September has been a quiet month in the tea fields. The late summer heat continued relentlessly, and has caused some farmers to delay their autumn harvest, though the autumn (秋番茶 akibancha) tencha harvest commenced in the last 3 days before the end of the month.
The month’s schedule did manage to fill itself to the brim with tea events, so despite a lull in tea production it has been a very lively month.
Rain or sunshine, Shoji-san will still serve a delicious coldbrew tamaryokucha whilst we visit the tea fields on our tea tours.
We were happy to welcome more guests to our tea tours this month. Trying to whisk matcha is always a favourite and fun moment for everyone!
Our monthly tea session for August focused on different coldbrew methods. We included recipes for simple coldbrew, ice brew, flash brew, tea extract, milk coldbrew and sparkling water coldbrew.
See our post about coldbrew techniques here.
Where in August we presented the very first English version of the brand new Sonogi Cha Ambassador programme, this month we helped behind to scenes at the first official Japanese Sonogi Cha Ambassador event. It was a great success with both sessions completely booked. Participants who joined came from Higashisonogi and lots of neighbouring towns and cities, and one very dedicated tea enthusiast came all the way from Osaka!
Every year the local elementary school sends their students to learn about tea: it is one of the main agricultural products of this region after all. We were told that every year the class will visit a different tea producer. 3rd grade students (around 9 years old) came to learn about matcha production at FORTHEES tencha factory on September 27th. Whilst we joined the class picking tea leaves, one of the students declared: “I don’t want to go back to the school, this is much more fun!”
Photos of Sonogi Cha Culture Exchange event by Katrina Wild
In August we invited 15 ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers – native English speakers who teach in Japanese elementary and secondary schools) from Nagasaki Prefecture to join us for a day to learn the basics about Japanese tea, and all about Sonogi Cha in particular.
The ALTs were the very first to receive the official Sonogi Cha Ambassador certificates!
This month, all 15 of them returned for a culture exchange event where they each made short presentations about what they learned about Sonogi tea, and then put their new brewing skills at work whilst socialising with local residents from Higashisonogi and from surrounding towns.
One of the teachers who came from a different city in the prefecture shared at the end of the event that she was incredibly happy yet surprised to meet someone who lived just a few houses down from her!
The event was very lively, full of laughter and chatter, all accompanied by sharing lots of tea. With more than 50 local residents who joined the event to meet the new Sonogi Cha Ambassadors, it was a huge success.
A big thank you to the enthusiasm of all the ALT teachers who were even better ambassadors for Sonogi Cha than we could have imagined beforehand!
We love how supportive the local community are of each other. There are frequent collaborations between shop and cafe owners, and at the start of the month we joined a social mixing event for local producers, shop, cafe & restaurant owners at Sorriso riso cafe.
A week before tencha leaf harvest was due to start, we visited tea farmer Ohyama for a short tour with a guest. Whilst he was showing us some of his tea fields he quickly excused himself for 10 minutes to do some very light trimming in order to cut the tallest shoots and promote a little more leaf growth in the shoots just below for a more even autumn harvest.
At the very end of September finally we received the news that autumn harvest (akibancha) had finally commenced. We were lucky to visit the tencha factory whilst it was in the midst of production. These tall nets are always fascinating to behold as the freshly steamed tea leaves are blown up to removed moisture from the leaf and makes it look like fluttering butterflies.
After the steamed leaves pass through the long oven for the first time, this is what they look like. As there is no rolling for tencha (base material for matcha) the leaves are very open and light. From here they will pass once more through the oven to get the moisture level down further, before the stalks and thicker veins in the leaf will removed.
When tea trees are trimmed at the right intervals for each harvest, the tea plants focus on growing tea leaves and will not put all their energy into creating flowers. Often though at the very edge of a row of tea bushes or more towards the underside, where there may have been less frequent trimming: flowers and seeds will start to grow . The tea flower is a humble yet elegant flower with its creamy white and sunny yellow, always a joy to behold.
Abundant summer sunshine and rain (and fog as seen in this photo) leads to perfect growing conditions, not just for tea but for everything else as well.
This photo shows an example of neatly manicured rows of tea bushes in the back, but an overgrown with weeds tea garden in front. These trees were probably harvested just in springtime and then left to their own devices, whereas the garden in the back has had constant care and attention.
This is the same view from the tea gardens where we take our guests to during our tea tours. We received a guest who arrived in the early evening and we were a little too late to catch the sunset overlooking the tea fields and oceans, but this dusk view was nonetheless magical to behold with Omura city in the background giving off a warm glow.
Team member Marjolein was only too happy when the request came in to have fresh tea leaves at the Sonogi Cha Culture Exchange event. Off to the tea fields to go hunting for some forlorn tea trees along the side of the road that had some pretty shoots to show what kind of leaves would normally be harvested!
Who needs flowers when you can have a bouquet of fresh tea leaves? 😉
Last month’s tea field safari continues with this photogenic fly posing with a perfect silhouette.
We consumed countless bottles of coldbrew tamaryokucha this month: still our number one thirst quencher on hot days!
As autumn comes peeking round the corner, the higanbana (Red Spider Lily) flowers start appearing. Especially alongside tea fields, forests and rice fields, the vibrant red flowers contrast so beautifully with the golden and dark greens.