March 2024 Newsletter

About Theanine

Theanine is a unique amino acid found in tea, synthesised only by tea plants and certain fungi in nature. It contributes to the umami taste in tea and is closely related to the quality of tea, as theanine content correlates with tea quality. Theanine also has relaxing and sleep-inducing effects when ingested orally. Therefore, when the same amount of caffeine is consumed through tea compared to coffee, the awakening effect of caffeine is counteracted by the relaxing effect of theanine, resulting in a milder awakening effect. Thus, theanine is an essential component in ensuring the taste and health benefits of tea, and the production of tea leaves with high theanine content is always a challenge in tea cultivation management.

The synthesis of theanine in tea begins when glutamic acid synthesised in the aboveground parts of the plant is transferred to the fine roots in the underground parts. Glutamic acid transferred to the fine roots combines with ethylamine to form theanine. Theanine is then accumulated and stored in the trunk and thick roots of the tea plant. When it's time for the first flush of tea leaves, theanine is transported to the new buds at the apex, where it is decomposed into glutamine, ammonia ions, and carbon compounds. The generated ammonia ions are used in the nitrogen assimilation pathway and serve as materials for new amino acids. Thus, theanine contributes to nitrogen storage and transfer, exhibiting behavior similar to currency in the nitrogen assimilation process. The enzyme theanine synthetase, which binds glutamic acid and ethylamine, is specifically expressed in the presence of ethylamine. It is known that the concentration of ethylamine feedback-adjusts the switch of theanine synthetase. Therefore, the conditions for efficiently synthesizing theanine always involve continuously supplying nitrogen. This underscores the need for tea fertilization management not only just before harvest but also during the summer and autumn to normalize soil nitrogen concentration throughout the year. Therefore, organic fertilizers, which decompose gently and supply nitrogen, can be considered theoretically suitable materials.

Battling Snow in the Fields (by Seiya, H.)

During the winter season, there isn't much work to be done in the fields, so chocolate making and tea packaging become the main tasks. However, at the end of February, the work of spreading fertilizer in the fields begins.

I generally enjoy the winter season, but I must admit that I don't particularly enjoy spreading fertilizer during this time. It seems that whenever it's a day for fieldwork, both last year and this year, I wake up to find the entire field covered in snow. While snow occasionally falls in Yubune, it's not frequent, so of all days, today? It was a bit disappointing. Especially this year, with the unusually warm winter, there was almost no sign of snow in Yubune, so I was surprised by the timing. It turns out I'm not a fair-weather man, but a snowman.

Walking through the fields with tea bushes wet from the snow sapped my physical strength, and I continued walking until I was almost frostbitten. The most challenging part of spreading fertilizer for me during this snowfall was that the fertilizer I spread would get covered by the snow, making it difficult to know exactly where I had spread it.

On other days when there was no snow, I didn't struggle as much, although I did sweat profusely when spreading fertilizer in the middle of summer. Compared to snowy days, I faced a different kind of challenge. After finishing the task, I felt a sense of accomplishment while hoping that next year we won't have snowy days, I also pray for delicious new shoots to sprout from the tea bushes.

Last year, it snowed all day long, covering the entire field.

This year, it stopped snowing in the morning, but there was still a faint layer of snow on the tea leaves, which attacked my feet with every step I took.

The Evolution Caused by d:matcha Main Store Relocation (by Misato, T.)

The decision to relocate to a new store was accompanied by significant risks, which were apparent from the start. The biggest concern was that the accessibility might worsen, potentially leading to a loss of customers. The new store's location, situated about a 10-minute drive deeper into the heart of Wazuka Town, made it challenging for visitors to stumble upon d:matcha while casually exploring the town.

We realized that for our business to thrive, we need visitors to come to Wazuka with the specific intention of visiting d:matcha, rather than merely stopping by the town. However, as d:matcha's business had already expanded considerably by that point, we found ourselves lacking the internal resources to provide lunch for visitors who happened to come to Wazuka. This transition marked a turning point where we needed to shift towards attracting visitors who intentionally chose to visit d:matcha and offer high-value services by appointment only.

Indeed, upon moving, this concern materialized into reality. It's likely that fewer visitors who coincidentally visit Wazuka would come to d:matcha, but there is still a steady number of customers who make reservations in advance or even travel from afar to purchase souvenirs.

However, there were also unexpected challenges that arose. One major issue was transportation access. Shortly after relocating to the new store, the bus service to the Yubune area ceased operations. To visit d:matcha via public transportation, visitors now need to take a bus to the central area of Wazuka Town and then transfer to Wazcar, a community car service, which operates on a reservation basis primarily for residents. This presents a significant barrier for tourists to use casually.

While overseas customers manage to find their way to d:matcha under such circumstances, most Japanese customers no longer visit unless they have a car. Additionally, the issue of staffing became more prominent. Staff who commuted from Osaka to d:matcha found it increasingly challenging to extend their commuting time, making it difficult for them to continue working. Moreover, since the new store is located in an area where commuting without a car is challenging, young staff who are inexperienced drivers faced high hurdles and eventually left. Particularly, the younger 

generation in Japan often lacks a driver's license or has little to no experience driving, making car commuting seem daunting.

As a result, since relocating to the new store, we've been collaborating with elderly residents in the Yubune area to help with work as much as possible, exploring mechanization to reduce reliance on human resources, and actively accepting short-term interns to operate the business. Nevertheless, we foresee a significant increase in unmanageable fields due to the ageing population in the medium to long term. Therefore, we're actively recruiting younger staff members who have moved to the Yubune area to help maintain the beautiful landscape. d:matcha is currently seeking young staff members who have relocated to Yubune.

The Lesser-Known Cherry Blossom Spot in Wazuka (by Hiromi) 

The cherry blossom season is truly mesmerizing no matter where you go. Despite its small size, Wazuka Town has several places known for cherry blossoms. Among them, a recommended but lesser-known spot is the weeping cherry tree located within the Ikujigaoka Sports Park.

Inside the sports park, there is a public facility called "Terasu Wazukawazu." Behind it stands a single tree, supported by bamboo poles, quietly waiting for its moment to shine. While it may not catch your eye amidst the surrounding scenery on ordinary days, during the flowering season, its graceful appearance captivates the heart year after year.

The main reason for the recommendation is the proximity to the cherry blossoms. Planted in a slightly elevated area, you can stand underneath the branches, feeling as if you're enveloped in a dome of cherry blossoms when they are in full bloom.

Moreover, with a grassy plaza in front of it, you can enjoy a picnic or even a tea ceremony if you bring your tea set. Occasionally visited by locals and nearby residents, if you're lucky, you may have the beautiful weeping cherry tree all to yourself, especially on weekdays.

From d:matcha's main store, it's about a 15-minute drive eastward. The nearest bus stop is "Wazuka Yamanokoya," and it's about a 10-minute walk from there. If you purchase matcha tiramisu from the store, it should be just the right time to enjoy it upon arrival.

As for the flowering season, it's similar to the Somei Yoshino cherry trees in the surrounding area. However, since Wazuka is nestled in the mountains, the timing of cherry blossom blooming may be delayed by a few days compared to the city, so please keep that in mind. While it may not have the grandeur of other cherry blossom spots, you can surely enjoy a tranquil and leisurely time amidst its simplicity.

Changes with the Onset of Tourism Season and Internship Program in March (by Daiki, T.)

As March arrives, the atmosphere swiftly transitions from the quiet winter period to the bustling tourism season. With the peak of the tourism season approaching by the end of March, preparations for tea cultivation also shift towards nurturing new buds. Corresponding to the increased activity in the tea industry, d:matcha begins accepting interns from around the world.

Starting from March 1st, we welcomed Isabel and Nayah from the United States. Isabel, with an interest in the relationship between public policy and private enterprises, and Nayah, passionate about sustainable community development in rural areas, joined d:matcha.

Interns come from diverse backgrounds and interests, often in their twenties, providing me with valuable opportunities to learn from their perspectives. Over the years, I've noticed a growing interest among young talents in topics such as organic practices and sustainable societies, which aligns with our vision at d:matcha. While they assist us, we strive to design and offer experiences that match the value of their time spent with us.

In the tea industry, early March marks the beginning of fertilizer application. Since d:matcha exclusively uses organic fertilizers, which may take slightly longer to take effect, early March becomes the prime time for fertilizing new buds. We calculate the amount of fermented fish and plant-based fertilizers needed based on the final product image and proceed with soil preparation.

Healthy soil is crucial for producing delicious tea. Although organic fertilizers are expensive and heavy, not all farmers use them. However, based on our observation of bud taste and condition, we've determined their effectiveness due to their high content of trace elements besides essential nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Additionally, this year, we're constructing sturdy fences to deter deer attacks, allowing us to venture into new crops like vegetables, buckwheat, and oats with confidence!

Tourism picks up pace towards the end of March, coinciding with the peak of cherry blossom season. This year, we've noticed a significant increase in accommodation demand. Since the opening of Tea Moon in late May 2023, we offer accommodations that include tea farm tours and tastings, incorporating local ingredients as much as possible. Our concept revolves around providing guests with the best experiences unique to d:matcha. From our own-grown rice and tea to locally sourced vegetables (purchased from elderly farmers in Yubune), deer meat from the region, and beverages from neighboring Shiga Prefecture, we ensure guests enjoy exclusive offerings. Additionally, we collaborate with local artisans from Yubune and Shigaraki for tableware and tea utensils. We also cater to dietary restrictions such as vegan options. Looking ahead to 2024, we aim to expand our accommodation facilities by one or two units. 

With each unit limited to one group, we hope to attract more guests who can enjoy longer stays in Yubune.

March 2024 Newsletter