Jubuzan (鷲峰山 682m) is a mountain located between the Wazika (和束町) and Uji Dawara (宇治田原). Once upon a time, these places were the bottom part of the Biwa Lake. Therefore there are very rich in natural red clay.
Traditionally, the logistics of tea in Kyoto was using the river. The river started from Nara or Shigaraki area and flows until Uji area. The upper stream of the river is called Nabari River; Tsukigase and Shigaraki Asamiya is located at this area. When the river flows to downstream, it is named as Kizu River. Kizu River merges with Uji River and once again changes its name to Yodo River. Historically, the tea produced along the Nabari, Kizu and Uji River was called Uji Cha. Even in Japan, most Japanese people mistakenly think that the Uji Cha is from the Uji city. The Uji city is a very well-developed place and very less number of teas exists there. Under the definition, Uji Cha refers to tea produced in the following towns:
- Uji 宇治
- Ujidawara 宇治田原
- Minami Yamashiro 南山城
- Tsukigase 月ヶ瀬
- Shigaraki Asamiya 信楽朝宮
- Wazuka 和束
- Kasagi 笠置
We selected the tea from the garden that practices "natural farming"
We choose tea from the garden which practices natural-farming method. The natural-farming means using no fertilizer and no pesticide. Most of those natural farms do not even remove grasses in order to maintain ecological balance and keep the soil healthy. Most importantly, tea will not be treated with special care, but to take it as one of the wild plants in the environment. The most important thing is not to use the nitrogen-based fertilizer. Nowadays, most of Japanese green teas are grown with excessive application of fertilizer. As a result, tea grows unnaturally fast, tealeaf turns into green color, accumulates excessive amount of amino acid, the size of the cells increases and yet it contains very less polyphenols and minerals.
If you refer to books or web pages, it always explained that theanine is the index for the quality. However, from my point of view, theanine is the index of poor quality. When more fertilizers are applied, the more theanine will be produced by tea. These teas give very light taste and weak after taste. If you directly taste the fresh leaf from the tea tree grown naturally (means the one grown without fertilizer and pesticide) compared to the one grown with plenty of fertilizer, the difference is very obvious. If tea has excessive intake of fertilizer, tea will be actively growing and becomes bigger and bigger. Tea will stop producing the functional substance such as polyphenols. The naturally grown tea has small leaf in yellowish color, and it has less number of leaves. However each tealeaf is very elastic and strong. Most importantly, it needs much longer time for growing. No doubt, the tea is very rich in functional substances and obviously tastes sweet.
We introduce "Aracha"
Aracha refers to the freshly produced tea on the same day when it is plucked. Aracha means crude tea in English. It is the same meaning as "Mao Cha" in Chinese.
As a common practice, aracha is sent for further refining and firing process. For common Japanese green tea, people believe that aracha has less taste if no firing is conducted. However, from my point of view, firing the tea is a very strange practice. I have travelled many places including China, Taiwan and India. For good tea, people should rather try not to fire the tea and preserve its original character as much as they can. Even Long Jing or many other Chinese green teas, the higher the quality, the lighter the firing.
Usually, tea that is produced with a lot of fertilizers gives very light taste. It is the same like fruit or vegetable that is grown with fertilizers. Since the taste of tea is very light, firing the tea becomes a standard practice. Amino acid will undergoes the Maillard reaction and produces the typical flavor. This is the same mechanism as how hot cake produces its flavor during baking. However, recently the firing is a little too much and it really destroys the original character of tea. Nevertheless, no firing will make tea has very less character and weak aroma.
On the other hand, the naturally-grown tea gives an overwhelming sweetness and thick flowery flavor, thanks to rich content of polyphenols and minerals. In fact, if tea is naturally-grown, it is the best to enjoy the aracha. It is exceptionally smooth, deeply satisfying, and full-bodied. The farmer also knew it very well. Therefore, they drink aracha and they keep the processed tea only as the gift for others. We absolutely feel that aracha is much nicer to drink even for our own. Thus, we decided to introduce aracha that is not fired at all. I think it is extremely rare in the market.
We have 2 types of Sencha available as follow:
1. Uji Sencha Jubuzan :宇治煎茶 鷲峰山
The Uji Sencha Jubuzan is completely an aracha. We only remove the dust and foreign object and then reduce the moisture content. This is the crude taste of tea that is freshly processed from a tea factory. If you have a chance to visit a tea factory and taste the fresh tea directly collected in the middle of the process, this is the flavor and taste you will enjoy.
The "seiko shiage' means Refreshing Flavor Finish in English. Tea was lightly fired according to the tradition of Kyoto. The flavor is more unify and refreshing. Generally the character of these two teas is very close and it is hard to make a decision, even for my own.
We did not want to remove the stalks
The stalks of tea are very noticeable when it is not removed as it is yellow color and lying in the middle of leaves. It is more than the common knowledge that tea merchant will remove the stalks. Once the stalks are removed, tea has very consistent dark green color. It gives a very classic Japanese green tea image.
Nevertheless, we didn't want to remove the stalks. After series of experiment, we concluded that with the presence of stalks, the taste and the flavor of tea is obviously nicer than the one without stalks. If you have ever tried Karigane, you will know that stalks give sweet flavor. In fact, oolong tea, Chinese green tea or any types of tea in other country, even the exclusive quality also has stalks.
At first, I wonder if the presence of stalks in a teaspoon of tea makes a big difference in terms of taste and flavor. In one teaspoon, there will be only a few to several stalks. In order to verify the effect caused by stalks, I have prepared two samples. First sample is tea that contains stalks. The second sample is the same tea, but I use a forceps to carefully remove all stalks. The result was much more obvious than I have expected. The tea sample with stalks gives a very sweet and flowery flavor, while the tea sample without stalks gives a pungent aroma and lacks sweet flavor. I invited a few sensory panels for the same experiment. They tasted both tea samples, and all of them selected the tea with stalks. From the appearance point of view, the tea leaf looks more beautiful without stalks, but I decided to keep the stalks because the tea tastes much nicer with more appealing flavor.
By the way, Japanese always said that if one could find the stalks of tea standing in your cup of tea, it brings you luck. This indicates that all this while in our tradition, the stalks were not removed from tea. Nowadays I feel Japanese cares too much about the appearance. Although the tea without stalks looks beautiful, to me, it does not make sense if it sacrifices the flavor and taste.
High altitude makes tea suffered and tea becomes thick.
Tea comes from the garden at altitude of 600m. This altitude is exceptionally high in the Uji Cha production region. In winter, the mountain is fully covered by snow. Due to the high altitude, tea receives sufficient sunshine in a daytime, yet the temperature at night is very low. Usually plant grows at night. In a daytime, the plant intakes CO2 and releases oxygen, while at night, the plant intakes oxygen and releases CO2. At high altitude, the low temperature slows down the metabolism rate of tea. Tea stops growing and instead it produces more polyphenols and accumulates minerals. This is the same theory why the taste of vegetable and fruit produced at highland gives better taste and intense flavor.
There is another theory why the tea grown at higher altitude is superior. Originally the Uji area was the bottom part of the Biwa Lake, the biggest lake in Japan. These places where used to be the bottoms of the lake are originally very rich in the fine red clay. That is why the Uji cha region is also known as the hometown of fine clay ware, such as Iga Yaki, Shigaraki Yaki and so on. However as time goes by, the land was slowly washed away by the river. That is how the typical landscape was formed after many years. There are many small mountains surrounded by valleys. Basically the condition of the soil at the valley or on the slope of valley is completely different from the soil at higher altitude. The fine red clay only exists at the peak area, while at lower altitude, there is only white sand. From my point of view, it is very important to choose the specific location of each tea garden. Even if there is naturally grown tea, if the tea garden contains only white sand, the taste of tea will be light.
The tea gardens at higher position in Uji area carries very rich in red or yellow soil.
Extraordinarily extent of deep aftertaste and long lasting sweetness.
Once you drink this tea, you should notice the difference in feeling. You can feel that the taste goes very deep down your throat and you feel very warm. Subsequently the sweetness and the flavor stay on and linger on your throat. I have exactly the same feeling when I drink very high-end Chinese or Taiwanese tea. High quality tea should have deep after taste and long lasting flavor. Ironically, the quality criteria for Japanese green tea are very odd indeed. Tea grown with excessive amount of fertilizers is also recognized as a good tea, as long as it is from the famous tea area and well-rolled into the beautiful shape. Under the circumstances, I have advantage to find extremely good tea at good price. For me, Uji Sencha Jubuzan is an extraordinarily good quality tea, and its selling price is not that expensive.
For us, the definition of quality is the "thick taste". Thick taste is unlike the bitterness or astringency that we experienced when too much tea leaf is used or brewed for too long. The thick taste refers to the depth of taste, thickness of the after taste or long-lasting feeling of taste in our throat.
Uji Sencha Jubuzan makes the taste of water becomes very soft and after taste becomes very strong. Even if you swiftly brew this tea, you can still feel the overwhelming extent of after taste. In fact, just one piece of tea leaf is good enough to change the taste of water; the texture of water becomes very soft and smooth.
There is an interesting application using Uji Sencha Jubuzan. I suggest putting one piece of tea leaf into miso soup. Miso soup becomes very sweet and the taste goes far deep down the throat. Soup becomes thicker and it gives strong kicks. You can also add one piece of tea leaf into orange juice, yogurt, Coca-Cola or coffee. Believe it or not, just give it a try. When you drink and compare it side by side, you will experience a huge difference in taste.
This magical function occurs thanks to the existence of minerals, especially iron ion. The quality tea leaf has very tiny cells and they are very rich in polyphenol and iron. Irons possess stronger positive attraction to water molecules than between water molecules by itself. As a result, the hydrogen bond becomes stronger and it attracts the taste bud on our throat.
For the quest of “Golden Tea Garden”
I have ever heard from the old people saying that once upon a time, they had ever seen the "golden tea garden". They said that the entire tea garden was yellow in color, just like the rice field. They also said that the tea made from the golden tea garden was so sweet, and till now they still miss that taste. For me, it is not a myth or a fairy-tale. I absolutely know what they are talking about. In every year, I stay almost two months in China. As I am traveling to various places, I have ever came across with tea that was very yellow in color. This is not because of special cultivar or because of mutation. It is because of the way it is grown. When tea is grown with natural-farming, without fertilizer, and with good soil, the leaf turns yellow. The yellow leaf is the sign that tea is trying to survive in the natural environment. It also indicates that the farmer has successfully converted this tea to the wild plant. If you pluck any leaf and taste it, you will understand how delicious it is. Even the grown-up leaf tastes sweet.
The above photo showed the tea tree that is planted without any fertilizer or pesticide. The entire tea garden was so yellow.
This is exactly the tea garden that I wanted to find in Kyoto as well. If tea has excess amount of fertilizer, it will try to consume the nitrogen and the leaf grows faster and bigger. Actually, even if human does nothing, any plant has an ability to grow, to produce flower and seed naturally. If the plant lacks the nutrition, the plant stops growing, produces small cells with a lot of polyphenol. The polyphenols are the functional substances for plant. The yellow color is the health index of the tea.
The following photo shows the natural plant in summer. As you can see, it is yellow in color. I do believe that this is the natural color.
Uji Sencha Jubuzan is produced from the garden that practices natural-farming. Please look at the following photo.
The first two photos show the typical garden often seen in Shizuoka. These teas are grown with a lot fertilizer and deep trimming. The leaf is very big, dark green in color and inconsistent in size. The third photo shows the garden that practices the natural-farming. Leaf is very small, yet it looks strong. I plucked and chewed the fresh leaf, even the grown-up leaf is not bitter at all,
Please look at the above photo. Don't you think the tea on the left is of better quality? It is dark green in color, more consistent and beautiful in shape. The tea on the right is so yellowish. Most of people would think that this tea is either late-plucked tea or oxidized tea. For me, good tea must be yellowish. This leaf shows how it is grown: this yellow color indicates that tea was not applied with excessive fertilizer. Needless to say, the taste and the flavor of the tea on the right is excellent; it reminds me of the taste of wild herbs.
The tea on the left is the ordinary Japanese green tea. In Japan, this is believed to be the good quality tea. The tea on the right is Uji Cha Jubuzan. The yellow leaf is the evidence that this tea was naturally grown.
A loophole in the organic farming
Many people believe that organic product is good for health and tastier. It is certainly safer since no chemical pesticide is applied.
However the organic production has nothing to do with the better taste and providing additional benefit for our health. If the plant grows faster, the taste becomes thinner. If we wish to make tea with excellent tastes, we need tea to grow slower, just like wild herbs in nature. This is the basic logic.
Even in organic farming, animal manures are so rich in nitrogen and it makes plant grows faster. Consequently the taste of tea becomes thin and light. My experience came from Yunnan as I always visit minority people who produce pu-erh tea.
Many of them practice organic production. Basically they do not apply any chemical fertilizer since most of them have no budget to purchase fertilizer, moreover no transport. They often apply animal manures to the older tree because for them, the old tree is very precious. As a result, the taste of tea becomes very thin. The organic fertilizer sounds great but it is also one of the nitrogen sources. It makes plant grows faster and eventually the taste of tea is not as good.
My parent grows apple. They strictly control the application of the fertilizer. If the fertilizer is applied before harvest, the apple grows bigger. On the contrary, the taste becomes very thin and watery. Some farmers who never directly deal with the end-consumer will do it since they just need to ship their apples to the agricultural association, the taste of apple is not very important as long as the appearance looks great. If my parent did the same, they will immediately loss their long-supporting customers. I believe this is a common phenomenon in the Japanese tea market. Most of them sell tea to either Agricultural Association or tea wholesalers. They always emphasize on the appearance, beautiful shape and "green color".
If the plant is busy in growing, it will not produce the functional substance such as polyphenols. The plant keeps on producing cellulose and other carbohydrate in order to support its fast growing rate. These plants are not only light and thin in taste, but also will not have a good effect on our health.
The fertilizer is applied right next to the tea tree. The leaf grows to big size and leaf is also darker green. Regardless of natural or chemical fertilizer, the excessive intakes of fertilizer will make tea very light in taste and weak in aftertaste.
Usually tea tree is trimmed in autumn. In Japan, the common practice is to cut the branches at the lower position of the tea tree. The branches left on the tree are thick like straw. The stout branches will effectively transfer nutrition from the ground. With this method, tea leaf grows faster and the production quantity will be increased. As a result, the aftertaste of tea becomes very shallow. Due to the excessive supply of nutrients, tea will synthesize and accumulate a lot of amino acid. This is the reason that most of Japanese teas give very flat aftertaste as it contains large amount of amino acid. In Japan, people always said that good tea contains more amino acid. Of course it is not true. Good quality tea should contains more minerals and polyphenols but less amount of amino acid.
For Uji Sencha Jubuzan, only the tip is trimmed to a very minor extent. With this practice, the branch becomes very slim, like a tooth pick. Besides, the size of branches becomes very consistent, the leaves become very small and consistent in size, and the moisture content is distributed evenly. The leaf managed with this method looks yellowish green in color. It is very strong when I touch it. According to farmer, with this production method, tea leaf becomes less effective in absorbtion of nutrients. As a result, it grows very slow and accumulates a lot of substances. This is one of the primary reasons that Uji Sencha Jubuzan is good in quality. Once tea tree is pruned, it produces leaves at very fast growing speed.
Do you worry if tea keeps you awake?
For Uji Sencha Jubuzan, you do not have to worry. This tea will make you feel rather sleepy.
Uji Sencha Jubuzan contains very high minerals, especially iron. Tea with high mineral content drastically increases blood circulation. As a result, you feel warm and your face blushes. In our body mechanism, we feel relax and sleepy if our blood circulates better. It is the same as having acupuncture, massage or exercise.
No doubt this tea contains caffeine as well. However, the effect of caffeine will be overwritten by the effect of minerals. Tea that makes you sleepless is the common tea that has very less minerals. Another benefit of improving blood circulation is we can have deeper sleep, it also ease constipation problem and of course we feel less stressful.
If you drink Uji Sencha Jubuzan more than a few hundreds ml, you may feel a little drunk. The feeling is just like you drink quality wine or whisky.
Well, believe it or not, please give it a try.
Uji Sencha Jubuzan is from Zairai Cultivar
Uji Sencha Jubuzan is produced from Zairai cultivar. In Japanese language, Zairai means "native". As tea is not the native plant of Japan, we regard Zairai as the original cultivator that remains the character of China bush. As Zairai is the direct descendant of wild tea, it has very long roots under the ground and it effectively absorbs minerals. If both Zairai cultivar and ordinary modern cultivar, such as Yabukita, are produced under the same condition, definitely Zairai cultivar is of better quality. Zairai cultivar was planted by the seedling and it undergone complex natural hybridization. In a way, there are various kinds of genetic trait among Zairai cultivars. If we carefully look at the tea trees, each tree is different in terms of the shape of leaf, size and color. If you visit the tea garden that produces exclusive tea in China, you will notice the same situation. In China, these teas are called mixed cultivar. For example, Long Jing: the commercial quality is made of Long Jing No. 43, while the high-end quality is made of mixed cultivar. This term refers to the tea that carries original feature of wild tea.
The twisted quality criteria of Japanese green tea due to the commercial reason.
In Japan, the quality criteria of tea are set by Shizuoka tea market and it was greatly influenced by the Japanese agricultural association. The agricultural association wishes to supply more nitrogen-based fertilizer. They emphasize on "umami", and this comes from "thiamin", the typical substance produced when nitrogen-based fertilizer is applied before harvesting. "Umami" is known to be the most important quality index of Japanese green tea; nevertheless, tea with very thick umami taste gives very flat and shallow aftertaste. Based on my experience, fruit or vegetable will not produce a good outcome if nitrogen-based fertilizer is applied before harvesting. For example, if nitrogen based fertilizer is applied to vegetable, it taste becomes flat and flavour becomes very thin. If it is applied to apple or grapes, due to the nitrogen intakes, the tree grows very fast. As a result, fruit becomes very small and the taste is not enjoyable after all. The effect of nitrogen-based fertilizer on tea is the same. It makes tea grow faster and increase the output. Certainly, farmers are happy since they have more volume of tea to sell. Agricultural association also feels happy because they can sell more fertilizer. Due to this close relationship among farmers and agricultural association, until now, "umami" remains as the key quality index; even the professor in university is supporting this idea. If one has ever studied the very exclusive tea produced in China or Taiwan, none of the quality tea is produced with nitrogen-based fertilizer. The higher the quality, the slower the tea grows. As less number of tea leaf dominate the limited minerals supplied from the root, we enjoy the thickness of the taste. Uji Sencha Jubuzan gives taste just like very high-end Chinese green tea or raw Puerh tea. If we ever taste this kind of Japanese green tea, it is hard to get back to the ordinary tea that just simply gives strong umami.