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Morimotos visit of Portugal

 

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A dream became true: together with our main Japanese tea producer, Haruyo and Shigeru Morimoto, we conducted a tea tasting in the Casa de Chá (Teahouse) in Leça da Palmeira/Porto. This emblematic building of the Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira is build right on top of the rocky beach and makes you feel being part of the wild sea outside. As the architecture reminds very much of traditional Japanese tea houses, it is the perfect place to enjoy Japanese teas.

 

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We served a nice selection of the organic teas from Morimotos, starting with the comforting Bancha Yangicha (a tea with a natural low caffeine content). The extremely green colour and fresh tast of the Sencha with Matcha was a surprise for most of the guests, which have never seen such a really green tea. Than we prepared a surprise tea from a neighbor of the Morimoto: Kamairicha Kadocha limited edition. When last year we visited the Morimotos we went together to the neighbor to learn how to produce not steamed teas (Kamairicha). Contrasting to this complex tea with a full body  the next tea Shiraore represents the lightness of Japanese green teas. Shiraore is shaded tea (Kabuse) from the very first harvest. The very delicate and green little stems are selected together with the very fine leaves for this exceptional fresh tea.

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The preparation of the GO EN in traditional ceramic teapots (Kyusu) was definitely on of the highlights of the tea tasting. These very simple, but at the same time very artistic, Kyusus do not to have stainless steel strainers and therefore do not alter the delicate flavours of the sensitive high quality teas like the GO EN. The GO EN is a type of Tamaryokucha (slightly curled tea produced the traditional, “old style” way), which was shaded for a long period and therefore has deep flavours with a lot of Umami. On top of such a high quality tea you can just serve a Matcha to complete a Japanese tea tasting. For the very first time we served the new Morimoto Matcha Gyokujou – a very fine Matcha quality with creamy texture. The base for this Matcha are the shaded leaves form the Okumidori tea plants, which give this Matcha a nice sweetness.

 IMG_6034 1200Morimoto Matcha was also used by the team of the restaurante Boa Nova of Chef Rui Paula, which after the tea tasting treated us with beautiful and tasty delicacies. Of course at this time we had to include some wines to accompany the dishes, but in the end we went back to have a refreshing Mizudashi (cold green tea).

A great honor for all of us was the participation of the Japanese Ambassador in Portugal, Hiroshi Azuma, and his secretary, Manabu Kanaya. It seems that both enjoyed the teas of the Morimotos, which made us all very happy.

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The next morning we visited our little tea plantation together. We were lucky as the rain stopped right when we arrived at the farm. We had a good walk around and Haruyo and Shigeru Morimoto had a closer look at the older plants, which they had already seen one and a half years ago. Both had a good impression on the development and gave us some advices also for the plants we have just planted recently.

 

 

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With us all stays the dream of  one day making good tea together here in Portugal… still we need some patience as the plants have to grow…. good things take their time

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Kamairicha – Japanese not steemed tea

Kamairicha is a japanese tea whose leaves are heated dry and not steamed. The name refers to ” Kama “, which is an iron pan. So Kamairicha means ” the tea of the pan”. Nowadays, it is very rare to prepare the Kamairicha by hand in the pan. Sometimes it is done, but only for teaching purposes or championships. Over time machines were used in the production process but even that is rare nowadays. The amount of Kamairicha is only 1 % of the total Japanese green tea production.

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In 2015, on our trip to Japan, we visited Haruyo and Shigeru Morimoto. To learn more about the production of tea, they suggested to visit a neighbour, who produces green tea without vaporization (Kamairicha), as it was done before. With great curiosity we went together to visit his small tea plantation. We were surprised to see how it is possible to produce such delicate and unique green tea with simple means and without vaporization. Enthusiastic, we bought a small amount to share this experience with our tea friends back in Portugal. Right now, we only have a limited amount of 90 packs of 100g but we hope to continue this cooperation in the future.

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Later we did meet another producer of very good quality Kamairicha and decided to include his tea also on our list to be able to show the differenced in Japanese not steemed teas.

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Back home happy to see our tea plants

After a really long travel we arrived well back home in Porto. Of course I can’t wait long to see how is our little tea plantation a bit outside Porto. What I finally see theres, makes me very happy…

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The plants are healthy green and have grown a lot since I saw them. For the first time I start seeing how finally the plants will grow together two form a uniform hedge. As it has rained a lot the whole farm is looking really green. The recently planted lemon trees for our blend Sencha Limão, the flowers for the bees around the lemon trees and the roses for our blend Sencha Rosa are also looking good.

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For lunch I have very aromatic wild strawberries, which grow all over in big quantities. It’s a pity, that it takes ages to pick a resonable quantity and that they don’t keep for long. But on the other hand, they show us how good life can be, when you live the moment.

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Later we take care of the little plants, which have grown out of seeds, we have taken from our own tea plants in October. It’s real magic to see what can develop out of a small brown ball, called seed. All plants are now in an own big pot to develop until we plant them probably next year in the field. Good things take their time and everything connected to tea has to do with patience.

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Getting in closer touch with wonderful pottery from Jeju Island

For the last day on Jeju Island we rent a car for exploring a bit more of the inland. We have heard of Seong Chul Kang, a ceramist who is inspired by the traditional Jeju Island pottery, but developing his own style. Surprisingly easy we find his studio and see him in front of his house. At first he doesn’t seem to happy to see visitors, but after explaining that we work with tea in Portugal, he opens the door inviting us to his exhibition room, which has a wonderful inspiring and cosy atmosphere.

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The exhibition room is also a coffee shop. And yes I mean coffee, as in Korea like in other Asian countries, coffee is getting more and more fashion. Seong Chul Kang seems happy to hear that we really like tea, he starts preparing a green tea from a tea producer in his neighbourhood. The tea has a light green colour with an elegant nose and a wonderful sweetness in the complex palate. It reminds us of the more delicate Chinese teas, but still has an own caracter.

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I am excited to see the wonderful tea ceramics, which have very well balanced dimensions. Seong Chul Kang explains me, that all his ceramic is linked to the Onggi pottery style, which uses just local clay. Originally these ceramics are bigger pots with lids to store food like rice and ferment vegetables. In front of his studio we can see the big Onggi pots, which reflect all brown earth colours. In contrast the small tea pots are very delicate. The dominating colours are brown and black. The ceramist explains that in general he do not use glaze, all the different tones are coming from different burnings. For example the black pieces he burns again and again until the colour is perfect.

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For better communication he calls his wife Mi Sun Jung, who helps explaining us some more details. She herself is ceramist, but makes more sculptures. As they are busy reorganizing the studio, they have to search for more pieces, which are stored in big boxes. It all takes a while and it is not easy to choose between all the nice, but also expensive, pieces. We decide to also take some ceramics with us to start selling it in Portugal. Mi Sun Jung and me start negotiating and it takes us a while to transform the prices into dollar, but we manage.

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I really have to stop myself buying more and more as I like too many pieces. We all have to laugh and drink more and more tea. In the end the two offer us a beautiful black tea container and we say good bye, hoping to see each other again.

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Finally finding the tea plantations on Jeju Island

We wake up with sun and have breakfast with a very nice view on the ocean. I am getting optimistic, that today we will find the tea plantations. We have a map and an idea where they are and after a ride with nice views on the central volcanic mountain of Jeju Island we finally see the sign to the Jeu Island Green Tea Farm.

The tea plants look less straight cut than we are used from the tea plantations in Japan. Some are with just little leaves, but the view on the surrounding mountains and the sea is just stunning. All in all the arrangement of the plants planted in rows look similar to the japanese tea plantations. We go to the little teahouse and shop, where we are invited to taste the green panfired tea.

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It is interesting to see how the tea is prepared and served in comparison to Japan. In Korea they hotter water for preparing the tea in a little teapot with an integrated strainer. After a short time they pour the tea into a cooling vessel to prevent that it is getting bitter. Form the vessel they serve the tea into small tea cups. In Japan it would be the other way around. The water would first go into the cooling vessel, for than preparing the tea with the just slightly hot water in the also small teapot (kyusu) with the handle on the side.

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We are pretty much surprised of the fresh green flavour of the tea. At first we are a bit irritated that they name it roasted green tea. The delicate flavour has nothing to do with the slightly roasted Houjicha tea we know from Japan. Than we get to know Mr. Go, who works already for a long time at the plantation. He explains to us, that these teas are not steamed, but prepared in a fired pan like in China. That explains why they name their teas roasted tea.

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Mr. Go tells us, that the whole plantation was planted at once 20 years ago all plants are the japanese variety Yabukita. In Jeju Tea Maze Garden all teas are hand picked and than produced by hand in the fired pans. Out of 1 kilogram picked leaves they get about 200g tea. For the premium tea they just pick the very tiny buts. Than these fragile leaves are processed with biggest care. We buy a 20g bag of this very expensive tea and another bay of the medium and average quality, which we are looking forward to taste.

Than we have Korean lunch and green tea ice cream for desert, which is not as delicious and creamy as we know it from Japan.

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With new energy we start searching for the other tea plantation, we have heard of. It takes us a while to find it, but than we see the big shaded (kabuse) fields, we know from Japan. A bit unsure, if we can drive through or not, we pass the open gate without any sign. We are pretty much surprised by the extension of the tea fields, which are almost all covered by black shading nets. In the distance we see working three of the harvesting machines we know from Japan. The dimension of this tea plantation is really big.

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When we reach the tea fabric we see a truck unloading the tealeaves. It smells and looks very much like Yabukita. Unfortunately it is not possible to communicate to the workers as they don’t speak English. Later two young Korean ladies, which are here on holiday, explain us that we can not bur tea here at the fabric, but at the Shop at the Ossoluc Tea Museum. It looks like that the tea harvested and produced here is part of the Ossoluc tea production. For tomorrow we have an appointment at Ossoluc and for sure will find out more details. We are curious to taste more Korean green tea and are looking very much forward for tomorrow.

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Arriving at Jeju Island

After a long journey we arrived well on Jeju Island. The South Korean Island is very close to Kyushu and also of volcanic origem. But unfortunately from Miyazaki we can’t go straight to Jeju Island. We have to take three flights and for approximately 400km areal distance, we take more than 12 hours. We arrive in the darkness of the night at the hotel, but in the morning the sun wakes us up.

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As the island is bigger than we have imagined, we decide to rent a car or a motorcycle. As it is the Golden Week, the main holiday for Japanese and Korean people, it is not so easy to get something and we end up with a scooter. We start exploring the island, but instead of tea we find oranges, oranges and more oranges. They are planted all over and a lot of them are grown in green houses. The wonderful perfume of the orange flowers is with us almost the whole day. And we discover very delicate dried oranges and all kind of orange sweets.

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Visiting Shutaro Hayashi in Kirishima and having a wonderful tea tasting

We have to get up early in the morning. Saying good bye to the Morimotos is not easy, but they will stay in our hearts as they are.

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Together with Tobias we drive the two hours to Kirishima, where we meet Shutaro Hayashi, the producer of our new Tennen Gyokuro. He receives us at the little tasting room in his families tea shop. He is the fifth generation of the family tea business and the first, who studied tea making. With great concentration he starts preparing teas for us.

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We taste several Senchas, he produces of the different tea bush varieties. His family does not make blends, but sells the different qualities separately. They send the teas for the final heating to a specialized company. In contrast to almost all other tea producers they leave out this last production process for the very first tea of the year (Shincha). It has a wonderful fresh taste and vibrant smell of the freshly picked tealeaves, but is not as stable as other teas. Therefore the Hayashis just sell it just for one month.

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After several very elegant and complex green teas, Shutaro san prepares a very delicious and creamy Matcha from a friend with a teagarden nearby and in the end surprises us with a black tea (Koucha) produced by him from the Benifuki tea bushes, which has a wonderful flowery nose.

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After having lunch together we visit the teagarden, which has a big field with 100 year old Zairaishu plants, which in contrast to modern plants where grown out of seeds. These tea bushes are more robust and therefore get much older. As all the plants are a bit different they grow not homogeneously. It is not so easy to decide when to pick the leaves, as some plants are more and others less developed. The great diversity of different leave than is processed together to tea, which has a very own character.

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On our way through the tea fields we meet a goat, which Shutaro san has bought with the idea to defend the weeds. As the goat also like the young tea leaves, he next wants to see if sheep could do the job. He is a smart guy, continuing the tradition of his family, but also trying to find his own new way.

Than we drive to Miyazaki, where we have to say good bye to Tobias, who will stay some more days with the Morimotos to help finish the first picking and to prepare the shipment of the teas. Dirk and me have a simple, but very delicious dinner. Tomorrow we will leave to Jeju Island in Korea. We are a bit sad to leave Japan, but we keep so many good memories of inspiring moments, which fore sure will stay with us for a long time.

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Rainy day with preparations for shipment and saying good bye to the Morimoto Family

The Morimotos managed to pick some tea in the morning, than it starts raining again. I quickly visit the now 4 years old Minami Sayaka plantation, which I already saw two years ago. The plants are looking not too much different from how we expect our little plants to develop… that gives us hope, that one day our still little tea plants will look like a real plantation.

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Than have a look around in the tea fabric, where Shigeru san is the master of the machines, while Haruyo san is taking care of the plants and the picking. In the tea fabric Shigeru san is regulating every fine tuning of the several machines. The whole production process starts with the steaming to keep the green colour and fresh taste of the leaves. Than the very humid tea passes several machines, which are drying and rolling the tea leaves step by step, until it enters the Sencha machines, which make the tea needle shape.

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Tobias is tasting the teas again and again to make decisions, how long the teas are finally heated before they get packed and shipped to Germay, from where they come to Portugal.

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The day just flies away and in the evening we have already to say good by to the Morimoto Family, what is not so easy as they all are so lovely people. We enjoy a last delicious dinner cooked by Dirk. Luckily we all know, that we will see each other again.

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Sakura jima volcano island and Sushi dinner with Morimotos

Finally we stayed the night on the little volcanic island Sakura jima close to Kagoshima. In the morning we wake up from the noise of rain. The still active volcano is hiding in the clouds and it’s not easy to distinguish between clouds and smoke. We decide to drive around the island and enjoy beautiful views on the Sakura volcano.

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The islands vegetation in the far South of Japan is subtropical and after the rain the air is crystal clear… we see really beautiful details of Japanese daily life.

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Already back on the mainland we see trees along the road with something that at first sight seem to be white flowers. The closer look reveals that it is white plastic bags. Wondering what this could be, we stop to see that the women are selling. It is medlar, which we know very well from Portugal (nespras), but we never have seen them that beautiful as in Portugal they have almost always black spots and are a bit rotten. Here they are almost looking like apricots as the plastic bags protect them from rain and getting damaged. On top of that, they are really tasty. I am touched, of how carefully Japanese handle food.

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Slowly we drive back to the Morimotos, which are welcoming us very warm. We are so happy to see them again. As today it was raining, they didn’t pick tea and therefore have time to go out with us for a sushi dinner. There is coming a lot of Sashimi, even more Nigiri and Maki Rolls and steamed fish. It is delicious and the whole Morimoto family and some of Haruyos Karaoke friends, which help at the teapicking, enjoys the delicious food in this relaxed atmosphere.

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Visiting the tea fields of Mr. Matsumoto, the producer of our favourite Sencha

We have to get up very early, as it is a three hours drive to the tea fields of Mr. Matsumoto. I am very nervous, asking myself if my Japanese is sufficient to keep up a conversation with Mr. Matsumoto. On the way I am preparing a vocabulary list on the topics I want to talk about. As our GPS doesn’t recognize his telephone number, we have to ask for the way as we arrive in Minamata. People are very helpful, and finally we make it to the really nice tea plantation area, which is surrounded by mountains and woods. Mr. Matsumoto welcomes us very warm. It is a busy time, especially because tomorrow it is his production day in the fabric, which he is sharing with five other tea producers. He shows us the schedule, which seems well organized. We drive to the first tea field, where he has planted a little plot of Fuji Yutaka and on the other side much more Yabukita, which is the main part of his Sakura-no Sencha. Than we pass by a plot of Zaraishu plants (tea plants grown from seeds). Proudly he explains that this tea plants have been planted by his grandfather and are now 86 years old.

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Mr. Matsumoto has 1,5 hectares Zairaishu plants, almost 2 hectares of Yabukita and some Fuji Midori and Benifuki. Asking him for his favourite specie of tea plant, he refers to the Zaraishu plants. As they are grown out of seed, every tea plant is a little bit different. You can see that the colour of the leaves as well as the shape is different. Also they have deeper roots and therefore the plants are getting older. But for Mr. Matsumoto this tea plants are even more special as his ancestor planted them, which bring luck to young Mr. Matsumoto.

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On the small curvy roads we drive to a little village, where we have a quick lunch. Proudly Mr. Matsumoto shows us the display of his teas and his logotype of a little tea plant grown out of a seed. Of course I have to show him some pictures of our little tea plants. He seems to like what he sees, which makes us happy. Than we drive to another tea field, where this year for the first time he wants to try to produce Matcha (powdered tea). He already has put the shading construction on top of the plants, which will stay for two weeks. The shading (kabuse) results in smaller, finer and greener leaves with a delicate sweetness.

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He is very excited about this new experiment. The difficult part is to dry the leaves in a way that they stay flat, so that in the next step the veins of the leaves can be taken out. As he has not yet an own stone mill for grinding the tea leaves into fine Matcha powder, he will send the tea leaves to a friend in Shizuoka for this last step of production.

The next tea field is situated in a very nice valley surrounded by forest. Half of the Yabukita plants are shaded. Tomorrow here he will pick the leaves for the production of Sakura-no Sencha, which mainly contains a mix of Yabukita unshaded and 50% Yabukita kabuse.

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Downhill we see family members of Mr. Matsumoto working. He explains that they clean the tea bushes from the ashes of a nearby volcano, which yesterday had a bigger eruption.

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At his house Mr. Matsumoto offers us the first tea, he has produced this year: Shincha Mo. It is 100% Yabukita not shaded. It has a very light green colour and a very delicate Umami. It really tastes like spring. It is the only tea he can offer us from this year, as just tomorrow he starts producing our favourite Sakura-no Sencha. Therefore we taste the Sakura-no Sencha from last year, which he prepares with great care. It has a deeper green colour and we find the more intense seaweed flavour, we like so much.

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Than he explains to us, that from his first picking he produces almost just green tea (Shincha and Sencha), from the second picking black tea and Kamairicha (not steamed green tea) and the third picking he uses for Houjicha production (roasted tea). His black tea is a real surprise as it is has a very expressive fruity nose, remembering of plums, and almost no astringency on the palate, but a lot of texture and vibrancy. It is full-bodied, yet smooth. Black Japanese tea is very rare and nowadays also Kamairicha is hard to find. That’s why Mr. Matsumoto started to produce these types of teas, when he took over the tea production from his father. Again and again he proudly refers to his family history in tea making, showing us photographs from the past. It was a wonderful and instructive day. Happily we continue driving further South to Kagoshima.

 

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Visit of today very active Nakadake volcano

The weather has changed to colder and cloudy. Coming closer to the famous Nakadake volcano, which has the biggest crater on earth, we think it has started raining… but coming closer we realize that it is grey ashes falling down.

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On the street the streets the wind plays with the ashes. We are passing by mountain ridges, where you still can see how the lava has flown.

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It is very impressive to be that close to an active volcano, and it’s getting even more exciting when we reach the station of the cable cars. Big dusty clouds are dancing over the mountain ridge and it is difficult to keep the eyes open as the ashes and tiny pieces are dancing in the air. Therefore the cable station today stays closed as it is too dangerous to go further up.

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Therefore we return to our Onsen Hotel, have a nice warm bath, and I start preparing myself for tomorrows visit of Mr. Matsumoto, the producer of our Sakura-no Sencha.

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Early morning tea making by hand and travel to the North of Kyushu

When I got up, I find Dirk already picking tealeaves in front of the house. With great care he goes along the rows of the Yabukita tea bushes, which already where picked. Where something is left, he picks some of the fine Yabukita leaves and than some of the still small Okumidori leaves, which is a late variety. In the kitchen of the Morimotos we steam and dry the tealeaves with greatest care. The result is having a nice dark green colour and has a wonderful fresh nose.

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When we finally have breakfast, Dirk prepares the rest of the tea he made yesterday. What a treat to drink such a freshly made tea by someone you love. Shigeru san pops in and drinking the tea results in a big satisfied smile again very impressed by the result of this unprofessional tea making. Than we pack our luggage and for three days we say good by to the Morimotos. After getting money changed in Miyazaki, we take the highway North to Kurokawa Onsen, the most famous area for Japanese hot baths on the Kyushu Island.

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On the way to Kurokawa we already see an active volcano, which shows us why the Onsens are situated here. Coming closer to Kurokawa we enter a typical Japanese mountain and river landscape, getting nicer and nicer the closer we come to our Onsen, where first of all we get a green tea. After a really hot bath with view to the mountain landscape we have a wonderful Japanese dinner. One dish after the other is coming and surprises us with delicate flavours. In the end we open the tin with our today’s tea production and continue dreaming.