May 2023 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.
Unusual Early New Tea Harvest (by Aka.H)
This year, a warm climate continued from March to April, and cherry blossoms bloomed very early. The first harvesting season of this year is also about a week earlier than usual, and tea-picking work can be seen here and there in Wazuka town.
The arrival of this too early season is not favorable for farmers. The climate during this time is unstable, and there are frequent days of sudden cold. There is a high risk of late frost when the new buds are growing and expanding during the warm weather from March to April.
It is better for the new buds to grow slowly until the climate stabilizes. Fortunately, so far this year, there have been no major frost damage, and harvesting has been possible. However, frost damage during this time often results in fatal damage.
Also, it is well known among local farmers that such early tea often has very low yields. One farmer said that they could only harvest about 200 kilograms this year from a field where they can usually expect to harvest 350-400 kilograms. The number of new shoots was fewer than usual, and the surface of the tea field was thinly covered.
Early varieties such as “oiwase” were more affected, with a yield of about 70% of what was estimated. On the other hand, late varieties have better uniformity of new shoots than usual. Although we are busy with harvesting and covering work, we want to tighten our focus again to make high-quality tea and do our best to harvest the rest of the tea garden.
May. The Beginning of Furo and Haigata（by Seiya.H)
April 30th is the day called rofuro irekae, which involves replacing the charcoal in the furo (wind furnace).
In the tea ceremony, the season for using the furo is from May to October. Before April, the ro (a sunken hearth) in the middle of the tea room is used, but as the hot summer approaches, ash and charcoal is placed inside the furo tool to keep the charcoal fire away from the guests as much as possible. The hole made for the ro is covered with tatami mats.
Inside the furo, there is a haigata, which is a shape formed in the ash using a haisaji （A ordinary metal spoon）tool before the host puts charcoal in the furo.
There are several ways to make a haigata, but the simplest one is to shape it deeper in the middle and higher towards the front and back, as shown in the image below. The middle part is shaped to make it easier to set up the charcoal while the surrounding part is shaped to retain heat. A haigata is not only to make it easier to heat up the fire but also an art form, and is one of the ways for the host to show off their skills to the guests. Therefore, it is important to shape the ash as straight and beautifully as possible.
Although it may seem easy at first glance, shaping the ash without leaving any marks or traces using the haisaji is surprisingly difficult.
Experienced tea masters can finish shaping the haigata in 5-10 minutes, but personally, I am not good at it, and it took me about two hours to shape it when I first started. There are many other movements and tools unique to the furo, so please take a look inside the furo when May comes. By experiencing the importance of haigata in boiling water with charcoal fire from cold water, you will better understand its significance.
Matcha beauty recipe No.12（by Natsuki)
We have developed matcha recipes that can be easily incorporated into daily life, with the aim of making it easy for people to enjoy matcha! The 12th recipe is "Matcha Amazake Terrine" that does not use sugar or whipped cream. We used "Matcha variety Samidori" for this recipe.
【Matcha Amazake Terrine】
・Matcha (Samidori) - 1 tablespoon
・Unsweetened yogurt - 400g (200g after draining)
・Amazake - 200g
・Agar powder - 2g
・Strawberries - About 100g
Preparation: Drain 400g of unsweetened yogurt thoroughly for 2 hours or more (200g after draining).
- In a pot, combine amazake, agar powder, and 1 tablespoon of water and mix well.
- Heat over low heat and when it boils, cook for 1 minute and turn off the heat.
- Add the drained yogurt and mix well.
- Arrange the sliced strawberries in a container.
- Pour the dissolved matcha over the strawberries.
- Add 3 to 4 and chill in the refrigerator to set.
d-matcha Vegan Muffin (by Ko.Y）
These healthy muffins made from rice flour and home-grown tea use mineral-rich cane sugar instead of white sugar. They are baked using Japanese ingredients such as home-grown tea, rice flour, and rice oil, without using wheat or dairy ingredients.
The origin of muffins
Although now they are completely different, American muffins and English muffins are said to have the same roots. They originated in 19th century Britain. Initially, they were eaten in Britain, but they were brought to America by British immigrants and American muffins were established by incorporating baking powder, which was developed and sold in America.
Nice to meet you! (by Hiromi)
Hello everyone, nice to meet you. I'm Hiromi, and I joined d:matcha in April.
To introduce myself briefly, I'm from Wakayama Prefecture. I moved to the town of Wazuka through the "Wazuka-Najikan Aid Farm Project" (now called "Agri-Najikan"), which matches farmers who suffer from a shortage of labor during the busy farming season with people who want to work on farms. I stayed in shared houses in the area for several weeks to several months and helped with farm work. I said to my family that I would come back after working at a tea shop in Kyoto for three months, but somehow eight years have passed since then.
I guess the lifestyle here suits me well. There was a time when I considered leaving to find work, but I really like the beautiful scenery and warm people in this town.
Currently, I live in a shared house for aid farmers as a house manager. Aid farmers are seasonal workers. During the harvest seasons from April to July and autumn tea from the end of September to the beginning of November, we accept aid farmers with various backgrounds. The atmosphere inside the house changes every time depending on the people who move in, so I'm always excited to see how it will be this year.
I used to work in Kizugawa City, the neighboring town, but when I started working in the Yubune district where d:matcha is located, I felt that time flows more slowly, and I feel refreshed as if I've slipped back in time when I look around.
My parents like nature, so they took me to the mountains, rivers, and sea when I was little. That's why I'm happy to work in a place surrounded by nature. I'd like to share information about life in Wazuka, not just about tea, but also about daily handcrafts and what I feel every day.
I would be very happy if you could come to our shop someday to experience the relaxed atmosphere here.
The view from d:matcha's field where I was taken for the first time. There are still many Wazuka landscapes that I don't know.
I always eat my lunch while looking at the tea fields.
d:matcha Establishment part21- How to make Japanese people realize the value of tea. d:matcha’s pop-up store trip ~（by Misato.T)
The store in Wazuka Town opened in April 2017. What was realized there was how difficult it is to sell traditional tea to Japanese people and how difficult it is to get customers during the winter in Wazuka Town.
For Japanese people, tea is something they are accustomed to drinking every day. However, the percentage of people drinking tea made in a teapot has decreased, and it has been replaced by bottled tea. Additionally, inexpensive and easy-to-use tea bags, or the style of drinking powdered tea provided for free have become popular. As a result, the habit of enjoying high-quality tea like Wazuka tea at home is being lost.
Moreover, it was realized that many customers visit Wazuka Town during the first harvest season, but during the winter, it was found that traffic decreases significantly. Therefore, during the winter, we decided to go to the city and sell original confectioneries made with our own home-grown tea at pop-up stores.
Our first pop-up store was at Kyoto Station from February 16th to 22nd, 2018. At that time, we didn’t have as many matcha sweets as we have now, and we brought matcha tiramisu, financier, and tea cookies.
It was our first pop-up, so we did it groping our way around while learning various things from other stores next to us.
Our strategy was to have as many passersby as possible taste the tea cookie samples and stop their foot traffic. Although the business hours were from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., we left Wazuka at 8:30 a.m. every day for the delivery of products and preparation and returned home after midnight. We called out loudly and talked with customers to sell more, our voices became hoarse after a week.
At that time, d:matcha was an unknown brand that nobody knew, so we talked about our brand story as much as possible to customers. Customers might feel our strong passion because we were able to achieve much more sales than expected. Some customers became repeat customers during the event and visited their store many times.
It was the pop-up event that made us confident about our matcha sweets.
The season of the first harvest has started. And this year, we finished planting the rice paddies first.（by Daiki.T）
In 2023, the cherry blossoms bloomed about two weeks earlier than usual due to the mild weather, and the tea buds are also developing quickly. The first harvest took place on April 29th, although the harvest has not yet started in earnest at D-matcha's fields, because our farms are located in colder areas of Wazuka than others. Covering work, however, has been progressing rapidly. Some fields determine the covering period while observing the state of the buds to efficiently spread the so-called "Kanreisha" to multiple fields.
By shading the tea plants, the chlorophyll increases and the green color becomes darker, and it prevents amino acids from turning into tannins, resulting in a stronger umami flavor in the tea. Personally, I quite like the "choi kabu" method, which is a good compromise between the unshaded tea and long-term covering (about 7 days).
And then, the rice paddies. As our store moved in front of the paddies, it greatly affected the landscape, so we put a lot of effort into them this year.
Last year, we regretted that we planted rice during the Golden Week holiday and harvested tea at the same time, and we didn't have enough time for tilling or leveling the rice paddies, causing a lot of weeds to grow.
This year, we reshaped the paddies into an efficient square shape by constructing them since winter, and we purchased a new tractor to perform early tilling. We also thoroughly tilled the rice fields to push down the weeds that grew early into the soil. Forming a flat field makes the soil hold water well and makes it difficult for weeds to grow. Making the soil mushy improves the rooting of the seedlings, making it an essential process. We only did it once last year and underestimated its importance, so we did it three times this year.
Even the local elders say, "You really put in the effort this year, and the rice paddies look beautiful." We're really looking forward to the harvest. I also like that when water is put into the paddies, frogs and water birds gather, giving us a sense of the diversity of life.