2020, May, 25
Harvesting fresh green tea.
The report from an organic tea farm in Japan.
' How lucky you are working in this view every day! '
It's the end of April in 2018. I'm at Megumi's, my friend, tea farm. The farm is located at Fujieda, Shizuoka in Japan. She had a big leap to become an organic tea farmer last year. It seemed like she needed some hands in the first season of green tea, that's around early May, I decided to stay some days at her farm. I don't drink green tea regularly but it'd be interesting to know about how the Japanese tea farmer's work is like.
The tea farmer who used this land until 2017 didn't put any chemical for growing tea trees so my friend who received this land was able to start organic farming from her first year as a tea farmer. That was lucky of her. Her ideal tea making is to cooperating with bugs, warms and everything of nature. When I touch the soil at her farm it was very soft and fluffy like I sometimes lose my balance. It seemed like there're some good things working for the soil.
So, I lowered myself to see the soil. Then I felt like I became smaller and being in the woods. The tea trees were also beautiful.
Tiny mantises, bees, spiders, dragonflies, mosses and rare Japanese serow (Kamoshika) also live here in peace.
The season of fresh green tea.
The early summer in Japan starts around the end of April. The wind isn't warm and humid yet but the sunbeam gets stronger. Shizuoka pref. is well known as one of the regions of green tea and the farmers there start harvesting fresh tea in this season. My friend's farm is located at high up in the mountains so the fresh tea season starts slower than other farms. Even though she had training at other tea farms it was hard for her to make a decision when to start harvesting. It was her first year to own her farm.
The tea leaves grow differently according to the location of the slope. For example, one part is growing well in the sun but the other part is still low because of the shadow from the woods. To harvest the leaves, she needed some people holding a machine with her. So, obviously, she also struggled with scheduling with helpers before she became sure with when to start the harvest. However, the tea trees never mind human's schedules. She always had a big meeting in mind while in the fresh tea season.
Though I had no knowledge and skill and was able to stay at the farm only for several days, sounds really useless, she appreciated me. I wished to support her as much as I could but the tea leaves never mind our schedule again so I was doing nothing but weeding for a while.
How to take care of the tea farm.
My friend's role as a tea farmer is not only harvesting but also weeding and cutting down the trees. The tea trees need much care for making cups of good tea.
Before the fresh tea season, tea farmers usually cut down the tea trees at the hight of their waists. Otherwise, it'll be very difficult to harvest with machines. So they become like a gardener to shave the trees as you see at some English gardens.
Moreover, right before the harvesting, tea farmers in the mountains need to take out something from the tea trees. These are some droppings from trees in the woods. My friend's farm is surrounded by the woods so there's some stuff on the tea trees as you see in the photos below. If she doesn't take them off, they will be mixed in the products.
And also she needs to keep her eyes on brackens. It's a yummy mountain vegetable but they also shouldn't be in the products. They pop out anywhere from the soil by spreading their long roots so she needs to root out from the soil. It's quite a big work since weeding machines aren't useful at the narrow paths between tea trees.
Harvesting fresh green tea.
After taking some stuff out of the tea trees, finally, we can move on to harvesting. It was great that the harvest started while I was there. So, how the tea farmers harvest the tea is by this machine.
In the past when the Japanese had a good population, there're heaps of skilled tea pickers. What they produced was called ' hand-picked tea ' and it tasted different from machine picked tea. However, it's impossible producing tea without machine these days. Most of the people won't be happy buying expensive tea for daily use.
So, the tea harvesting machine looks like a huge shaver. Placing the blades of the shaver in front of your direction and attaching a bag to collect shaved tea leaves at the end of the machine. After starting the engine, you and one more person hold the machine up on both sides. Then you both start moving forwards for harvesting the top layer of the tea trees. The shaved tea leaves fly into the bag with no work and the bag just follows where the machine moves. My role was to hold this bag so that it didn't stick somewhere.
When the bag became full, you change it with an empty bag and carry on shaving to harvest more. The bag with harvested tea leaves has to be in the shade so that the sun doesn't steam up the leaves. The sunshine was quite sharp and being in the shades were really comfortable when I was there.
After harvesting the tea leaves, they have to be brought to a tea factory on the same day to be processed to several kinds of teas.
The tea leaves will be steamed, roasted and dried at this factory which is run by a local tea farmer community. On the next day or the day after, the tea will be finished processing.
Setoya Megumi tea farm.
Every time when I taste her tea it doesn't bring any bitterness in my mouth. It's mild and clear. ' I just want to be involved nothing but tea farming.' my friend always says like this. Her passion and love of tea are always clear. So, her tea is. She also produces black tea with Japanese green tea. It tastes mellow and the flavour is sweet and flowery. I love it.
The soft soil at the farm. The clear atmosphere of the mountain. The peaceful sanctuary of abundant lives. My friend's tea is made by these and also her love of the tea. It's wonderful that I can enjoy her tea this year too. What I love in my life is to enjoy my friend's produced foods. They always give me much energy and warmth. Thanks, Megumi.
If you are able to understand Japanese,
her blog and shop are here.↓