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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.

 

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Shading of tea plants and first tea made by Dirk

In the morning the rest of the Okumidori tea plants get covered with a shading net. Okumidori is a tea plant variety, which has a natural sweetness and is very appropriate to produce high quality teas. In our case the tea plants will be shaded for approximately one week until they will be harvested for the GO EN production. GO EN is a tea produced the old way without the last production step, which make the leaves needle shape. The longer drying in a rotating bamboo cylinder creates especially elegant flavors.

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As it is Sunday and Haruyo san got a package with special sweets from her sister in Miyazaki, in the afternoon she prepares a pick nick for everybody under the trees close by the house. Of course the cold Matcha is part of the moment… during the ochatsumi (tea picking) Haruyo and Shigeru san drink it all day long.

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In the evening Haruyo san brings along freshly picked Okumidori and Saki Mirdori tealeaves. In the morning I had asked here to prepare tea leaf tempura with me. We had it two years ago and since then I am dreaming of it. It is not so difficult, but the clue is to use really fresh tea leaves. We also do some tempura with sweet potato grown by Morimotos. Everything is just delicious!

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At the end of the really nice dinner, Dirk surprises us with a little bit of tea, made by him today. With some tealeaves he just had picked around the house he made and improvised hand made tea in the kitchen of Morimotos. We all are very much surprised by the nice dark green colour of the leaves. Than Dirk prepares the tea for us and we are impressed by the shiny green colour and elegant nose… even the third brewing tastes nice. Haruyo and Shigeru san seem very happy as they always believed in our dream of making a high quality tea in Portugal… today we came a little step closer.

 

 

 

 

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More tea picking and visit of a very traditional tea producer

In the morning we help finishing the picking of Yutaka Midori. Haruyo san is steering the harvester with knowledge, sometimes stopping when she sees a weed growing out of the tea field to rip it out. In the back of the harvester there is always two people helping to fill in the tea leaves into the bags. I see a lot of ladybirds, which I try to take out, as they are very helpful friends, which eat the lice.

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For lunch we go to a simple, but good Soba (noodle) Restaurant close by. As in the region there is a lot of tea producers and other farmers, they all come here for a proper meal and gaining strength for the rest of the working day. As it is weekend, the Morimotos have help from their two daughters and ones husband and son. Together they continue to pick Yabukita behind their house. The freshly picked Yabukita have a very intense flowery smell and result in a very delicate Sencha.

We are invited to visit a friend of Shigeru san, who still produces tea in the old fashioned way with machines build by Shigeru sans father. We are very happy to see the relatively small and more simple machines, which produce green tea in the old way. The atmosphere in the relatively small fabric is like we imagine the old times. And we are very much surprised of the fresh and at the same time mild taste of this type of green tea. We start dreaming to hopefully one day to produce a similar tea.

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Busy day at Morimotos tea plantation

The Morimotos are very, very busy. Today they continue cutting Yutaka Midori, a vey early tea plant variety, from the biggest field approximately 20 minutes away from their house. As soon as the truck loaded with bags of fresh tealeaves arrive, they have to be unloaded as quick as possible to prevent oxidation.

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On the transport belt they get cooled until they enter the steaming machine and in approximately four hours pass through several machines.

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Later we go to a field of my very favourite tea bush variety Minami Sayaka, which has an intense flowery smell and a very nice green colour. Minami Sayaka (Sayaka means South) was especially created for the climatic conditions in the south of Japan. All together there is 13 varieties, which were registred by the tea institute close to Miyazaki. In whole Japan there exist four tea institutes and all together over 60 registered tea bushes varieties. Even though over 70% of the tea bushes in Japan are one variety: Yabukita, which is especially famous for Sencha teas.

The tea field with the Minami Sayaka plants was planted last month. As we arrive, I am very much surprised how small the plants are. That gives me hope, that our tea plantation one day will also grow to a reasonable size.

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Going South to visit Morimotos

After a last wonderful Japanese breakfast in Kyoto we go by bus to Osaka Itami Airport. Everything is going smoothly and we arrive very relaxed at the airport. But very soon the relaxation is gone… as we come closer to the Check In I realize that I forgot my backpack in the overhead compartment in the bus. Running back I just see the bus fading in the distance. After a glimpse of a shock, when I realize that not just my computer but also my passport is in the backpack, I remember that I am in Japan. So I stay calm and somehow manage to tell the people from the bus company what happened, even they don’t speak a word English. They start passing the information and send me to the Japanese Airline Desk, where they tell me to go to bus stop number 5, where in 10 minutes a bus will stop and bring my backpack. And so it is! I really start loving Japan for it’s organization and friendly helpfulness.

After an hour flight we land in Miyazaki Airport and take a rental car to Morimotos. When we turn around the corner and I see the tea fields I really got happy and than even happier seeing Haruyo san and Shigeru san, their daughters and our colleagues Tobias and Dietmar from Germany. It is a really busy day, as just three days ago the tea picking has started. The first teas are the often shaded, highly priced teas and therefore the Morimotos have to take a lot of attention. They have to hurry even more, as the weather forecast for next week shows some rain again, which means that they have to stop the picking again. Finally we have our first cup of the brand new tea, which has a wonderful green colour and very fresh nose. All over a sudden the nice memories of the tea picking two years ago come back and it seems that it was yesterday.

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Visit of Uji – most famous tea prefecture – and surprising sushi dinner

Today we visited Uji, which is very close by Kyoto. Almost everybody in Japan refers to the famous teas of Uji, which is a relatively small tea plantation area and most famous for it’s high quality Matcha. We are lucky that we go there accompanied by Toshi san, who is importing Niepoort wines to Japan. He is a tea lover and his wife’s family are tea producers. So we go straight to Namakura Tokichi Honten, which he considers the best tea producer and shop in Uji. After trying their house blend, we take some of it and a very nice looking Kabuse Sencha as well as Premium Kukicha Karigane Quality.

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As we go more to the centre of Uji, we are getting overwhelmed by the lots and lots of teashops. There many Japanese students around and even more tourists. The only thing that helps us, not getting lost, was to look at the distance, where we see the beautiful Uji mountains, knowing that on the other side there is the tea plantations.

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After visiting the temple we have lunch in a teahouse. Green Matcha Soba Noodles with vegetables and for desert a very delicate Matcha with a perfect foam and the traditional Matcha sweet, which is not too sweet (cha dango).

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In the evening we have a very surprising sushi dinner at an almost private house with sushi chef Masashi Ohtani, who also is a sommelier and big burgundy fan. We are more than lucky, as nobody else is there and he spends a lot of time with us explaining every single of the very delicate sushis.

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Besides the excellent quality of the sushi he is able to make the most perfect matches of wine and sushi. The white burgundy (Meursault Genevriere 1995, Francois Jobard) is matching perfectly with the noble white fishes. Also are very happy to see that Ohtani san really likes the Turis 2012 we brought from Douro… even so much that he is opening a wonderful red burgundy for us from his private cellar (G. Roumier Chambolle Musigny 2001). Both are going very well along with the tuna nigiri. At the end we have a Japanese friend more we hope to see again in Portugal.

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Visit of Katsura Rikyu and tea pottery

Today a dream became true. Since some years ago I have visited a photograph exhibition at the Japan Foundation in Cologne/Germany, I was dreaming of one day visiting Katsura Rikyu (Katsura Imperal Villa). As today we are coming closer to it, I am asking myself if I will get disappointed seeing the buildings in reality as the photographs of Japanese star photographers have been so wonderful. But already walking along the bamboo fence and reaching the entrance gate, I know that this is even getting better than in my dreams.

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We are very lucky, right the moment we enter the famous garden the sun comes out and here and than sends a little light on the million details of the garden and constructions. Katsura Rikyu was completed 1615 as a tasteful and simple summer residence for Prince Toshihito. It is the emblematic building of the tea style architecture (Shoin), which just uses natural materials of the surrounding environment. The very simple but at the same time very effective architecture inspired our day star architects like Mies van der Rohe and became the basis of the minimalistic architecture.

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At Katsura Rikyu three villas and numerous tea houses in different styles are arranged in a beautiful garden, which stretches around a lake. It was taken a lot of care, with every step you have a new sight on the buildings and the garden is opening up. Through the garden leads a path with big rocks, someone has to walk carefully with the intention to concentrate on the way to the teahouse. The biggest and most important teahouse Shokintei has a very small entrance, visitors must hunch over to pass through the interior. This is very common in traditional teahouses, because in old times samurai that way were forced  to leave there sword outside. Until today the gesture of passing the small entrance on the knees has the intention to show, that every visitor is equal.

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The next teahouse is Shokatei, a mountain teahouse, build on the highest point of elevation of the garden with a view to the Kyoto surrounding mountains.

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Than comes Shoiken, a country-style-teahouse and finally Gepparo, which is build above the shore of the pond. It’s intention is to watch the full moon light reflecting on the water. Almost drunk of the beautiful garden and the stunning architectonical details, we walk out the Katsura Rikyu. The whole day I will have backflashs of what I have seen in the morning.

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Later we walk into some potteries close to Shichijo Station and finally we find one which really has very special ceramics from father and son. After buying some nice pieces, they offer us a very delicious Sencha. When we ask to see the leaves, he shows us a copper tin box, which is beautifully aged with a measuring spoon also made out of copper. Asking where to get those, he indicates us the way. Later we arrive at the Kaikado shop, where the different tins, aged for different periods are beautifully arranged. The older they get, the more beautiful they are. This is the secret of japans estetics. Another secret of Kaikado is, that if there is something wrong with the tin, they fix it for free, the whole lifespan of the tin… you have to consider, that Kaikado exists since 1875 and many tines within families are handed over for decades. It does so good to see how handcraft is taken serious in Japan until today.

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Wandering around in the rain in Kyoto

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After 12 hours of sleeping, we wake up and can’t believe it. Suddently the phone rings and a gentle Japanese voice is saying nice things. As we have combined breakfast for nine o’clock I just say yes yes… 40 minutes later, we find out that we should come downstairs to a tatami room, where the lady of the house has prepared a marvellous breakfast for us. We are enjoying the delicious taste of a big variety of plates, which could be also a lunch or dinner. Strengthened we start into our day in Kyoto, which today is warm, but it rains a lot.

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First we go to the Kyoto Imperial Palace, as I want to book a visit of the famous Katsura Villa for tomorrow. It is pouring down, but the cherry blossoms in the huge garde around the Imperial Palace are cheering us up. We know how much it is an privilege to be in Japan at the time of the cherry blossoms. Later we stroll around the streets, where the Urasenke Tea School has it’s headquater. As we are not members of the Urasenke Teaschool, we can’t go in, but we have a look in the ceramic shops close by, where the sell highly priced wonderfull Chawans (Matcha Bowls) and other materials for the Tea Ceremony. Someone really have to train his eyes and senses to get a sense for subtle differences in the Tea Ceramics. Again we are wondering that at every corner and in front almost every house there is a lot of pots with plants, which gives the city a touch of village lifestyle.