What is this auction exactly? Well first, tea producers within the Kanto block (all prefectures north of Shizuoka) submit their finest products. Then these products are judged and ranked on their appearance, flavor, etc. After that (on 9/26 this year), an auction is held featuring all of the top-ranked tea products. This auction is not open to the public. However, Yokota-san was kind enough to invite me:
“If I say you’re part of the Yokota Tea Farm staff, they’ll let you in. Haruna-san, would you be interested in going as part of your study?”
I responded, “Yes, I’d love to go!” and he took me along!
There were a bunch of tea leaves inside a wooden box at the entrance…what do you think it’s for? Well, since part of checking the tea involves touching it with your fingers, you’re supposed to wash your hands in this tea before entering so that the smell of your hands doesn’t rub off onto the tea you touch later! Everyone was putting their hands in the box and washing them with tea leaves. How luxurious.
Since most of these tea-makers know each other, you could hear greetings and friendly conversations being exchanged all around.
According to Yokota-san, “Some of these people you only meet here, and some you meet everywhere, so at these auctions you do a lot of greeting and exchanging information. But in reality, they’re also trying to sniff out who’s going to bid how much for which teas.”
While looking at his own tea on display, Yokota-san remarked, “Shizuoka fukamushi-cha is yellower than Sayama fukamushi-cha. I tried to make ours yellower to match that, but when you put it next to the Shizuoka tea you can see it’s still greener.”
For the Regular Green Tea Finish Tea Division, Sayama tea (from Saitama prefecture) occupied 19 of the top 20 places! This was a complete contrast to Shizuoka’s dominance of the fukamushi-cha division. There were a few Shizuoka teas in the top places, but according to a certain tea-maker, “The people who make these kinds of teas have tried to make them as green as possible after learning that the auction would be held in Saitama. The really passionate tea-makers will go beyond that to find out who the judges will be and what their tastes are. These auctions are held in a lot of different prefectures, but there are some people who will show up no matter how far away it is.”
This is the FGTC Division. FGTC stands for Fresh Green Tea Competition. The FGTC Division is a place where a group of young (up to 40 years old) tea-makers from Saitama compete against each other in techniques for cultivating and producing Sayama tea. So only Saitama teas are exhibited in this division. Morita Tea Farm’s Morita-san’s son will be competing next year.
The auction began at 10:00 AM, and by noon the deadlines for bidding are already over for all divisions. Then at 3:00 PM, the results of the bidding are announced. The highest bid this time was ¥188,800 ($1,900 USD) for 1kg, and the lowest bid was ¥1,200 ($12 USD).
Since it is an auction, the product must be sold to whoever made the highest bid, no matter what the price turns out to be. Even if the only bid you get is a really low one, you can’t say “I don’t want to sell it this cheap.”
Because of this, tea producers use a “guaranteed minimum bid” method. For example, they’ll say to a bidder, “I don’t want to sell this tea for less than ¥5,000. Would you be willing to bid ¥5,000 on it? If someone bids higher, that’s great; if the bid goes to you, I’ll buy the product back afterwards.”
This was my first time to a tea auction, and I don’t think I’ll have many chances to see so many teas (over 300 types!) on display at one time again. Yokota-san, thank you very much for giving me this wonderful opportunity!
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