March 2022 Newsletter
Hello, thank you for supporting d:matcha Kyoto! This newsletter is filled with the monthly updates from our team. We hope you enjoy our stories from Wazuka Town, Kyoto Prefecture.
Update from d:matcha’s tea fields: The planting and replanting of tea trees (by Aka.H)
When the terms “planting” and “replanting” tea seedlings are used, the former refers to a piece of land being intentionally cleared for the construction of a brand new tea field. This could be in the middle of a forest, wilderness, or even the clearing of other crops on an existing plot of land. “Replanting” is used in reference to the removal of existing tea trees and then replacing them with young tea seedlings.
As “planting” creates a new tea field, farmers often conduct this activity when they want to increase the number of their tea fields or their yield. “Replanting” however, aims to rejuvenate aged tea trees or to introduce new cultivars more suited to the farmer’s farming techniques. The lifespan of a harvestable tea field depends heavily on the farmer’s management, as well as the conditions of the soil. This is usually benchmarked at 40 years. Of course there are tea fields that are well above the age of 40, some have not even been replanted for 80 years!
When it comes to “replanting”, the new tea seedlings require approximately five years before their young shoots can be harvested. During these five years, farmers have to invest money but with no profit or monetary rewards in return. Tea fields are said to be of prime maturity around their tenth year. Naturally, the yield and quality of the tea leaves will gradually decline after this, and replanting will be carried out again according to the farmer’s needs.
As there are so many different cultivars of tea, a significant amount of planning goes into selecting a cultivar with characteristics best suited to compliment the environment. Furthermore, the demands of the consumer market are constantly changing. Successful tea farmers often have the foresight in selecting cultivars that can accommodate this.
Okakura Kakuzō’s “The Book of Tea” (by Ryhan)
Growing up, tea was an indispensable feature in my life - a constant factor present at every occasion. Meals were considered incomplete if a warm cup of tea was absent. My fascination with the intricacies and nuances of tea however, started during my days at university.
I moved to Melbourne when I was 20 for university. This was the first time I was living alone and apart from my family for an extended period of time. To feel closer to Asia, I distinctly remember buying two books, Okakura Kakuzō’s “The Book of Tea” and “Dhammapada”, which is a well known Buddhist scripture made out of a collection of Buddha’s sayings.
Sometimes referred to as Okakura Tenshin, Okakura-sensei’s “The Book of Tea” has long been heralded as a tea classic that discusses in great detail the threads binding chadō to Japanese culture. Personally I feel the most important message Okakura-sensei strives to convey is: when tea is shared, this act transcends any existing hierarchy or status that may normally divide. In other words, those seated at the table are equals.
At the same time Okakura-sensei’s writing conveys a sense of naive positivity; to simply enjoy a moment’s fleeting beauty. Given the turbulent times we are experiencing, both messages carry equal weight and are poignant reminders we could perhaps look to from time to time.
The charm of a Tokoname teapot（by Azusa.U)
At our d:matcha Kyoto store in Wazuka, we often prepare our sencha for our customers using a Tokoname teapot. I would thus like to share more about this select tea ware.
Did you know that almost 90% of the teapots available for sale in Japan are made in Tokoname? Located in Aichi Prefecture, Tokoname City is a designated intangible cultural property and important to Japanese culture. In 1998, Tokoname teapot master craftsman, Yamada Tsuneyama, was certified and recognised as a “Living National Treasure.”
The clay used for the production of Tokoname ware is excavated from the bottom of rice fields. This is because the soil in these fields contain high levels of iron oxide. When exposed to high temperatures during the baking process, iron oxide turns red. This is known as “朱泥” or shudei (しゅでい). These high levels of iron oxide play an important role in absorbing the astringent components of freshly brewed tea. The structural properties of catechin allows it to bond easily with metals such as iron, thus create a mellower taste of tea.
Furthermore, the art of “窯合わせ” or “kiln matching” is considered one of to be of the highest quality among all the tea ware production areas in Japan. “Kiln matching” is in which the lid and main body of the teapot touch. Quality tea ware is a key factor in brewing delicious Japanese tea. In Tokoname, this tradition has been passed down for over 200 years. Teapots these days also come in a variety of patterns, so I think it would be fun to find one that suits your taste best!
Part three: The utensils used to enjoy koicha（by Seiya.H)
As mentioned in my previous two newsletter entries, koicha is the key character in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. After enjoying their kaiseki course, guests are kindly requested to leave the tea room while the host prepares to brew koicha. When the room is ready, the tools used in the tea ceremony are neatly laid out and the guests are invited back in. The general rule is for this part of the process if for both the hosts and guests to exercise silence when in the tea room.
The host also prepares the tea in the dark, with only sunlight streaming through a bamboo blind. The host must then purify the tools in front of his guests. This signifies a clean slate, and reflects a purification of one’s mind. After this is completed, the host will begin brewing the matcha. The silence is finally broken after the guest takes the first sip with the owner asking “御福加減はいかがですか” or “How is the tea?”
Guests also may now ask their host about the tools used. More often than not, the host will specially choose tools tailored to each guest. This is an important part of the tea ceremony experience. There is a idiom frequently used in tea ceremonies: “一期一会” (one time, one meeting). This teaches us to appreciate the irreplaceable value of a moment, whether they involve meeting someone for the first time or when we encounter new tea utensils.
Most Japanese rooms are now well-lit, with the host and guests exchanging conversation brightly throughout the process. I think this also makes the tea ceremony experience equally memorable and enjoyable.
Part six: Establishing d:matcha - Our online shop out of Arashiayama（by Misato.T)
We started the launch of d:matcha Kyoto with an online shop. At the start we started our product line with Wazuka sencha and matcha. During this period however, it was extremely difficult to obtain sales.
To diversify our catalogue, we toyed with the idea of developing a new tea product: blended tea with either dried fruits or vegetables. The idea of creating blended tea came about when Daiki was studying in America. Overseas big-name brands such as DavidsTea had created a benchmark standard and were actively selling blended teas.
The first blended tea we created was made by blending ginger, lemon, and mandarin orange peels with our sencha. The ginger came from an acquaintance of ours, while the other two ingredients were cultivated in my parents’ home in Ehime Prefecture.
Our room in the company’s apartment was soon turned into a tea-manufacturing room, where our products were made, sealed, and shipped. I would take a photo of the products for the other members to double-check remotely.
I also took pictures to be used for the brand’s imaging that was tied to our desire to create products that broke free from the norm. I decided to rent an office space and sought the help of a professional photographer. We used a lot of props and tea during this photoshoot, hoping to relay our desire for freshness and quality.
The expansion of our matcha chocolate products（by Natsuki)
Have you tried any of our d:matcha chocolate products?
Our manufacturing team is continuously challenging and developing new matcha chocolate products to be enjoyed by our customers. First we came up with our “Matcha Chocolate Set”, this was followed by our “Uji Tea Chocolate Collection” and “Matcha Chocolate - Cultivar Comparison Set”.
We are now looking at developing a “Matcha Chocolate Bar” and “Matcha Chocolate Bar with Yuzu”, which is available exclusively on our international site. The most challenging aspect of creating a chocolate bar is pouring the tempered chocolate into the mould. This has to be done accurately so bubbles do not form. Furthermore, once the chocolate has hardened, it was to be gently removed to ensure there are no scratches on the surface.
We hope to be able to produce even better products for you from your feedback and reviews. Please look forward to our new chocolate product lineup for 2022! ♪
“Wazuka-grown Tea” as a regional brand and GI certification（by Daiki.T)
“Wazuka-grown Tea” has been selected as one of the key regional brands by the Kinki Regional Bureau, on behalf of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. We will be showcasing Wazuka-grown Tea at the Expo 2025, which is slated to be held in Osaka. Nine other impressive candidates were also selected for this prestigious event.
For some producers or farmers who prefer to separate the business from their craft, they can be reluctant when it comes to promoting one specific brand name (i.e. Wazuka-grown tea). Meeting with the other tea farmers to discuss our approach however, made me realise once again that at the end of the day, our goals are similar. We have an infinite fondness for Wazuka and we want to produce high-quality tea made in Wazuka. Nonetheless, the differences that we have in terms of cultivation, production, or business is a good part of the discussion process to promote diversity.
To further push the name of Wazuka-grown tea, I am also looking at obtaining a Geographical Indication (GI) certification. This could be an effective mid to long term measure to aid the region. A GI certification identifies that a certain product has been produced in a specific location. This certification would allow producers in Wazuka -who can meet the production criteria - to certify their tea as “Wazuka-grown” in the future. Furthermore, this certification can be applied to countries that have existing trade agreements with Japan. Examples of GI products include Kobe beef or Chablis, which is a type of wine that can only be produced in northern Burgundy.
As demand grows, I believe that high-quality Wazuka-grown tea can be introduced and accepted by customers worldwide. With a definitive certificate of proof of production, we will also be able to alleviate the rich history of tea cultivation in Kyoto Prefecture even higher.