My first real opportunity to go and visit a tea farm since seriously deciding to start the company came during my trip to Japan. Thanks to Jane (Pettigrew) who offered a couple of initial contacts I set up two meetings. The first with a family based near to Fujieda – just south of Shizuoka city and bang in the middle of Japan’s principle tea producing area.
I spent two days with the Kinezuka family staying in a tatami room in their house. Mr Kinezuka and his daughter Ayumi, with whom I had been in touch, picked me up from the station and drove me back to the family house for a hearty dinner. We spent the evening chatting about the farm, family history, the farming challenges they face and of course the current nuclear crisis in Japan.
Toshiaki Kinezuka, Ayumi’s father, founded an organic tea group with several tea growers in 1976 that became Hito to No, Shizen wo Tsunagu Kai (Connecting People, Agriculture, and Nature). Since then, he has grown tea organically, without pesticides. There are now over 26 member farms in the group who all work together to develop not only advanced cultivation techniques, but also to create a larger macro environment that makes the need for pesticides obsolete. Last year they had to discard their entire harvest due to the radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant. However, readings for this years spring harvest so far are promising and it is hoped that the crop will be fit for sale.
Ayumi showed me around the farm, which comprises of several tea fields dotted around the mountains surrounding Fujieda City, and is accessible by 4×4 along some very narrow and windy tracks. Three harvest times take place in May/April, June, and September/October. The very first Midori harvest is handpicked and sold as the highest quality tea. Subsequent harvests are completed using mechanised clippers that straddle the rows of plants. The leaves are brought back to their factory where they are first laid out for withering – the leaves are dried out to reduce their water content. Then they are rolled in large drums, breaking up the leaf cells and releasing oils – oxidation begins causing the leaves to turn brown. To control the oxidation the leaves are then heated and dried. The point at which this occurs determines whether the tea will be green, oolong or black. The Kinezukas produce both green and black teas.