According to history, green tea was brought from China to his native Japan as a seed by the Buddhist monk Shoichi Kokushi about 800 years ago. In his luggage, the monk, who was also called Enni Benen, also had the recipe for a pastry that was to be served with the tea. These were the two ingredients with which Shoichi Kokushi wanted to transform his poor Japanese homeland into a prosperous place. This early marketing effort has since borne fruit.
In the hills surrounding Shizuoka City, many tea farmers have been planting the noble luxury food for generations. The city is aware of its tradition as Japan’s largest tea producer. Shizuoka strengthens local producers with a tourism concept that introduces visitors to the region to the tea ceremony as well as to tea production and the people who have often worked as tea farmers for many generations.
For a cup of tea in Tochizawa
Sit at a table with a tea farmer and his wife and have a Japanese tea ceremony explained to you. Take a look inside the production plant, walk through the tea fields or spend a whole day working as a tea picker and spend a night as a guest in one of the traditional houses where everything has revolved around green tea for generations. It’s all possible and can be customized depending on your itinerary.
Tourists can choose the intensity of a visit to the tea fields around Shizuoka City. It is an experience that is fondly remembered when one returns home. Especially when, with the new first-hand knowledge, you brew your own cup of tea with much more expertise.
Japanese tea – drink of mindfulness
Kiyomi Uchino serves the tea in wide glasses. Outside it is hot, over 30 degrees with high humidity. A sweet filled with red bean paste is traditionally served with the tea. It is eaten first.
Then, the first infusion. The water is only room temperature and is poured directly onto the tea leaves in each guest’s glass. The essence from this first infusion is amazingly intense and spicy. We Westerners, who usually brew our tea with boiling water and immediately pour a large pot, are amazed at the minimalist entry into the tea ceremony. First insight: the water temperature determines which flavors are brought to light.
The tea leaves now swell and are ready for a second infusion. Depending on the water temperature, different flavors develop. Generally, the hotter the water, the more bitter substances are released from the leaves. Tea farmers are also happy to serve their best teas when visiting the site. Kiri no Tsuyu, for example. Which can be translated as dew drops. The leaves of this tea grow in a constant mist along a river.
Mindfulness and concentration are the essence of any Japanese tea ceremony. This is the only way for a layman to be able to taste the first nuances among the tea varieties. Part of the ritual of a tea ceremony is that the oldest person in the room is poured the last and perhaps best drop.
Japanese tea – thirst quencher to go
Of course, not all green tea is the same! Different tea varieties are grown in Shizuoka. The best known Japanese green tea is Sencha. The tea leaves of Sencha have seen sun. They are steamed briefly after harvest, rolled and dried. Typical of Sencha are the pine needle shaped leaves. Sencha is the tea for a warm tea infusion.
Green tea is also popular in Japan as a cold drink. It is available, for example, in traditional ryokan, a typical Japanese guesthouse, as a welcome drink. You can also find a selection of bottled cold green tea in any small supermarket. Unlike the iced teas one is used to from Europe, in Japan the green tea from the bottle is always unsweetened and thus becomes a real thirst quencher and fitter in hot temperatures.
A shadowy existence for luxury – Gyokuro tea
Gyokuro is the king among Japanese teas. The tea leaves grow in a tea garden where the leaves of the plants are protected from the sun. Shading the leaves enhances the fifth flavor dimension, umami, and reduces bitterness and astringency. Like matcha tea, Gyokuro ekes out a shadowy existence for a rounded flavor with a slightly sweet note. Unwanted bitter notes are thus controlled via slow growing under solar sails.
It’s an elaborate procedure that means a lot of extra work for the tea farmer, because the shade nets are pulled over the tea plants manually. Kiyomi Uchino, who works alone in the fields outside the harvest season, is thus busy for a whole day pulling up the nets.
The tea ceremony started sweet and ends with a savory kick. A pinch of sea salt is added to the leaves in the glass. Chopsticks are used to eat the now lightly spiced greens.
Green genealogy – Where does the tea of Sansuien come from?
In September 2019, Kiyomi Uchino submitted the DNA of his tea seeds for investigation. He wants clarification on whether his tea plants can be traced back to the go-getting monk Shoichi Kokushi, who once brought tea from China. If so, Uchino, who loves to tell the story of his region and the importance of tea production in his homeland, could add another distinction to his high-quality tea.
Green power drink
It tastes warm, it tastes cold. It is conquering the world right now as matcha tea. Green tea is versatile and healthy. It is a potpourri of secondary plant substances that have a supporting effect against many diseases. The most significant are the bitter substances called catechins. In addition, green tea has a pleasant wakefulness effect. The stimulating effect lasts longer than with coffee and also increases the ability to concentrate. So it is no wonder that Japanese green tea is becoming more and more popular and the different ways of preparing it are becoming better known.
Green travel experience in Shizuoka
In Shizuoka City, the options for a personal tea experience are wide-ranging. A day trip by green tea cab can be arranged, as can a homestay with a tea farmer. If there is not enough time in your itinerary for an overnight stay with a tea farmer or a visit to a plantation, Shizuoka City offers many small stores and cafés where everything revolves around Japanese green tea and the appropriate accessories for its preparation.
The Shizuoka Green Tea Guide lists 15 farmers who welcome visitors and share lots of interesting facts about their trade over a cup of tea in their small tea rooms. Most tours and tea tastings are in Japanese. Those offered in English can be found on the Tea Tourism Guide website, which has been translated into English.
An excursion to a tea farmer including booking a tea cab with a guide in English can be booked directly on the Explore Shizuoka website.
A Japanese tea ceremony can also be experienced in Germany. In Düsseldorf, for example, there is a Japanese community and a correspondingly large selection of restaurants, supermarkets and also tea stores. In AN/MO, the Japanese Motoko Dobashi explains the course of a tea ceremony in an authentic and vivid way.
The stay in the prefecture was partly supported by the Shizuoka Tourism Association.