The Bizenya tea shop is located in Takahagi, Hidaka City, Saitama prefecture, Japan, one of the finest tea producing regions in Japan, along with Uji and Shizuoka. Bizenya specializes in producing and selling the unique regional tea, Sayama-cha. This isn’t just another run of the mill tea shop however. Bizenya’s 5th generation tea merchant Keichiro Shimizu has developed a rare niche as a micro-aggregator, buying high quality teas from trusted local farmers. The liveliness of the tea world keeps him going and he is thrilled with the endless depth of tea. Shimizu-san combines traditional techniques passed on from his ancestors with modern innovation and insights he has gained overseas to expand the limits of Japanese tea. For example, one of Shimizu-san’s award winning teas, the Kohaku Platinum is a refined and innovative interpretation of a rustic style of tea common before steaming became dominant. It is a creative example of what has come to be termed a Sayama green oolong. Its delicate floral aroma is brought forth through a careful withering process (ichou 萎凋). Hand-picking from his private tea garden ensures optimal control over what goes into the final product and the particular scent and flavor profile that is presented.
Bizenya gathers tea from approximately 12 local factories in the Sayama region (including, Iruma, Sayama, Tokorozawa, Hidaka and Hanno) and from known farmers with organic, eco-farming and hand-picking certifications. This type of tea shop is a rare gem in Japan, as most tea shops in Japan gather from multiple regions and the majority of the tea farmers in Sayama directly market their own teas. But Shimizu-san will only gather tea produced from Sayama - he swears to that!
Nogi-en 「乃木園」 - Bizenya's Own Tea Garden
Bizenya’s tea garden was founded in the first year of the Meiji era (1868). Until the early Showa era (1930’s), Shimizu-san's family also dedicated some of their effort to rice milling and other agricultural practices. Shimizu-san’s father was the person who focused the family's attention exclusively on tea, and in particular hand-picked tea. On the majority of the tea farms in Japan, one will observe a geometric and uniform beauty in terms of the arrangement and trimming of the tea bushes. This is due to the careful pruning of linear rows of tea bushes enabled by long term tea breeding efforts and recent mechanization. On the contrary, Shimizu-san’s tea garden is referred to as a nogi-en, which refers to a hand-picked tea garden. An additional distinguishing aspect is that in majority of the tea plantations across Japan, tea bushes are harvested on average 6 times a year. However, in nogi-en, there is just one hand-picking done during the spring first harvest season. The tea bushes on Bizenya’s garden therefore have deep roots and wild leaves, which helps to deliver an exquisite taste that can only be found through hand-picked tea. Shimizu-san and the Bizenya staff have worked relentlessly to improve the stable supply and quality of Sayama-cha. In recognition of their local efforts, Bizenya was awarded the 24th Japan Agricultural Award (第24回日本農業賞) in 1995.
The Unique Flavor of Bizenya's Teas
Shimizu-san is not alone in holding special pride in the taste of Sayama-cha. This is reflected in a famous tea picking song, which proclaims that the best color of tea can be found in Shizuoka tea, the best scent in Uji, but the best taste is to be found in Sayama tea. Indeed, the tea farmers in Sayama are quite particular about the taste of their teas and part of the unique taste comes from how the tea is processed. Shimizu-san shares that if there are 10 wholesalers working with the same tea, there will also be 10 different firing methods, which generates 10 different scent and taste profiles. Shimizu-san has developed his own style of firing, guided by 4 generations of knowledge and made unique through his own study and innovation, which fully expresses the terroir and the individuality of the tea leaves he carefully selects and grows.