Kumamoto-cha & Miyazaki-cha

Hello, happy half moon in August! 

Late August is usually a time when the bell crickets (鈴虫; Suzumushi) start to sing and chime in Japan.  Their singing can be peaceful and calming, a sign of autumn… which feels far away as it’s been very hot and humid. So the main photo of this post is from a cold-brew tasting session held by the Miyazaki Sabou Garden, who we will introduce later. Has it been as hot where you are located? Have you been cooling off and enjoying Japanese tea with your cold brews? Or have you been sticking to your hot cup of tea? 

Today, we will be touching on two more prefectures in Kyushu known for their tea; Kumamoto and Miyazaki, with a little history and descriptions of folk teas in the region.

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Kumamoto-cha

Located in the center of Kyushu island, many may have heard of Kumamoto prefecture due to the 2016 magnitude 7.0 earthquake. Apart from that, Kumamoto is also known for their tea, Kumamoto-cha (the tea from this prefecture has been branded). Along with Nagasaki and Saga, it is one of the prefectures in Kyushu producing the folk tea, kamairicha. Moreover, a unique facet of Kumamoto-cha is the samurai spirit rooted in its history. 

Kumamoto is up in the ranks when it comes to tea production, placing 8th across the 47 prefectures in Japan.  Indeed, when one examines a tea map of Kumamoto, tea production indicators can be seen all throughout the prefecture. We highlight some of the major tea producing regions in Kumamoto: 

  • Yamato-cho and Amakusa (beautiful bay island)
      • These regions hold pride in their kamairicha (a traditionally roasted folk tea) with the characteristic “kamaka (釜香)” scent. Some compare the kamaka fragrance to the pleasant and beguiling experience of catching a scent from a mix of unknown flowers while walking through a field or garden. Kumamoto prefecture is responsible for a quarter of tamaryokucha – curled Japanese green tea (recall from the previous post that kamairicha is the roasted type of tamaryokucha, while over 95% is the steamed type).
    • In the Southern parts of the prefecture, the Hitoyoshi/Kuma area is known as the largest tea producing area in Kumamoto.  A large tea complex can also be found in Sagara village
      • The Hinokuni Kumamoto tea farm, surrounded by astonishing mountains 700m or more all around (giving rise to substantial temperature differences from day to night), is located here, in Sagara Village. The Hinoki Kumamoto’s story is a very inspiring one - worth reading fully on the Yunomi site - as they started their tea farm from seeds rather than vegetative cuttings. This is a highly arduous task especially as you cannot produce any tea the first 15 years and the resulting bushes have more variation than when cuttings are used. The story continues after the post war period, when, due to American imposed policies, the use of pesticides and chemicals were imposed upon on tea farmers. If farmers did not conform to the new practices they could not sell through the official channels and no financial assistance would be given. In 1977, Kenichi Fujisako, the second generation tea farmer, decided to discontinue the use of chemicals. Even though there were times when his tea farm seemed to be in ruins and all of the neighboring farmers made fun of him. In the end, Fujisako-san did not lose heart and they have been chemical free ever since. This inspirational story of Fujisako-san’s determination and perseverance will make you deeply appreciate their tamaryokucha teas! 
    • For those of you who are interested in exploring Japanese black tea, Minamata City in the south of the prefecture is famous for its black teas and early hashiri-sencha (shincha or first flush), thanks to its warmer location. This region is at a higher elevation (600m), well-suited for tea production due to  large day and night temperature swings as well as the volcanic ash soil. They are also known for Japanese black teas. The terroir is allowed to be fully expressed by the local tea processors and is unaffected by chemical fertilizers or pesticides.  
    • Another excellent tea farm in Kumamoto, located in the central region of the prefecture: 
      • Tomizawa Tea Garden: Established in 1930, this is an award winning tea farm that has preserved and passed down traditional tea producing techniques and specializes in kabusecha. Of note, most of their teas will be labeled as guricha (which is simply another term for tamaryokucha, or comma jewel tea). The Tomizawa Tea family was affected by the 2016 earthquake; yet, thanks to all of the support they received, in 2018 they were able to rebuild and open a tea shop located just besides the Futa River called Green Tea Lab. There, you can peacefully enjoy a cup of tea from the Tomizawa Tea Garden with rice balls or with Japanese sweets! 
      • In this video, you can see clips from a Noh performance Okurakai held on April 13th, 2019 in which prayers were given for the Kumamoto earthquake reconstruction. Tomizawa-san makes an appearance at 0:49, as he was asked to brew tea for this special occasion. 

     

    Tea of the Warrior

    Kumamoto is also the birthplace of the Bushi no cha (Higo Koryu), or “Tea of the Warrior” tea ceremony school. It is a traditional style of tea ceremony that has been passed down for centuries and is said to be closely related to the style practiced by a pivotal figure in the history of the Japanese tea ceremony: Sen no Rikyu. What makes this style of tea ceremony warrior like? In addition to some layout, procedural and stylistist differences, one element that differentiates this school is the placement of the fukusa, a cloth for wiping the tea utensils. In many other tea ceremony styles, it is held on the left side of the kimono belt. However, in Higo Koryu, the fukusa is rather tucked into the right side because the left side is where a samurai (i.e., warrior) would traditionally have his katana (i.e., sword). 

    For when we can all travel freely… While we will not be elaborating too much on samurai or the different tea ceremony schools at this time, if this is something which intrigues you, and you find yourself in Kumamoto, make sure to visit the Shimada Museum of Arts. They house an exhibition on the history of Kumamoto’s samurai culture. The museum is even located in the neighborhood of the famous Kumamoto castle. If you’re all about tea, the Suizenji Jojuen is a must see, along with a Japanese tea ceremony! 

     

    Miyazaki-cha, sencha and folk tea!

    While Kumamoto is rich in samurai history, one must also leave space for Miyazaki to shine. Towards the east from Kumamoto and facing the Pacific ocean is Miyazaki Prefecture, another Kyushu prefecture well known for their folk tea (i.e., kamairicha). Magnificent beaches and luxurious mountains can be found here. In fact, it is said that the sunshine and green lead to high quality Japanese tea from this region. While their high quality tea may not be known outside of Japan, Miyazaki is a prefecture that has been growing steadily in the tea industry (with respect to both tea producing area and amount), placing 4th for tea production in Japan. Indeed, similar to Kagoshima, in the flat areas, there is now large-scale mechanized cultivation. 

     

    What are some distinct characteristics of the tea from Miyazaki?

    As a prefecture, Miyazaki is one of the tea producing areas which has been putting their efforts into pesticide-free tea. Similar to how Kumamoto prefecture has branded their tea to be called “Kumamoto-cha”, Miyazaki also unifies their teas, calling it Miyazaki-cha”. Another highlight of this prefecture is that in addition to the common Yabukita cultivar, Miyazaki-cha makes use of a wide-array of tea varieties. These varieties are able to thrive due to the mild climate of this region, since some of the less common tea cultivars do not withstand cold temperatures. The 12 rich varieties give Miyazaki-cha great variety and range of potential scents and flavors.  Here, we provide the list in order of early to late maturity: 

    • Saemidori, Yumekaori, Sakimidori, Yabukita, Harumoegi, Nagomiyutaka, Minekaori, Minamisayaka, Fushun, Okumidori, Miyamakaori, Harunonagori 

     

    While tea is grown all throughout the prefecture, some of the main tea producing areas in Miyazaki are: Hinata City, Miyakonojo, Kushima and Kawanami. While 80% of the tea produced in Miyazaki are senchas, in the mountainous areas of the Northwestern tip of the prefecture (including Gokase and Takachicho) one can find the rare kamairichas. The tea farmers in Miyazaki are known for meticulously preserving this traditional folk tea! In fact, at the 72nd National Tea Fair held in 2018, Miyazaki received recognition as a prefecture, winning the Production District Award in the “Kamairicha” category and the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Award. Below, we shine light on some of the tea farms in Miyazaki that Yunomi has built ties with:

    • The Miyazaki Sabou Tea Garden is a family-operated tea farm and factory in Gokase, Miyazaki. In Gokase (certified as a World Agricultural site in 2015), tea fields can be found above 600m in altitude and on a clear day, one may be able to spot Mt. Asao and Mt. Sabou. If you’re looking to try a mountain grown folk tea from Miyazaki, this is the one! 
    • The Miyazaki Kamimizu Tea Farm is a 4th generation family tea farm located at the base of the mount Kirishima in Mimata, Miyazaki, in the Southern region of the prefecture. After suffering heavy losses from frost damage this farm adopted a technique commonly used in tree fruit production, irrigating their tea bushes with the area’s high quality mineral water when temperatures drop. The Kamimizu family honors the soil, water and air offered to them by nature and produces a chemical free tea, which they would love you to try cold brewed!

     

    By now you’ve hopefully become learned about some of the Southern tea production regions and become interested in trying some of the traditional and innovative interpretations of kamaricha, a type of folk tea common before steaming methods were introduced. But if you’re growing tired of all this talk about delicate floral scents drifting on the breeze, don’t worry, next up, we’ll touch on a famous tea producing region in Fukuoka, Yame. For the gyokuro lovers out there, you will not want to miss this one…  



     

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