Hello, thank you for supporting d:matcha Kyoto. This newsletter is filled with monthly updates from our team in Wazuka, Kyoto. We hope that you enjoy reading our content!
Update from d:matcha’s tea fields: The Month of May in Wazuka (by Aka.H)
We are now in the month of May, so things are quickly picking up in Wazuka.
You will notice that tea farmers are extremely busy trying to produce high-quality tea, and constantly ensuring they get the timing right. Especially for ichibancha, there is a negative correlation between tea yield and quality. The timing to harvest tea is extremely important and while the shoots may grow at a gradual pace, overgrown young shoots do not make for high-quality first flush tea.
Harvesting young tea shoots in the rain is usually not ideal because the tea leaves will be weighed down with rain water. Furthermore, if the tea leaves are wet, they cannot be steamed evenly. This exponentially increases the difficulty of the processing.
Despite this, even if it rains, there are still other types of farming work that can be done. This includes shading the tea trees with the black gauze cloth. We shade the tea trees to reduce the amount of sunlight (i.e. to slow down the photosynthesis process) and increase the quality of the tea.
Matcha, kabusecha, and gyokuro are types of Japanese tea that are shaded during the cultivation process to increase the amino acid content found in the tea leaves. This makes for tea with a stronger umami taste and less bitterness.
The timing during which the tea trees are shaded is extremely crucial. If the young shoots are shaded too early, you may not be able to harvest an adequate amount of tea. If the shading is done too late, the prime opportunity to create a deeper flavour may have passed. Shading the tea trees also requires as much manpower as harvesting does.
May is definitely the month where you will see tea farmers driving around with harvest bags filled to the brim with tea leaves on a sunny day, and black gauze cloth on a rainy one.
(写真: Despite the rain, we worked hard to shade our tea fields.)
The Art of Tea (by Ryhan)
Recently I have been working to compile a list of hidden gems that are easily accessible after your visit to Wazuka, Kyoto.
One of the locations that I personally recommend is the MIHO MUSEUM, which is located in Shigaraki and is approximately 30 minutes (by car) from our tea fields in Yubune.
This museum initially housed the private tea utensils collection of its founder, Mihoko Koyama. The museum has permanent exhibitions, as well as special exhibitions that follow the seasons.
When I visited, the special exhibition on display was themed: “The Vessels of Kaiseki”. As most of you may know, kaiseki centres around simple seasonal ingredients that are displayed on select ware. These dishes are served in modest amounts and consumed in preparation for the end highlight, the tea. In the exhibition, the curators also recreated some of the meals as described in Konoe Yorakuin ’s record of tea gatherings from the early 1700s. My favourite art on display was Emperor Go-Sai’s 狂歌 (kyōka or satirical tanka) titled “宇治茶”, which is pictured.
There are indeed so many facets of tea in Japanese culture that can be expressed and enjoyed through art, food, and literature. I still have a lot to learn about!
Brewing sencha with ice on a hot day (by Azusa.U)
At our Wazuka main store, we serve sencha samples to customers that are often brewed based on the staff’s recommendation. On warmer days, the way I prepare sencha for tasting is with ice. Customers who have tried this drink often comment that the umami is richer and the body of the sencha is stronger. This is because the theanine in the tea leaves are released slowly as the ice melts, creating a much deeper flavour profile.
Due to the low brewing temperature, the epigallocatechin gallate (responsible for the astringency in tea) and caffeine take a longer time to dissolve. This results in a much sweeter refreshing taste of tea. Epigallocatechin is studied to have benefits such as improving the function of the mucosal immune system in the respiratory and digestive systems, as well as improving one’s immunity.
Shaded tea such as kabusecha or gyokuro are rich in theanine so I would personally recommend either of these two types of sencha.
This is how I brew with ice cubes:
① Add approximately three to five grams of sencha leaves to a teapot.
② Next, add four to five medium sized ice cubes. Wait for the ice cubes to melt, and enjoy!
If you are short on time, add a small amount of water to speed up the process. You can also use a water bottle and leave it in the fridge overnight. If you prefer a stronger taste, use more tea leaves or adjust the amount of ice to your liking.
Brewing matcha with the tools you have at home (by Seiya.H）
I often hear people commenting that they “want to try (brewing matcha) but do not have the right tools” or “I do not own all the utensils (charcoal, tatami mats, kettle, etc) necessary”. If you would like to practice the tea ceremony, you may require some of these tools but if you would just like to enjoy matcha all you really need is: hot water, matcha powder, a bowl, and chasen.
Since the Fukushima power plant accident ten years ago, obtaining charcoal has grown increasingly difficult. This has even led to some professional tea masters giving up the use of charcoal for their tea ceremonies. The kettle used to prepare the hot water is originally made from iron, which makes most kettle compatible with an induction heater (IH). Since the kettle is not an essential tool, you may use any pot to boil the water.
For those who are studying tea ceremonies overseas, they usually use what is available in their hometown. In fact most of my friends are from Taiwan, America, Europe, and South America. They often use their local pottery and tools when serving their guests. Of course, you may use Japanese pottery if you prefer but there is no harm in making matcha with your locally produced ceramics.
As for the confectionery that is usually served with the tea, my friends have also tried serving locally made treats such as handmade buns with cranberries or walnuts. I feel this adds a nice local element and may even enhance the matcha drinking experience for first-timers.
In other words, all you need to enjoy a bowl of matcha is a clean room, a comfortable place to sit, and a calm atmosphere. While a proper tea ceremony may have stricter rules, there are endless ways for one to enjoy matcha.
Part eight: Establishing d:matcha - The move to Wazuka, Kyoto (by Misato.T）
At the start of 2017, there was a huge accident at our d:matcha Kyoto base in Wazuka. During this period, the company was in its early founding stages and Daiki had just moved back to Kyoto from the United States.
There was a big fire that burned down the house we were renting in Yubune, Wazuka. This house was also the same location where our farming staff were residing. Thankfully, our staff members escaped unharmed. The house however, was completely burned down. According to investigations, the source of the fire was a fan operated heater.
I still remember receiving a call at 6am being informed of the fire. I was extremely relieved to hear there were no casualties but at the same time I was worried about our business. My greatest fear was that we would not be able to continue our operations as we would be liable for the compensation.
We had to apologise profusely to the owner and neighbours. We also spent time cleaning up the land and burn marks in the surrounding area. This was the first time that I realised the risk of running a business from a distance. There are risks that go unnoticed when you are unable to look out for them with your own two eyes. The owner of that house however, was extremely kind and comforted us by saying: “This is a vacant house that I don’t live in or use anyway”. Those words made me feel slightly better. Due to this incident, Daiki and myself came to the conclusion that the physical store should also be directly operated from Wazuka.
Finalising the move to Wazuka was a struggle as I had difficulties finding an ideal location for the physical store and my own house. During this time we were still based in Arashiyama. During the search, time passed and before I knew it a sea of red maple leaves graced Arashiyama’s landscape. After taking in this sight once more, I finally left Arashiyama for Wazuka.
Travelling with Japanese tea (by Natsuki）
The weather is getting warmer and this climate makes me want to travel! I always bring tea with me when I am travelling for leisure or on business trips. In the past, the amenities made available at hotels and inns were sufficient, but these days I bring along my own tea.
If I have space in my luggage, I usually pack along a shiboridashi (a handleless teapot) and tea leaves. If not, I bring along sencha tea bags. For day trips, I simply place the sencha tea leaves in a water bottle filled with water and bring it along with me!
Sometimes when I travel to different prefectures, I may buy tea from that area with the hope of drinking it at my accomodation. If I don’t have a shiboridashi however, I will not be able to enjoy the tea. I personally feel that the best way to brew locally bought tea is with the water in that region. This is why I try to bring along a teapot with me whenever possible. You might think that it is troublesome to bring along the teapot, but in fact this will make your trip even more enjoyable.
Perhaps you can start with packing sencha tea bags for your trip. At d:matcha we have those as well for your enjoyment.
(写真: A shioridashi that I bought specifically for travelling.)
Nice to meet you (by Ko.Y）
Hello, my name is Ko and I joined d:matcha this April! I am originally from Taiwan. Prior to joining the team, I was studying how to make Japanese confectionery for two years at the Kyoto Culinary Institute.
I was motivated to learn how to make wagashi after a family trip to Japan. Although this was a while back, I remember being extremely impressed by the beauty and deliciousness of wagashi. Since then my interest in the craft sparked and has remained since.
I reached out to d:matcha for a job opportunity as I am really interested in improving my skills, as well as gaining more knowledge and experience. I was also inspired by d:matcha’s ability to produce confectionery using their own tea, as well as being able to convey the appeal of their products to customers both in Japan and abroad.
I hope to be able to create new products that succinctly highlight the best of the seasons in Japan. I will work hard to also convey the charm and beauty of Japanese confectionery and tea. Please look forward to our new products!
(写真: Taipei City, Taiwan)
Nice to meet you too! (by Yuina.T）
Hello, my name is Yuina Tanaka and I also joined d:matcha this April. I am originally from Aomori prefecture. I completed my university education in Chiba Prefecture. My major was the psycholinguistics of English, and this included learning the language acquisition process of animals and babies.
Prior to my graduation, I participated in several internships and briefings at various companies. Due to COVID-19 however, most of these experiences were held virtually. One day during my search, I decided to look for a company with the keywords “matcha”, “Japanese culture”, and “overseas”; this is when I came across d:matcha’s homepage. I immediately felt that the ethics of the company was in line with what I was looking for so I sent an email to the team.
Since my university days, I have enjoyed communicating in English and experiencing different cultures. At the same time, I find joy in sharing Japan’s culture to others, and tea is definitely an integral part of that.
Due to the lucky timing, I was also able to do my internship in person. The experience was very memorable for me. Despite being a small venture company, the team dealt with many overseas customers and there were many opportunities for me to use English. In addition, despite the team being small, they worked globally despite being in a beautiful rural area (Wazuka). I also doubt that there are many companies conducting such detailed farm-to-table work as d:matcha. My mind was made up, I knew I wanted to join the company.
In the future, I hope to be able to contribute and cultivate different types of tea that can accommodate the taste buds of everyone around the world.I also recommend trying matcha as it has a unique flavour. Why don’t you try d:matcha’s tea today?
The sign of spring and sustainable living in rural Japan (by Daiki.T）
This April, we finally felt the gentle warm breath of spring in our fields in Yubune, Wazuka.
Recently we planted six Yuzu trees beside our hoshun and komakage young tea seedlings. Yuzu is an ideal crop for tea farmers as the fruits are harvested in winter, which is when the tea trees are dormant. The yuzu fruit is also extremely versatile and can be used in multiple ways. This includes as an incense, in confectionery, to be blended with tea, or in the creation of more savoury dishes. The bark of the yuzu tree is riddled with thorns that make it resistant to attacks from wild animals.
Unlike last year, our young tea sprouts have not been affected by the frost. When I did a taste test by tasting the young tea sprouts as they are, the balance between the umami and astringency was distinct and exquisite. I am really looking forward to harvesting delicious tea this year. We hope to start from the end of April.
Last but not least, our Chinese milkvetch has finally started flowering! We planted the seeds last September as green manure for our rice fields. Initially the elders in Yubune speculated that our seeds might be rotten but because the weather in this region is significantly colder, the flowers took a longer time to germinate. Chinese milkvetch is a legume and ideal cover crop as it helps with nitrogen mobilisation and mineralisation of our paddy fields.
Traditional Japanese farming methods and lifestyle are often truly organic. I hope to pass on these methods while creating a lifestyle and business that is sustainable. Over time, we will also work to evolve and deepen these processes.