In September I was in Shimizu, Shizuoka. The ancient city of Shimizu used to be known for its port from where international exports of sencha were shipped during the Meiji era. However, it has now become the district of Shimizu, part of the city of Shizuoka. Although it is not the largest tea producing area in the city, Shimizu’s countryside has a few farms, including Kengo Yamamoto’s. In August, I introduced three of his teas here.
Aged only 42, he looks a bit like a youngster in the industry, where most producers are over 60, and in many cases without successors.
Mr. Yamamoto began farming using organic methods a little over 10 years ago, and he has been successful because his products are fine examples of excellent organic teas.
When I asked him why there are so many bad organic teas in Japan, he told me that many organic producers try to get as close as possible to natural farming, with virtually no intervention. He follows the norms set by the Japan Organic and Natural Foods Association (JONA). (Other answers to this question could also be that many producers take advantage of the popularity of organic products to sell unskillfully made teas at high prices, and that organic farming is poorly adapted to the huge farms on the plains.)
September-October is a crucial period for tea farming. At this time of the year, we can already get an idea of the quality of the harvest the following spring (unless there are unusual meteorological problems in the spring). Depending on the condition of the tea plants after the summer, the way that the fall pruning is done is critical. Moreover, before that, for organic teas, this is when the farmer “plants” the organic fertilizer on which the white fungus filaments that can be seen in the photo grow. The filaments improve the soil to feed the tea plants at the end of the winter, when they wake up. (Tea plants are evergreens that “hibernate” during the cold season.)
Much more worrisome to organic tea producers than insects (some of which have nonetheless already made their cocoons in the tea leaves), are the weeds that grow between the tea plants. Weed killer cannot be used, and removing them by hand is unimaginable. The weeds consume the matter produced by the organic fertilizer, and if too many grow, all the precious nutrients will be eaten before the tea plants wake up and there will be nothing left for them.
Kengo Yamamoto currently grows four cultivars: Yabukita, Kanaya Midori and Oku Yutaka, which are presented here, and Sayama Kaori.
He has also begun growing Koshun and Sofu, but the plants are still very young. I’m looking forward to tasting the results!
His Sayama Kaori is gorgeous: beautiful leaves (neither the photo nor the last leaves in the package do it justice), very fragrant: mellowness balanced with a light floral scent.
Since this cultivar is naturally very lively, there is no need to put too much in the pot, especially if you choose to use rather hot water (80~85°C / 176~185°F). A little over one minute later, a sweet, slightly floral, very “hot” fragrance already emerges from the teapot.
The liquor is a bright yellow colour that gives us a hint of the strength of this tea. Indeed, the liquor has body, and if too big a dose has been used astringency fills the mouth. However, with a reasonable measure, there is only strength and richness. The aftertaste is remarkable also: very smooth, but very present.
Of the four Shimizu teas by Kengo Yamamoto, this is the most robust. It packs more power than the Yabukita, and its fragrance is every bit as attractive as that of Kanaya Midori, though it is far from the sweetness of Oku Yutaka.