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- 1 Yabuzaki family has a history of thirteen generations since the mid-Edo period, which produces “Asahina Gyokuro”, “Kabusecha”, “Premium Tea grown in the mountains”, and “Organic-grown tea”.
- 2 Along with Uji in Kyoto and Yame in Fukuoka, Asahina is one of the three major tea production areas for the Gyokuro, premium shaded-green tea.
- 3 Following the Matcha boom of recent years, farmers in Asahina district have been putting effort especially to Matcha production.
- 4 Now the sale of tea leaves is stagnant in Japan. Therefore, Yabuzaki-en is promoting their products in the global tea market.
- 5 How to Brew a Gyokuro/About Yabuzaki-en/ How to Purchase
Yabuzaki family has a history of thirteen generations since the mid-Edo period, which produces “Asahina Gyokuro”, “Kabusecha”, “Premium Tea grown in the mountains”, and “Organic-grown tea”.
We interviewed Masayuki Yabuzaki, the owner and president of Yabuzaki-en.
Mr. Yabuzaki: “Yabuzaki-en was initially a cooperative factory that processed tea leaves harvested by different farmers. Now we harvest and process our own tea only. Asahina district does not have large factories. Other than Ryu-sei Green and Ao-bane Cha-kobo Takumi, cooperative factories near our Kabusecha factory, there are 5 to 6 medium-sized farmers. That’s all. We all get along together in this small area.”
Mr. Yabuzaki: “Our company used to be a tea farmer family with our own land, producing and selling our tea. However, as the demand for tea grew, we moved on to a corporate organization, and Yabuzaki-en Inc. was established around the year 2000. Besides tea, we produce other crops. We also work somewhere else during winter. In this area, the annual farming schedule of farmers in old times is as below:
April and May: first tea harvest
May: Rice planting
June: Second tea harvest
July: Third tea harvest
September: Forth tea harvest
October: Rice harvest
October to December: Mandarin harvest
February to April: Bamboo shoots harvest
Bamboo shoots from Asahina are very famous. Now you can rarely get hold of those bamboo shoots because buyers from big consumption areas come and buy up most of them. Interestingly, some areas that produce good bamboo shoots also produce good tea. Now many farmers have another job to make a living. At one point, a lot of Mandarin orange farmers had to quit because growing the fruit did not give them enough money to live on. But then, as the supply amount became small, and the price of Mandarin oranges increased. Some farmers made a profit as a result. ”
Along with Uji in Kyoto and Yame in Fukuoka, Asahina is one of the three major tea production areas for the Gyokuro, premium shaded-green tea.
Mr. Yabuzaki: “In Asahina district in Okabe, 90% of tea plantations are shaded. Shading is covering the tea leaves to block sunlight. When tea leaves are exposed to a lot of sunlight, bitterness increases. Shading helps tea leaves grow soft and large, reducing the bitter tannins and increasing the amount of amino acids that have umami. ”
↓Tea bushes are covered with Kanreisha, black curtains made of chemical fiber
↓The video shows how Kanreisha (Covers for shade tea bushes) are blown like waves by the breeze and beautifully reflect the sunlight
↓Today, you can still see tea plantations with old-fashioned covering materials made by knitting straw called “Komo”.
↓The video shows tea farmers covering tea bushes with straw mats, “Komo”
Mr. Yabuzaki: “In general, from April to June, when the temperature rises, tea leaves are exposed to sunlight for a longer period of time. That brings out the bitterness in the tea leaves. This area is suited for shading because it’s cool in those months. We also have fine quality soil along the river. The mist and haze from the river act as a natural shower, and that maintains moderate humidity for tea bushes for great tea production.”
Mr. Yabuzaki: “The tip as one bud and two leaves are picked for Sencha, non-shaded green tea commonly drunk in Japan. On the other hand, tea leaves big but soft from the lower part are picked for Gyokuro, premium shaded-green tea. We handpick tea leaves for the quality and nice flavors of the leaf, whereas using machines to harvest which will include the stem mixes in an unpleasant flavor.”
↓The photo shows what remains after picking tea leaves for Gyokuro by hand. It is very different from Sencha-leaf picking, where the one bud two leaf method is used.
Mr. Yabuzaki: “ Shincha, tea from the first harvest of the year, needs to be fresh. Shincha is most delicious and expensive during the harvest season. Shincha loses its fresh aroma as time passes.
However, the aroma of this tea is inversely proportional to the aroma of Gyokuro.
Therefore, in the case of Gyokuro, even Aracha(unrefined tea) is not refined until fall. After fall or winter, the fresh aroma will fade away, turning into a unique and rich fragrance of Gyokuro. It’s the timing to refine Aracha tea leaves for making good Gyokuro.
There is a phrase Ocha ga kareru’ in Japanese. It means that tea leaves have matured to qualify as Gyokuro.”
Mr. Yabuzaki: “Gyokuro is more delicious when matured, which in contrast, is different from newly picked tea.
At Yabuzaki-en, we fill the refined Gyokuro with nitrogen in a bag. Then, we store and sell it like you would a vintage wine. For example, Gyokuro in 2019 was not a good year because we had frost. On the other hand, 2016 was a great year for Gyokuro. Generally speaking, in a stable climate with a lot of harvests turns out to be a good vintage, but it can also lead to lower prices due to the availability.”
Mr. Yabuzaki: “In the past, most of our tea was shipped to Kyoto Prefecture labelled as a produce of Kyoto. However, we had to change our labelling due to issues of indications of geographical origin.
We decided to create our own Gyokuro brand called Asahina Gyokuro. ”
Tea from Mie, Shiga, Osaka, and Nara can still be labeled as Uji-cha'(Uji tea).
Kyoto has tea cultivars(varieties) such as Ujimidori, Saehikari, and Samidori.
Kagoshima has a tea cultivar called Yutaka Midori’. Many cultivars from Kagoshima have the word Yutaka’.
Yabukita’ is the main caltivar in Shizuoka and also all of Japan. A variety called Saemidori is most suitable for Gyokuro. As for Sencha caltivars, Shizuoka has the most.
In the past, Gyokuro was all one category, but recently there is a trend for single-origin which brings unique character per tea variety, per farmer. Though single-origin is not originally a term we hear in the tea industry, it has become acknowledged and used these days. Recently, I feel tea grown in the mountains is becoming popular. Tea grown on the flatlands has different taste and color from tea grown in the mountains. Deep-steamed tea from flatlands is green, while the light-steamed tea from mountains is bright yellow.”
Following the Matcha boom of recent years, farmers in Asahina district have been putting effort especially to Matcha production.
Mr. Yabuzaki: “Shizuoka Prefecture used to have only four Tencha factories, but in recent years with the Matcha trend has increased to more than 10. The Tencha factory is different from ordinary tea factories in that it has ‘Tencharo’, a brick-walled furnace, to dry the leaves for producing Tencha. Also, the process of rolling tea leaves is skipped. Tencha is then ground into powdered green tea which is Matcha.”
Mr. Yabuzaki: “At Yabuzaki-en, we also sell Matcha latte. Our Rich and Luxurious Matcha latte’ is incredibly delicious. You can also purchase this latte at COMO in Okabe. It’s our shop that sells tea from Yabuzaki-en.”
↓Yabuzaki-en’s tea shop, COMO located in Okabe.
Now the sale of tea leaves is stagnant in Japan. Therefore, Yabuzaki-en is promoting their products in the global tea market.
Mr. Yabuzaki: “I think the current Shizuoka tea industry is swaying between a ‘Decline’ and ‘Reconstruction’. The biggest problem in the tea industry is the stagnated demand for leaf tea, tea prices falling, and is hard to maintain a living producing tea. The shortage of successors is also a serious issue. Now that tea is not selling well in Japan, Yabuzaki-en is shifting its focus to the global market. Even selling 0.1% in the global market is huge compared to selling in the smaller market of Japan. We started organic-grown tea targeted for European markets. There was a lot of trial and error, but the biggest challenge was the reputational damage of radioactivity caused by the earthquake. Regarding the spread of tea in the future, I feel social media has a big impact. Recently, many people visit us to drink tea or see the scenery of tea plantations. We have around 100 groups in tea seasons. Some people come on their own, and some come through travel agencies. Accepting visitors is a challenge. However, those visitors really help us promote our tea by sharing information about us on social media and word of mouth. I believe that the current tea industry does not have those kinds of people.”
Mr. Yabuzaki: “We also have people from abroad contacting us through Facebook and Instagram. Since a lot of people contacted us, we hired an English speaker. ”
Mr. Yabuzaki: “Becoming a Japanese Tea Instructer is sort of a trend these days. Personally, I think the way you drink tea or how you promote it’s up to the individual. I just want people to try various types of tea first, and find your preference.”
↓Creative Japanese French dishes prepared by the Shizuoka University Tea Circle, Issen. The members of Issen used Chatsutei Hojicha Rice, and Yabuzaki-en’s “Gyokuro and Tencha” (shaded-grown green tea) in the dishes.
(Details of these dishes will be published at a later date.)
Yabuzaki-en emphasizes organic products to sell on the global market.
Mr. Yabuzaki, president of Yabuzaki-en, has confidently expressed, “Our Gokuro is of the highest quality”.
Many tea lovers and tourists visit the Asahina area every day to enjoy not only delicious Gyokuro and Matcha but also to see the beautiful tea farms.
How to Brew a Gyokuro/About Yabuzaki-en/ How to Purchase
|Address||1135-1 Katsurashima, Okabe-cho, Fujieda City, Shizuoka Prefecture 421-1113, Japan|
You can purchase products via this online store as well.
|Phone number||+81 54-667-3633
(japanese and english)
|Electronic money and credit card|
|Open hours||Ask us|
|Holidays||Please ask us|
|Access||About 15 minutes by car from Okabe Utsutani Interchange|
|Address||964-36 Utsutani, Okabe-cho, Fujieda City, Shizuoka Prefecture 421-1131, Japan|
You can purchase products at COMO or on its online shop.
|Phone number||+81 54-667-3633|
|Electronic money and credit cards: accepted||Credit card available|
|Open hours||9:00 to 17:00|
|Holidays||New Year’s Day|
|Access||About 5 minutes by car from Okabe Utsutani Interchange|