In May I traveled to Japan to take part in a Tea Tour of Japan! Dan Robertson of World Tea Tours was the amazing organizer and guide, and the group was a mix of people from the US and UK tea industries. We started in Tokyo and our first stop was Shikuoka near Mt. Fuji. We visited tea fields, several processing plants, a tea museum and a tea auction. As you can imagine, we did a lot of tea tasting at each stop, learning about the differences between sencha, gyokuro, hojicha and other types of Japanese tea.
From Shizuoka we continued on to Kyoto and Uji which is famous for matcha. In Kyoto we visited the oldest tea store in Kyoto, original tea gardens (planted with tea seeds from China around 1200s), and of course, a few temples and shrines. Cultural stops also included a master potter who makes tea cups and pots and a master chasen (matcha whisk) maker. After Kyoto, we visited a large matcha processing facility. If you haven't had matcha before, it's a powdered tea that is used in Japanese tea ceremonies. Recently, there's been a "matcha boom" in the US as health conscious consumers add it to their smoothies, baked goods, lattes, etc. There are various grades of matcha, including culinary and ceremonial, and on our tour we were able to see the different processing methods.
Next we headed to Wazuka where we made our own tea from start to finish - we picked shade grown tea leaves, pan fired them, hand pressed to remove moisture, pan fired again, hand pressed, final firing, and then tasting! The result was a very fresh green tea with lots of body and a buttery asparagus note. We also had the opportunity to grind matcha using a small ceramic grinder. Processing tea by hand and grinding matcha that way were both labor intensive!
Near the end of our trip we visited the island of Shikuoku and learned about two rare types of fermented tea, awabancha and ishigocha. At the southern end of Shikoku, we spent a night and enjoyed the public bath house at Dogo Onsen hot springs which is featured in the Japanese movie Spirited Away. Our last stop on the tour was the island of Kyushu which is famous for high quality sencha and gyokuro green teas. I am so grateful for the opportunity to experience the many aspects of Japanese tea - the culture, the cultivation, processing, types of tea, and much more. To view more pictures from the trip visit (and scroll down to the May and June 2015 posts): www.facebook.com/lizzykateteas.