On the 15th December my compatriots and I, travelled to Kensington, London, to participate in an exciting Kakegawa tea tasting event. This event featured a slideshow presentation discussing the tea growing region Kakegawa propounded by Asako Steward, followed by an opportunity to taste Fukamushi-Cha, through both the official Japanese tea tasting evaluation style as well as a properly brewed cup to enjoy. Which was the highlight of my evening and the most informative? Not sure. To be honest I loved both aspects.
The event was organised by the local government of the Kakegawa – city in order to raise awareness about the teas and to connect with people who will be able to help promote the teas by writing about them or selling them here in the UK. 7 Kakegawa representatives visited London, including their taster who prepared Japanese tea for evaluation in the Japanese style. It was a truly amazing experience, so much so I fell a little bit in love with the area, therefore throughout the rest of this blog, I will impart the knowledge I learnt. This includes some details about the tea growing region, the tea growing method, as well as Fukamushi-Cha.
Also, all the vibrant pictures were taken by Matt Eden, who graciously travelled with Robyn Ingram and me to London.
Kakegawa is a city in western Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. Within Kakegawa’s city limits are some local attractions including the reconstructed Kakegawa castle, Palace a residence of the Lord of Kakegawa, as well as Kakegawa Kacho-en, which hosts a large variety of bird and plant species in a greenhouse-enclosed private garden. Its 1st output is tea, with 60% of the production being Sencha, it’s well renowned for its excellent tea production, with the temperature difference between day and night together with the mountain climate refreshed by mountain dew, combine to create ideal conditions for delicious teas. The total tea cultivated area of Japan as of 2013 is represented by 45,400 hectares, while the Shizuoka area accounts for 40.3%, and Kakegawa contains a 2300 hectare tea garden. Tea gardens in Kakegawa are controlled with 2-hour programmes, where the hot or cold air is blown on to the bushes to protect the tea. There is 16 main tea producing area, with over 3000 tea producing factories, who then sell to over 4000 merchants which then sort the crude tea into a refined tea. Tea is so much a part of there culture that it is also a part of the curriculum in local schools, where they learn to grow, pick, process and sort their own tea. Children can often be found playing a blind tea tasting game known as Cha-ka-go-we, or gargling with it due to the antibacterial properties found in green tea.
This important tea growing region is now listed as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS), a programme that was established in 2002. Only three tea producing areas in the world are listed as such and only 8 places in Japan are listed as GIAHS for their unique farming methods (not for tea but for other crops). The traditional tea-grass integrated system in Shizuoka (Chagusaba) is a traditional farming method for nurturing a rich diversity of living organisms and for co-existence with the environment. From 150 years ago tea was grown in Kakegawa, and the tradition of tea farmers strewing cut grass between the rows has survived since then. The combination of productivity in farming and conservation of local biodiversity is highly rated. Semi-natural grasslands are where bamboo grass, Japanese pampas grass, and other types of grass are grown and harvested for use as organic matters in the tea fields and is known as Chagusaba (meaning the field where tea farmers cut grass). Chagusaba scatters around the tea field leading to a characteristic landscape commonplace, but nevertheless unique to Shizuoka Prefecture.
To make quality tea the grass is cut in late autumn, and the harvested grass is left in heaps to dry in the fields, this dried grass is then cut before being spread between the rows of tea fields. 7 tonnes of grass are used per 1 hectare of a tea field.
This affects the tea fields through the spreading of grass by locking moisture into the soil, preventing drought, and keeps the soil warm. The grass acts as an organic fertiliser through the decomposition of grass that forms compost, and improves the soil quality, by inducing reproduction of microorganisms in the soil. The key to the growth of good tea is soft soil, the grass mixed with soil creates moisture balance, allowing the tree roots to grow 1 metre deep. The dried grass also prevents the growth of weeds. Finally, the presence of the grass spread out in the tea fields suppresses the outflow of soil, meaning the soil is not lost on the slopes.
Due to the Chagusaba method, every autumn the grass harvest has created a special habitat for a large diversity of living organism with over 300 species of meadow plants being found of which 7 have been confirmed to be either endangered or endemic to Kakegawa. Including the Short-Horned Grasshopper, Helleborine, Euphorbia Watanabei and many others.
Tea farmers in Kakegawa developed Fukamushi-Cha over multiple tries concentrating on the climate and soil rather than the looks of the leaves, in order to enhance the character of the tea in the area through the deep steaming method. Kakegawa has also been awarded the best Fukamushi-Cha for 10 consecutive years, with a total of 19 times. Fukamushi-Cha is processed with the thick tea leaves of plants that have long hours of sunlight throughout its life cycle, this abundance of sunlight attributes to the high levels of Vitamin C and tannin. The leaves are then processed the same as Sencha, however, the steaming process undergone almost immediately after harvesting is 2-3 times longer than usual, before rolling/drying and finally sorting. Deep steaming breaks down the tea leaf cells, therefore making it easier to release nutrients from the vacuole into the liquor whilst brewing. This deep steaming creates a thick intense and sweet mellow taste, with a smooth texture, that can only be found in good quality Fukamushi-Cha. The difference between usual sencha and Kakegawa Fukamushi-Cha can be found in both the colour and taste, whilst sencha is normally a pale green, Kakegawa Fukamushi-Cha is a deep green colour, and the taste of Kakegawa Fukamushi-Cha is not astringent when compared to Sencha.
Don’t forget to have some tea on me.