Greetings! It’s starting to feel more like spring in Japan with the beautiful blooms on ume (plum), cherry, chinese magnolia trees, and the hopeful call of the nightingale. What new scents, sprouts and sights are around where you are?
Speaking of change, have you been observing the moon in March? It is nearly the full moon, actually March 7th for Japan. And on this note, I would like to spotlight a tea that was harvested last month on the full moon (February 6, 2023), Ayumi Kinezuka’s Wha-ha-ha Three Year Bancha.
First, before diving into the story of this tea, what exactly is a three year bancha (Japanese: sannen bancha)? Bancha is known as folk tea, and generally refers to tea made from leaves that have been allowed to grow to a very large size (i.e., larger than sencha). Additionally, bancha is typically made from tea leaves that have been picked from autumn to early winter. A three year bancha is a bancha that specifically comes from stems and leaves that have been matured for three years OR bushes that have been uncut for three years. If you would like to read a more detailed overview of a three year bancha, please see our previous post: Discover Japanese Tea: Sannen Bancha. The tea I am spotlighting today, Ayumi-san’s wha-ha-ha three year bancha falls under the latter category and is a three year bancha from bushes that have been left untamed for three years.
The Story of the Wha-ha-ha Three Year Bancha
I remember when I first encountered the wha-ha-ha three year bancha, the name very much captured my curiosity. Back then, I did not know what a three year bancha was and I was particularly interested to know why it was given the name “wha-ha-ha”! I soon discovered by talking with Ayumi-san that “wha-ha-ha” captures the laughter and camaraderie that is shared amongst tea lover friends who gather together to harvest abandoned tea bushes and to make this special tea (Note: If you are not familiar with the situation of tea farming in Japan, abandoned and poorly cared for tea fields are increasingly common as farmers become too old to work in them). So, this tea is harvested in cooperation with the hands of many. On the subsequent day, the harvest is taken to the Peace Tea Factory (located in the neighboring Kawane, Shizuoka Prefecture) where the harvested stalks and branches are chiped, while the leaves and stems are separated and then carefully and slowly roasted over a wood fire.
Another noteworthy specialty of this tea is that it is always harvested on the full moon in February, during the coldest time of the year. Perhaps, the moonlight is the secret to what makes this tea so comforting and flavorful! Ayumi-san and her friends actually experimented with a non-full moon harvest and decided that the full moon harvest was a more delicious tea! When drinking this tea, Ayumi-san wishes that you can hear the laughter (wha-ha-ha) of friends as well as the breath of the mountains of Fujieda, Shizuoka Prefecture where this tea came from.
A Comforting Tea for the Entire Family
There are other reasons why this tea is wonderful to share amongst family and friends. It is very low in caffeine and tannins so it can be enjoyed throughout the day by children and elders (even babies!). In fact, Ayumi-san’s children fill up their canteens with the wha-ha-ha three year bancha and bring it to their kindergarten and elementary school (they also drink this tea at meal times!). Because this tea includes not just the tea leaves but the stalks and stems of the tea, the tea will warm you up especially on cold days. In fact, the tea is generally made up of more stems (70%) than leaves (30%) so if you just saw the tea itself without being packaged, one is likely to mistake it for wood chips!
A nice aspect of the three year bancha is that the taste does not deteriorate even if the freshly brewed tea is kept hot. This differs from green tea or black tea because these teas, if kept warm, will oxidize and lose their flavor. In contrast, the three year bancha can be brewed in the morning and kept warm all day long! At Ayumi-san’s for instance, when they have the wood stove on, they can drink it any time as it will stay delicious. If you have a friend who is expecting a baby or breastfeeding, it is sure to be an appreciated gift. Not only are you supporting an amazing female tea farmer in Japan, the three year bancha is safe and healthy for expecting and lactating women.
Voila! That’s the spotlighted tea for today on Yunomi. I hope you will consider trying Ayumi-san’s wha-ha-ha three year bancha. It is truly a homy delight!
To read more about Ayumi Kinezuka, please check out her page on Yunomi as well as recent interviews:
Featured image: Ayumi-san and friend cooperating on the three year bancha harvest. Photo courtesy of Ayumi Kinezuka.