JAPAN: UJI BIO MATCHA UND GYOKURO TEEGARTEN
The organic matcha and gyokuro tea garden is located in the region of Uji on Honshu, one of the four main islands of Japan, near the city Kyoto in the prefecture with the same name.
“While drinking the organic Uji Matcha and Gyokuro, the taste lets you think of the original taste of the old sorts of matcha and gyokuro, which the noblemen in Kyoto drank hundreds of years ago, when Kyoto was Japan’s capital and only the tea cultivated in Uji counted as the one and only tea (Hon-Cha).”
The story of organic matcha and organic gyokuro from Uji
When Aijiro started to work as a young man in a tea garden, he witnessed the increasing use of chemicals and flavourings for tea cultivation and processing. He saw these “modern” methods replacing the original cultivation and traditional technical skills, and had the dream to hold a tea garden by himself without using any additives or flavourings in the cultivation and processing. He wanted to make “pure” tea again. He founded a tea garden on a small hilltop surrounded by various trees.
His first cultivation efforts were quite troublesome because of numerous pest infestations. Aijiro used the leaves of the tea bushes of his first tea garden the make Houjicha [roasted green tea].
Step by step he improved the cultivation conditions over the years, leasing new fields, which were lying on high areas, and developed his skills in cultivating and processing. While still being specialized in the production of houjicha, the processing of matcha and gyokuro became more and more important to him. One reason for this could probably be the influence of his hometown Uji, where the cultivation of these two sorts of tea played an important role, since they became famous in the nearby former capital city Kyoto.
Nowadays Aijiro’s son continues the processing of organic matcha and gyokuro and teaches his own son the skills of the organic matcha- and gyokuro-production.
Organic Uji Matcha and
Organic Uji Gyokuro – sorts of tea:
Organic Uji Matcha
The leaves of this kindly sweet and balanced sort of tea come from Yabukita bushes. Only the fine first harvest leaves are used for this good quality matcha.
Right after the harvest the leaf veins are taken out in a complex process. Afterwards the resulting tencha [tea without veins] is ground by using traditional stone mills very slowly and gently in order to get a really fine and enjoyable matcha.
Organic Uji Premium Matcha
The leaves of this kindly sweet and at the same time deep and expressive tea come from Yabukita bushes. Only the very finest spring harvest leaves are used for this Matcha, which is exclusively produced for MARIMO.
After the harvest the leaf veins are taken out in a complex process. Afterwards the resulting tencha [tea without veins] is ground by using traditional stone mills very slowly and gently in order to get a top-class matcha.
Organic Uji Gyokuro
At the beginning of May the tea leaves are picked for his organic Uji Gyokuro. A couple of weeks before this tea harvest, the bushes are shaded with black nets. Thanks to this shading process, the plants produce less bitterness. Thanks to an ecological cultivating philosophy and therefore the very rare use of organic fertilizers (of course it’s only organic fertilizers), this Uji Gyokuro gets on the one hand a round sweetness with balanced umami and on the other hand an expressive depth. This makes this organic gyokuro taste absolutely original.
Cultivation and Processing
Since the tea gardener of the organic Uji matcha and gyokuro tea garden decided to not expose his tea bushes to totally natural conditions, but to make use of a reduced organic manuring – especially with rape pomace – his teas get a well-balanced flavour with a slight sweetness. Just a few tea gardens are able to reach clear and sweet nuances in their teas, without using any fertilizers. But in the case of shaded teas like matcha and gyokuro it is rather difficult without applying, fertilizers. Therefore, organic manuring seems like the best option. Other tea gardens, believing they would focus on a “traditional” production, manure their tea bushes with a lot of mineral fertilizers, which gives the tea an often extreme sweetness. The use of significant portions of chemical and synthetic pesticides, used to get rid of pest infestations in the gardens, should cause goose bumps for reflective tea drinkers.
The tea gardeners questions if the above mentioned “traditional” production of many non-organic gyokuro and matcha tea gardens is really a traditional production method, because in the zenith of shaded tea production times, when aristocrats had fallen in love with shaded teas, such manuring was unthinkable. Every single tea drinker needs to decide for himself whether one preferes the immoderately sweet flavour of a matcha or gyokuro, which is produced with the help of the chemical industry, or if one favours the taste of this pure gyokuro and matcha.
The most important thing for matcha is – and this is where all three fractions share the same opinion – that it is ground by a stone mill right after the leaf veins are taken out. Those two steps are in the hands of Aijiro’s son and grandson. In contrast to simple powder tea, which is ground in a ceramic mill in far bigger amounts, stone mills can produce only about 30g per hour of the fine powder tea. This is the second reason, besides the shading of the tea bushes, why a good matcha is quite expensive.
It is very important to the tea farmer of the organic tea garden in Uji, that his teas are really traditionally produced, which means not to use any of the chemical and synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or colorants. This philosophy helps him to make both sorts of strongly shaded tea, matcha and gyokuro, well-balanced in their flavour and without any artificially sweet taste. With experiencing the flavour of the organic Uji Matcha it is possible to get a hint of how the original sorts of Matcha tasted like, in times when Kyoto was still Japan’s capital city and only the tea coming from Uji counted as the one and only tea (Honcha).
The use of a stone mill can be perceived very clearly with the tongue, since the tiny particles of the matcha powder are not just finer, and induce a far more comfortable feeling on the tongue, but the tea also tastes much softer as common powder tea. Nevertheless the removing of the leaf veins before the grounding with a stone mill plays an important role as well because it improves the flavour and the feeling on the tounge immensely.
Not far away from Kyoto, where from 794 to 1869 the imperial court of Japan resided, is a small town called Uji. It became well-known when the aristocrats started a new kind of game, where the person, who could tell which of the teas was the “original” (Hon-Cha) and which was the “not original” tea (Hi-Cha), gained the victory. Regarded as “original” were only Togano-teas, and a little bit later it was the ones coming from Uji. Since this time is Uji one of the reputable places for tea cultivation.
The drinking of powder tea, which became a common form of tea preparation in China during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), developed to an art in the Japanese tea ceremony (Chado), having its zenith in Japan, while it was almost forgotten in China. Because of the mildness of shaded teas, favoured by the aristocrats, Uji became one of the most important places for the production of matcha and gyokuro, for whom the tea bushes are shaded about three weeks before the harvest.