Here is some exciting news for Japanese tea. The Leafies Awards (international tea academy in the UK) recently announced a number of teas from Yunomi partners winning prizes.
This year’s Best in Show award and Gold Medal award went to Kuma Tea Garden in Yame, Fukuoka Prefecture for their Yamecha Saemidori Heritage Grade Gyokuro Tenkaichi.
Yame city is one of the major tea producing regions in Japan, especially known for their gyokuro (highly shaded tea). Yame Tea Garden’s competition grade saemidori cultivar is cultivated using traditional canopy shading and other techniques, then handpicked in a micro-batch by tea farmer Masahiro Kuma. A small batch is usually submitted to the National Tea Competition in Japan each year. Their gyokuro has won previous awards and we are once again thrilled that it has received further recognition. Below, is a scene from when Kuma-san and cousin Nakatani-san are being told they won the Best in Show award:
Here are some words from Nakatani-san, who serves as the brand representative of Kuma Tea Garden (since it was in Japanese, we translate it to English):
At the tea competition "The Leafies Awards” held in the UK, the kingdom of tea, our Traditional Gyokuro Saemidori received the Best in Show Award and our Saemidori cultivar Matcha also received a Highly Commended Excellence Award.
For the competition, there were a diverse array of entries totaling 320, such as black tea, white tea, kamairicha (pan-fried tea), and matcha from countries all over the world including India, China, Spain, and New Zealand. We are simply filled with surprise and gratitude for our awards. Thank you. At the awards ceremony, tea-related people gathered from different parts of the world, and there were many teas that I had never encountered before. I was exposed to various people with different thoughts and perspectives, and I was impressed. I realized the depth of the tea world. If you make tea interesting, the more interesting it will become!
Continuing from last year's Leafies Awards, Japanese tea won the top Best in Show award for the second year in a row (Kajihara-san from Kajihara Tea Garden received this award the previous year). While personally, there were many points of personal reflection from the award ceremony, it was reassuring to have Kajihara-san (last year's awardee) sitting by my side. Thank you, again.”
Other Recognitions from Yunomi Partners
Gold Award: Koushun cultivar First Flush Kamairicha
Kajihara Tea Garden in Ashikita, Kumamoto Prefecture also received a gold medal for their Koushun cultivar First Flush Kamairicha (Spring 2023 harvest). This is the second year that Kajihara-san has been recognized through the Leafies. I have been very fortunate to meet Kajihara-san twice this year - once in Tokyo at a tea event and again, back in March at his home in Ashikita. While my all time favorite from Kajihara-san remains to be his lemongrass and kamairicha blend, it is very exciting to see him and Kajihara Tea Garden continue to receive recognition (last year their Benifuki Summer Harvest Japanese black tea was awarded). This year it appears he traveled all the way to the UK to receive their award!
“We received the gold award again this year. This time, our fourth generation Yasuhiro Kajihara (note: this is Kajihara-san’s son) won the award for our Koushun cultivar Kamairicha 2023 spring harvest.
We were able to receive this recognition because of all of your support. We are deeply grateful from our hearts. This year, I traveled to London by myself to attend the award ceremony. I was again impressed by the high quality of Japanese teas, and felt that young people were making great strides. I was particularly touched that a high school student from Saitama Prefecture (Sayama) also submitted an entry and won an award. I have high hopes for them in the future.”
Back in March 2023, Toshihiro Kajihara kindly welcomed us into his tea room as he let us try a diverse range of his teas. He is smiling in front of his awards, including the Leafies awards he received last year.
Gold Award: Wakoen Tea Farm’s Kakuhori Brand Black Tea
Wakoen Tea Farm based in Shibushi, Kagoshima Prefecture also received acknowledgement for their Kakuhori Brand Black Tea. Wakoen Tea Farm is one of Japan’s largest family owned tea farms, operated by the Horiguchi family since the year 1948. They manage approximately 120 hectares directly and another 100 hectares are cultivated by contract partner farms.
Highly Commended Award: Sueyoshi Tea Atelier’s 2023 "Furusato no Hana" Saemidori Fukamushi Kabusecha
Mataki Tatefumi, who is 3rd generation tea farmer and CEO of Sueyoshi Tea Atelier in Soo City, Kagoshima Prefecture also received a highly commended award from the Leafies 2023.
“At the Leafies 2023 Awards held in London, our tea, Furusato no Hana Saemidori Fukamushi Kabusecha was recognized in the Fukamushi-sencha (deep steamed tea) category as highly commended. This is thanks to all of you who enjoy our tea, to our partners and to my family who supports us. Thank you very much!
Although I was one step short of last year's Gold Award, I am truly honored and grateful to have won the award for the second year in a row. Thank you, everyone for your continued support! This year, just like last year, Japanese tea seems to be the best in the world, which makes me happy. Japanese tea also won prizes in each category. I hope that the value of Japanese tea will be recognized around the world and that it will continue to spread.”
Tea farmer Mataki Tatefumi of Sueyoshi Tea Atelier showing us his tea fields and tea factory back before the busy shincha season.
As you may be able to tell from his words, Mataki-san, who is based in Soo city, Kagoshima Prefecture is very humble and kind. If you wish to know more about him, please refer to a recent interview from earlier this year. His award-winning Saemidori cultivar kabusecha (Furusato no Hana) is actually the very first tea I tried from Sueyoshi Tea Atelier. Taking a sneak peak at his Instagram account, it appears that Mataki-san’s is starting to experiment with Japanese black tea (wakocha)! This will be something to look forward to in the future…
There were other recognitions that went to Japanese tea (For the full list of the awardees from the Leafies Awards please see here). It is very heartwarming to see Japanese tea being recognized internationally and to see the potential it holds to continue to grow from the younger generation. Once again, we send our sincere congratulations to all of our awardees!
Related links and reading:
- Celebrate Japanese Tea Women (Kazumi Nakatani from Kuma Tea Garden is highlighted in this article)
- Meet the Tea Farmer: Mataki Tatefumi
- Leafies Awards 2022 acknowledges Japanese tea farmers
Featured image: Award-winning saemidori cultivar gyokuro. Photos by Kuma Tea Garden.