May 2024 Newsletter

Hand-picked Sencha Harvest at Harayama (by Daiki T.) | Watch

The first harvest of 2024 took place at Harayama, the highest and most challenging slope of all d:matcha’s farms! Visitors who participated in our experience tours from 2017 to 2019 may recall visiting this field during their tour. Located at an elevation of over 400 metres, this site features tea fields planted not horizontally but vertically on steep slopes, making it an extremely labour-intensive location to work in. 

However, much like with wine, the steepness of the slope causes the tea bushes to dig deep into their roots and absorb nutrients from the soil, resulting in tea with a rich floral aroma.

Since taking over this field in 2017, we have refrained from using any fertilisers or pesticides, allowing the tea to maintain its completely natural flavour. Initially, we attempted machine harvesting for the first two years, but due to the steep slope posing safety risks and inefficiencies, we transitioned to entirely hand-picked harvesting.

Although March was cold in 2024, April brought warm temperatures with minimal frost impact, resulting in smooth growth of the tea buds. While the harvest has just begun, it looks promising in terms of yield. We departed at 6:30 AM and spent the entire morning till afternoon harvesting, then we processed the tea at our own factory. With the 46 kg tea leaves we harvested, it turned into around 9 kilograms of Sencha!

We put so much heart and dedication on picking the tea with the hope you can enjoy the tea. We encourage you to brew the tea in hot water and savour its refreshing floral aroma, the characteristic of Harayama.

Yabukita at Hakusan Shrine (by Daiki T.) 

On 6 May, we harvested the uncovered Yabukita tea at the field next to our hotel “Tea Moon” and Hakusan Shrine to produce pure sencha! If you stay in the "Tea Moon" during the harvesting season, you can see directly the process of Yabukita and Okumidori harvesting.

For tea lovers like us who enjoy drinking Sencha every day, Yabukita without covering offers a refreshing aroma, gentle umami, and just the right amount of astringency, allowing us to enjoy it without getting tired of it. In previous years, we would often harvest slightly earlier, eager to get the new tea as soon as possible. However, this year, we exercised patience and waited for the perfect timing to harvest.

As of May the 6th, the covering process has finally come to an end. Starting from the 10th, we will begin harvesting Tencha (tea before grinding into matcha). With more outdoor work, I find myself eating more. I will make sure to build up my strength and face the tea-making process with determination!

Tea Ceremony for Intern (by Seiya H.)

When interns come to help us at d:matcha, I sometimes do tea ceremony experience by serving Koicha (thick tea). This is the time I wear a kimono and serve tea to guests. What I want my guests to enjoy in my tea ceremonies are several points.

  1. Enjoy Koicha! Koicha is the original matcha that was enjoyed during tea ceremonies. It is known as the main dish for a real tea ceremony. Some of the interns in the past happened to like the rich taste and natural sweetness of Koicha.
  2. Watching the procedures. There are many steps that are decided in order and reasons for each procedure and utensils. I try to display the nicest utensils depending on the season so guests can enjoy the atmosphere. Some people who study tea ceremony are interested in the host’s very neat procedure.
  3. Sharing Koicha with one tea bowl. Koicha is originally known to share with multiple guests in the same tea bowl. It doesn’t matter if you’re a samurai or a child. We are all equal in the same tea room. The tatami mat room with everyone being equal in the same style as the sixteenth century is pretty unique. 
  4. Utensils might be important but it is more important to enjoy tea ceremonies with what you have! Original tea ceremonies use charcoal to boil the kettle and there are many utensils necessary for an ordinary tea ceremony. However it is very hard to collect the utensils and charcoal for the ceremony. But you can still enjoy tea with the least amount of utensils. All you need at minimum is a tea bowl, hot water, matcha, tea whisk and your energy that you want your guests to enjoy your matcha!

Sometimes it is very nice to enjoy the formal way of serving matcha I think. Experiencing at least once will help you enjoy tea more. 

New Acquired Sencha Factory (by S. Mahdaria) | Watch

Starting from May this year, we process Sencha in our newly acquired in-house Sencha Factory. We succeeded this factory from a Senior farmer who has retired after 40 years of managing the factory. This factory is more than a heritage, it's like an antique.

Unlike the large machines at the cooperative factory we used in the past years, the machines at the individual factory are smaller, allowing the leaves to retain their original shape during processing. The rolling process is also gentler, resulting in a tea with less bitterness. Brewing it at a slightly higher temperature for a longer time than usual brings out a robust flavour.

The collected tea from the farm will be gathered in the factory as soon as we finish harvesting because we don’t want the tea to get oxidised since what we want to make is Sencha. The tea then will be steamed through a Mushiki. Tea leaves are steamed to halt the oxidising and fermentation of enzymes on the leaves, preserve their green colour and remove the "grassy" odour. The length and temperature of the steaming process is a key determinant in the tea's flavour, aroma and colour, and needs to be adjusted based on the tea cultivars.

Then, the leaves go through a rough rolling machine, Sojuki. This process removes 50-60% water from the leaves. This machine gently rolls the leaves while being exposed to dry, hot air from a fan to remove moisture. After this, the leaves go to the next process, Junenki (twisting rolling machine), where the leaves are gently rolled with a large brush in a circular motion to reduce the water level and break down the cells of the tea leaves. 

Since the tea leaves are still relatively high in moisture and uneven in size and shape, they are rolled while having hot and dry air blown on them during Chujuuki (Middle rolling machine). They are then dried and disentangled ready for final rolling. The tea leaves start to take on a more needle-like appearance. To give the tea leaves their characteristic needle shape, they are rolled in one direction only, similar to the action of manual rolling, while further reducing moisture content. This process is called Seijuki (Detail rolling machine).Sometimes we need to feel the leaves to measure its moisture. 

Finally, the tea leaves will be perfectly dry using a hot-air drying machine during the Kansouki (dryer). This allows long-term storage and further draws out their distinctive aroma. You can watch the process of producing our Sencha Harayama, “In-house Factory Sencha Production” on our YouTube channel.

Finalising Spring Harvest and Preparing for Summer Harvest (by S. Mahdaria) 

We spent most of our time in May harvesting. Towards the end of the month, we have 1 hectare left to harvest. This year is a very good year because we have a lot of nice tea buds to harvest.Unlike last spring, when we were plagued by sudden changes in temperature, this year's warm temperatures in early spring have led to healthy leaf growth and there has been no frost damage, resulting in good leaf quality and a bountiful harvest. However, high demand for matcha and due to the limited capacity of the local factories, we can’t harvest all the fields we have at the same time. All farmers in Wazuka are scheduled to process their tea in the local tea factories. 

We are lucky that we just acquired the Sencha factory from a Senior farmer, thus we can process our Sencha in house. Unfortunately, we need some specific machinery to produce other than Sencha. Tencha as the origin of matcha for example, we need to rely on the communal factory to produce it. Which means, we can only harvest the tea for Matcha according to the Tencha factory schedule. 

While finishing up Spring Harvest, we’re also preparing for Summer Harvest by trimming the harvested tea trees. In Wazuka, it’s popular to harvest a tea field three times a year but the best quality for Sencha and Matcha are produced from Spring Harvest. It is because the day and night temperature drastically change, which creates mist to form in the morning, providing natural shades for the trees. This phenomenon leads to the creation of rich umami and less bitter tea.

Meanwhile, Summer Harvest tends to create more astringent tea since the majority of nutrients stored during winter have been utilised by the tea trees in Spring. Moreover, the tea trees are not shaded during this period and the sunlight is harsher.

The Damage of Mochi Disease (by Hiroki A.) 

This year, the weather has been relatively stable with almost no frost damage, resulting in a good start to a successful harvest season with high yields and stable quality. Due to the increasing global demand for matcha, we conducted covered cultivation on many of our tea fields to produce Tencha. 

This long-term covered cultivation sometimes leads to significant damage from mochi disease. Mochi disease is a unique disease primarily affecting plants like camellias, tea trees, and azaleas, caused by a type of fungus known as filamentous fungi. The symptoms include swelling and deformation of new shoots and the undersides of leaves, which turn white like mochi, leading to poor growth. If the disease progresses, the swollen white parts turn brown and die. While the white phase of mochi disease does not significantly affect quality, the brown parts will lower tea product quality if it’s mixed into the production process. 

Covered cultivation for producing Tencha requires a long growing period after the new shoots sprout. The covering material creates poor ventilation and traps moisture, creating conducive conditions for mochi disease. Furthermore, the frequent rains from mid to late May created even more favourable conditions for the disease. There are many pesticides available to prevent or cure mochi disease, but we cannot use pesticides on our products, so the only way to avoid severe damage is to harvest before the disease worsens. It's frustrating to hope for a stretch of sunny days while feeling the pressure as the harvest schedule gets delayed by rain.


May 2024 Newsletter