In my trip to Japan this spring, I was looking for a way to visit some tea fields and learn about tea production from farmers. Several people told me that this would be difficult given that I don’t speak Japanese. It turns out it wasn’t that hard after all, thanks to the wonderful people at Obubu Tea Farms in Wazuka, Uji, who make all sorts of tea, give daily tours in English, and offer training courses in all aspects of tea production! They also have an amazing internship program and a tea club. Overall they’re one of the most kind and fun tea companies I’ve ever encountered. Today I drank a couple of their Sencha teas to compare the flavors and it brought me right back to Wazuka.
The teas I drank were both Spring-harvested Sencha: the Spring Sun and the Sencha of the Earth. As I had explained in my last post, I was awed to discover all the differences in Sencha since I had previously thought them all more-or-less similar. These two present quite a contrast, despite being harvested in the same time frame and processed in the same manner.
I brewed both teas with 5g of leaf for 2 minutes with water at around 50°C. Both cups appeared a light golden-green.
The Sencha of the Spring Sun is made up of long, needle-like rolled leaves in brilliant white-and-green jade hues. In the cup I tasted flavors of freshly cut grass, fresh dill, and celery, with a lot of bright notes. The Yabukita cultivar probably contributes to this character, although there’s a lot I still need to learn about the effects of different Japanese cultivars. It has a full mouth feel that leaves a lingering dryness behind.
The Sencha of the Earth has shorter, darker leaves, but they’re still longer than most of the factory Sencha I’ve had in the past. The flavors I tasted were more raw, reminding me of wicker, green beans, and carrots. The mouth feel was similar to the Spring Sun but a bit thicker with more of an oily texture. Perhaps this is due to the Zairai cultivar, but again I still know so little about Japanese cultivars that it’s hard to say.
For a second infusion, I brewed both teas for 1 minute at roughly the same water temperature. Both were still a delicate golden-green, and neither had any unpleasant bitterness. The second infusions tasted similar to the first, only with their flavors more pronounced. The Sun Sencha was still bright and reminiscent of dill and the Earth Sencha was all straw and spinach. The third and fourth infusions still had quite a bit of flavor, although the specific notes became more subdued. The main difference was that the Sun Sencha remained bright and sweet tasting while the Earth Sencha remained rich and savory.
I’m extra glad to have discovered Obubu because they are a wealth of knowledge and they love to share it. They were founded when several young people turned away from the rushed pace of the modern world and fell in love with Uji tea. They learned that many tea gardens in traditional families were being abandoned. The result is the loss of centuries-old knowledge, not to mention all those tea plants. The founders of Obubu decided to create a tea company whose mission is not only to produce high quality tea, but also to educate the world about this unique product and to share the art as widely as possible, keeping it alive.
We took a half-day tour and learned a lot. We tasted many teas (including an iced gyokuro!), learned about processing, cultivars, harvesting, and chemical analysis, before visiting several tea gardens and their small factory. Although Obubu makes the majority of their tea using machines, they are also teaching and practicing hand-crafting arts which could otherwise so easily be lost. I can only imagine what I’d absorb if I took their master’s course or became an intern. One of their interns even wrote when I think might be the most concise and informative English-language text on Japanese tea: Japanese Tea: a Comprehensive Guide.
Obubu’s tea club is one of the most interesting subscriptions in the world of tea that I’ve seen. It’s essentially a community supported agriculture service where you become an honorary farm owner. They also send you quite a bit of tea four times a year, once after each of the main harvests! If that sounds interesting to you, I highly recommend supporting their mission. And if you ever end up in the Kyoto region, give them a visit! You won’t regret it.