Aito-en

OCHA TIMES
Aito-en

Aito-en run by a Kawane tea farmer, a multiple award-winning farmer who has achieved prizes at the national tea competition for the second straight year.

Here, a rare event is held in which a Kawane tea farmer serves tea a few times monthly. That is Kawane Tea Farm Cafe. Reiji Aito, the host, and his wife greeted us warmly. We listened to this expert with many awards while taking the tea they served.


eiji Aito “Welcome to our farm. We prepare teaware and tea leaves, but we have guests experience the process to make tea here. The concept of Kawane Tea Farm Cafe is that we want everyone to enjoy Kawane tea while learning the charm.
We would be grateful if the event increases fans of Kawane Tea.”



Reiji Aito “This is Yabukita. Pour hot water about one-third into Yuzamashi, teaware for cooling down hot water. We decided not to provide Okuhikari this year because the quality didn’t deserve our standard. Here, take this. Kuri Kinton, sweet potato with chestnuts, my wife made. Her parents are a tea merchant. By the way, Aito Farm is close to us. They are our relatives. The host’s father is my cousin.”

Reiji Aito “The important thing is to reflect how you taste, so try it first. Seeing is believing. Actually, everyone does get surprised at the taste because it’s completely different from what they imagined. With the second or the third brew, the taste is getting closer to the common taste. For the first brew, I guess young people cannot imagine it.”

ー “It’s wonderful the second brew keeps tasty, not only the first brew. This Kuri Kinton is also perfect.”

Reiji Aito “Our menu depends on the season. We’re serving Kuri Kinton since we have just got fresh chestnuts. The taste of the tea relies on the amounts of nutrients in the leaves. We have tried a variety of fertilizers and then currently focus on organic fertilizers.

In the old days, we used to collect the bony parts of fish and change them into amino acid fertilizers. Can you believe I checked around fish shops to get 45 litters of the bony parts? The smell was so awful that I wasn’t allowed to enter my house until I removed the smell by washing myself, haha. I have studied this field while visiting Takeshi Kaneko of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries many times. With these trials and errors, more than 10 years passed.”

ー “You continued struggling with that for more than 10 years. I assume there was no refrigerated facilities or transport system at that time. Your challenge is beyond my imagination.”

Reiji Aito “Next, here is Susuricha. Put 2.5 g of prize-winning tea at the tea competitions into water. How luxurious it is, haha.”

ー “I had this tea at Fo-re Naka Kawane. The taste moves me. In my opinion, it can be arranged with luxury foods such as truffles and caviar. The rich scent just comes with water.”

Tea from high-quality soil in Kawane creates the best flavor that is continuously selected as awards at the tea competitionss

Reiji Aito “Kawane tea farmers have won many awards at the tea competitionss. The secret is the high quality of the soil here. You also visited Kawasaki-san in Matsushima-en, didn’t you? The area is called Koidaira. I do respect him making the high-quality tea. It’s really amazing to keep that quality of Kawane tea.”

↓ Received black tea of Aito-en as well.

Reiji Aito “Trimming tea bushes is a key every year, in which the excess leaves are cut so that the nutrients go into every tea bud. It’s as if makeup of the tea farm. We should be careful about the timing of trimming, don’t be too early or too late. Tea farmers decide the best timing using our know-how accumulated in a long history. However, the environment, or the climate condition, is largely changing around the Oi River. The bushes grew fast unusually last year while they do slow this year. The prediction is hard even for me, an experienced tea farmer in Kawane with the know-how, due to the big shift of the environment.”

↓ Can see a breathtaking view from the edge of the cafe.

Reiji Aito “Before the tea harvest season, we try to roll a small number of the leaves to check the difference from those of the last year. Then, we see the condition. Like this, I always touch tea leaves. It may be only us of Aito-en that roll tea before the harvest picking season. After rolling tea, we bring it to Chameikan. This is our handmade table for rolling tea. I made it bending stainless steel by electric heat.”

Reiji Aito “We roll tea by hand for about 4 hours in full production. At the peak season, we roll a total of 800 kg or so. We cut harvest the leaves in the morning and roll them alone by myself in the afternoon. To avoid losing the freshness, we never leave them until the next day. Instead, we collect the amounts we can finish rolling. This needs a quite high skill. Yoshio Aito, an older brother of my mother, won prizes at the competition of rolling tea by hand for the ninth straight year. I’ve never seen such an Eisei Meijin, the master of tea rolling, before or since.”

The brand power of Kwane tea drops, which reduces the production

Reiji Aito “Kawane tea is less and less recognized these days. In the past, the tea was famous as a great brand. Now, the number of individuals who know the name dropped to 25% of those in the past. It may be derived from indications of geographical origin. The label of Kawane tea was put by tea package companies and a lot of Kawane tea was shipped. At some point, the rule was revised. The new rule does not allow to show the origin unless the tea contains more than 51% of the local leaves. But, in the first place, local Kawane tea just accounts for a few percentages or less. The less production hid the brand name although the quality was high. We tried to build and protect the brand, but it resulted in the opposite effect. After all, Kawane tea came to a niche brand with less recognition. Kawane Tea Farm only had 600 ha originally. Now, the planted area is less than half.”

ー “I’ve heard Kagoshima Pref Prefecture. was one of the hottest spots in the tea industry. Farmers came to Kawane from Kagoshima to master the know-how for tea production in the past, didn’t they?”

Reiji Aito “Yes, people from Kagoshima came to Fujikawa here to learn tea. But they could never reach the quality of Kawane tea. So, they brought the tea home, Kyushu, and recreated it as their tea. The Kagoshima tea is great.”

Reiji Aito “Producing good tea led to good income and future in the past farmers. The current farmers cannot do this way anymore. In the Tea Market, the reasonable price tends to be the most valuable for tea wholesalers. How can tea farmers survive in this case? Good tea must be the right and high price. Otherwise, our job wouldn’t work anymore. We, tea farmers, concluded that we should be a retailer to survive. That’s the last resort. Honestly, I want to concentrate on tea cultivation and production. Retail business always needs time and effort. But I started as a retailer to save our lives. That was unavoidable. Fujikawa is a unique place even from the view of mine, one of the residents. About 600 people settle here in 190 houses. Fujikawa is the first area directly selling tea at retail in Japan. Takada Farm was the first retailer. They contributed to increase purchasers from a retail shop. Aito-en started mail order in 1976. In the following year, we started online shopping service, which is currently our main business.”

Reiji Aito “China also has tea. They do know how to bargain and choose high-income customers. They sell tea at very high prices, with large profits. A Chinese visited us recently, saying they wanted all your tea, haha.”

Aito-en has cooperated with the tea box industry for the first time in Japan. Their footsteps are still increasing

Reiji Aito “Japan only has five tea box factories. Among them, two factories are located in Kawane. In a company, Interior Chabako Club, interior chabako coordinators make Cartonnage, or pasting a cloth on the outside of the tea box. Their products are sold in
Nihombashi Mitsukoshi. Aito-en is the first tea farmer who collaborated with this tea box. At that time, Kieko Sonoda was the coordinator. She has already retired from her position though.”

↓ Several decades ago when the transportation system to Tokyo didn’t develop yet, Aito Tea Farm had already traded with a tea shop in Nihombashi. This reflects the quality was well recognized in Japan.

Reiji Aito “The past tea merchants were on a high level, but nowadays, more and more merchants don’t learn enough. That’s why we’re offering high-quality tea directly step by step. Many people don’t know how tasty Kawane tea is yet. To let them notice it, we started our style. That is Kawane Tea Farm Cafe. It’s fine to take tea whenever you want, no matter it’s the morning, the afternoon or the night. The taste also depends on the origin region. Enjoy the difference while drinking. We hope the tea is such a pleasure product.”


For Kawane tea farmers, the situation changed dramatically over time. Nevertheless, they’re proud of the quality and keep the tea serving event of Aito-en. Don’t miss the event.

Thank you for reading the report of Aito-en by our chief editor.

Aito-en

Address 160 Moto-Fujikawa, Kawane-Honcho, Hairbara-gun, Shizuoka Prefecture 421-1131, Japan
Website Aito-en

http://www.fuji.ne.jp/~aitouen/

(Kawane Tea Farm Cafe)

http://kawane-chaen.com/

Phone number (japanese only)

Please do not suddenly visit tea farms without an appointment in advance, as it troubles farmers.

E-money and credit cards Cash only
Open Contact Aito-en(japanese only)
Closed Check the websites above or contact Aito-en(japanese only)
Parking lot Available for one or two cars
Acess About 60 minutes by car from Mukuya Interchange via Kokudo-Ichigo-sen Bypass
About 5 minutes by car from Oigawa Railway Suruga-Tokuyama station

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