One year ago I had the pleasure of spending a wonderful day in Makizono, Kirishima city, Kagoshima prefecture right in the middle of the shincha period.
Very well accompanied and guided, shall we say, most of the day was spent on Nishi’s Familly farm, which is where Teas of Japan’s Oku-yutaka, Asatsuyu, or hand picked Saemidori come from.
It is situated in the north of the prefecture, in Makizono, in the mountainous area of Kirishima 霧島, far from the giant farms on the plains of Minami Kyushu 南九州 (Chiran 知覧, Ei 頴娃) and of Makurazaki 枕崎. This explains the later harvests, which are however of very high quality.
Here is a glimpse of the area:
Mr. N. is another enthusiastic and inspired farmer, and in his tea fields scattered here and there on the slopes of Kirishima he grows many different cultivars. He takes personal pride in not doing the same thing as everybody else. The general trend in Kagoshima is towards fukamushi sencha, and in most cases the result is tea that is really very powdery. It is true that the cultivars grown in Kagoshima, namely, Yutaka midori, Sae midori, Asatsuyu, etc., are not very well adapted to futsumushi sencha (asamushi sencha, normal steamed sencha). Deep steaming is necessary to bring out their very mild taste. The result is teas that are certainly very sweet and rich, but that are not extraordinary, and lack fragrance.
However, Mr. N. takes a reasonable approach to steaming, and has the skill to create lovely fine needles with his high-quality teas. He is one of the only farmers, if not the only one, working in this way in Kagoshima.
Take the extreme example of the Asatsuyu cultivar. It is an ancient variety, and the mother of many other cultivars. It is slightly early, with a very distinctive taste and fragrance. The plant is small, and its young leaves are also. Thus, if it is deep steamed, unless the producer is extremely talented, the result is a very broken sencha that certainly has a strong taste and no astringency, but which makes it impossible to enjoy the special fragrance of Asatsuyu. This is not the case of the Asatsuyu produced by Nishi’s Familly.
Of course, at first sight the ones very broken are easier to prepare: warm water, thirty seconds, and voilà. The other needs to be infused longer, and perhaps more leaves are required. However, it produces liquor that is finer and more subtle, and has more fragrance and many more possibilities in terms of preparation.
Here is the field it comes from:
This year too, he harvests began in Nishi’s fields on April 20, with hand picking. Next the tea will be plucked using hand shears, and finally mechanical harvesting will probably have begun by the time you read these lines.
Here are two splendid arachas (unrefined teas), both hand picked (2011 version). On the left there is the Yabukita cultivar and on the right Sae-midori (both fukamushi sencha).
It is difficult to judge an aracha, but these two were already delicious. I can’t wait to try the 2012 version soon.
I also want to show you this interesting photograph: