Today, my calender pops up: Trip to Yakushima and visiting Mankichi und Keita Watanabe. But instead of listening to the Mejiros at the side of the tea gardens of the Watanabe family on the breathtakingly beautiful island of Yakushima, I hear blackbirds, sparrows and wood pigeons, outside the open window in the backyard of our office in Frankfurt.
For this year, we had planned to spend a little bit longer on Yakushima, after our visits in the last two years were very beautiful, but also a little bit hectic, always with one eye on the watch to avoid missing the ferry back, which made it difficult to completely dip into this special atmosphere. For the time being, our trip is postponed.
On Yakushima, the harvest always starts very early. This is due to the island location South of the Japanese main islands. Thanks to a special ocean current, very humid, mild air frequently arrives to the island, so it’s raining very often but the temperatures are relatively mild. Last year, we were very lucky to visit the island on a sunny, warm, even untypically beautiful spring day. We could sit down between the tea bushes, and sipping delicious tea, we even caught our first sunburn of the year.
This year, Keita Watanabe tells us that, although the winter was extraordinarily warm, March and April were unusually cold, and so the early-sprouting tea bush varieties have grown only very few sprouts. Because of this, the harvest is only about half as much, compared to last year. At the same time, the sprouts have grown very slowly, so the taste is very dense. During harvest season, this year it was not raining a lot, so each tea bush variety could be harvested at its perfect time.
This year, again, Watanabes started with their earliest tea bush variety Kuritawase. The first day of harvest was April 5, 2020. The Kuritawase is a special breeding, cultivated by a certain Mr. Kurita for the Southern islands of Japan. This variety starts growing very early. In other regions further North, the risk of frost damages in spring would make the cultivation impossible. On Yakushima there are practically now problems with frost, so it’s really a perfect variety for this location. On day later, on April 6, they harvested the tea bush variety Asatsuyu. This year, the harvest of Sae Midori took place unusually late. Sometimes it’s ready for harvest before the Asatsuyu bushes, this year it was even five days after the variety Asatsuyu. To obtain a beautiful color in the infused tea, this year, the Watanabes shaded their Kabuse varieties for two weeks instead of the usual 7 to 10 days. While processing the leaves, Mankichi Watanabe especially paid attention to the tea’s fragrance, and now elegant fruity nuances of fresh peaches pour out when opening a bag of Watanabe Kabuse Shincha.
Even before the Watanabe Kabuse Shincha was ready for shipping, Keita Watanabe could turn to a new project: For a few years now, he has been experimenting with making new sorts of tea on a small scale. In the last years, his Keita-no-Koucha was born from this, a fragrant black tea from the first harvest. This year, there will be another surprise. Stay tuned!