through the crowdfunding platform, makuake.
The cheesecake is made with d:matcha’s matcha and sakekasu. The latter is the by-production from sake production, and is perfectly safe for consumption. When combined, this cheesecake is bound to delight all your senses. The product will also be sold as a set with Shotoku Shuzo’s sake. Personally I feel that the cheesecake and plum wine set is a brilliant match!
We have spent a lot of time and effort compiling articles, taking photos and videos, as well as interviewing the sake brewer. Thus we can proudly say this is a product made with heart and one that successfully combines two traditional food products from Kyoto prefecture: Uji matcha and Fushimi sake. If you have the time please take a look at the product on makuake!
Sustainable agriculture（by Chisei.T）
Year by year, the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are steadily increasing. This has led to an increasing number of research projects aimed at finding technology that can store CO2 either underground or in the ocean. Personally I feel that relying on such methods of storing CO2 levels are not nearly as effective as aiming to reduce the amount of CO2 gas itself. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly), agriculture and forestry (e.g. livestock farming) accounts for approximately 20% of total CO2 emissions. While tea may not play such a significant role, this still puts farmers such as ourselves in the spotlight.
On the other hand, the development of chemical fertilisers has undoubtedly brought improvement to the agriculture sector. I often refrain from making a bold claim that “chemical fertilisers are evil”. This is because there have been times when the use of chemical fertilisers were effective, especially for farmers in developing countries. As a tea farmer in a developed country however, I think that is our responsibility to set an example of successful organic cultivation.
To refine our approach to this problem, at d:matcha have also decided to turn more of our tea fields into organic fields. We will be using fertiliser made from green manure. This includes the by-products of tea brewing. I am also hoping to conduct more controlled experiments with different crops. For example, green manure is often made from marigold or Chinese milkvetch. These plants are extremely effective for cultivating soil nematodes, which live in the roots and stems. These special microorganisms are important as they contribute directly to nutrient mineralisation through their feeding habits.
Last but not least, green manure is extremely compact. This means it can be easily packed and will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions used for transportation. While I did try my hand at green manure cultivation in the past, I gave up at one point because it was too difficult! I would like to try again this year and use that experience to succeed.
72 Seasons（by Ryhan）
Did you know that based on the ancient Japanese calendar, each year is divided into 24 periods? Known as 節気 (sekki), these periods are then further divided into 72 micro-seasons, each week highlighting a unique feature about the changes in the season. While the system of 24 periods originated from China, the 72 micro seasons was documented to have been rewritten by Shibukawa Shunkai. Shibukawa-sensei was the first officially appointed astronomer of the Edo period.
The first week of March, which has long been heralded as the start of Spring, is aptly titled “草木萌動” (Somuku mebae izuru). This phrase can be interpreted as a time when the plants begin to show signs of sprouting or when new buds emerge. As for tea farming, this is also the period of time when we start to tend to the fields. The fieldwork prior to the first harvest often revolves around the application of fertilisers and pruning of the trees. After not being out on the tea fields for almost three months, I can say that we were all definitely excited to be back!
Agriculture and Japanese culture（by Misato.T）
We are currently working on a new collaborative effort with young farmers in Wazuka Town. Each session sees us speaking to different farmers to understand their backgrounds and for them to share their stories. Most of the farmers are currently worried that the tea farms in Wazuka will not have any successors as the environment around tea farming is extremely harsh.
I myself was born in the countryside, where my family owns a mandarin orange farm. At the same time I have also experienced working in an office in Tokyo, which is considered by many to be the more familiar or desirable lifestyle. That being said, I completely understand the peculiarities surrounding a farmer’s working environment.
More often than not, there are no fixed holidays for farmers. Rest days fall on rainy days, and the unpredictable weather is recent times makes the expected yield or quality fluctuate greatly. Furthermore, in the past, it would be sufficient for most farmers to simply ship their products to an agriculture cooperative. Now however, the market competition is extremely stiff. Farmers are required to possess the business acumen to run their farms as a ‘company’. With the industry being highly volatile and the notoriously long payoffs, this has deterred several young farmers from continuing the work. Finding ways to maneuver such difficult situations however, can be extremely rewarding at the same time.
Agriculture is also closely entwined with nature and faith in Japan. Farmers pay their respects to the gods for good weather, for the blessings of the land, and also honour their ancestors who first cultivated the land. I hope that through this project we will be able to showcase more of the uniqueness of this feature of rural Japanese culture. At the same time I would like this to motivate more young farmers that there is a way to sell tea and farm it at the same time!
d:matcha news（by Daiki.T）
Last month we officially launched the Wazuka Young Farmers’ Project. D:matcha, together with four other tea farmers in their 20s and 30s, will be working together to supply tea directly to consumers and customers.
The average age of those residing in Wazuka Town is currently over 65 years old, and due to the COVID-19 virus, the price of tea dropped drastically. This has created a sense of overwhelming pressure for both generations. Rather than mulling about what we are unable to do, we have decided to work together to find a way to tackle this problem.
We are in the midst of conceptualising a single-origin yabukita sencha tasting set, as well as a pudding comparison set. Each showcasing tea from the respective farmer’s tea fields. The pudding will be made from tencha, and hopefully will highlight each farmer’s strengths. Although we are still in the midst of the planning stage, we are definitely hoping to make this dream a reality!