First of all, if you haven't already noticed from our Instagram posts (@MizubaTeaCo), we are in Japan! This is the heart of our vocation: fully immersing ourselves in tea culture and meeting so many wonderful people along the way. Each experience is so special to us, and we're honored to share Japan's tea stories with you.
Even though Mizuba specializes in Matcha, we decided to make a special stop at Obubu Tea Farms because we find a shared value system with the way they view and go about their tea business. Obubu places a high priority on the transparency of the entire process from leaf to cup, making sure that the customer knows exactly what kind of tea they are drinking, and where it comes from when they drink Obubu tea. Everything is done and overseen in-house: each step of growing, harvesting, and processing requires astute craft and skill, and Obubu is unique in that it participates in and encompasses the entire process.
Obubu lies about an hour outside of Kyoto, so we boarded a train that took us through mountainous countryside, past plush trees and tea terraces, and into to the region of Wazuka. Wazuka has a population of 6,500 people, filled with 600 hectares of tea that are respectively owned by 300 different families. Most often, you'll see a husband and wife duo harvesting tea.
Besides the transparency of their tea process, Obubu shares a very similar story to that of Mizuba. The founder of Obubu, Akky-san, tried Uji tea for the first time when he was a university student. He was completely captivated by Uji-cha, and committed his life to bringing Japanese tea to the world. (Sound familiar??) Once Akky-san graduated, he founded Obubu Tea Farms with Matsu-san.
Due to Obubu’s exquisite collection of senchas, we were excited to visit the Kabuse (shaded) sencha tea fields, as well as the unshaded sencha fields. It was incredible to see how green the fields were under the shaded tarps as compared to the leaves exposed to sunlight. The greener leaves indicate a concentration of nutrients; theanine in tea contributes to sweetness and Umami, and it’s the Catechins (healthy antioxidants) in tea that make tea bitter. Shading the tea during the growing season brings up Theanine levels, and unshaded tea rises catechin levels through photosynthesis. The goal is to balance the two to create a tea with depth, complexity, and the classic Umami flavor – a brothy, one of a kind sweet and savory experience.
While we walked the tea fields, we also found out that one of the other guests on our tour was a journalist from the local paper! She was amazed that we came all the way out to Japan for the love of tea and decided to write a story about our time at Obubu! We were thrilled, to say the least.
Mizuba's Founder, Lauren, enjoying Obubu's tea fields.
After enjoying cha-soba (Matcha soba noodles) for lunch in a tiny café, we headed back to the Obubu Tea Farms office for a tea tasting. Matsu-san served up a full tea course. Fortunately for us, it is harvest season, so we were able to try fresh Shincha (new harvest tea) that was harvested only a week ago. What an experience – some of the smoothest tea we had ever tried. And there might have been the moment we ate a raw tea leaf. When in Japan, right?
The tea tasting consisted mostly of Senchas, but we also tried Aracha, or farmer's tea, which has a complex flavor made up of leaves that are not as heavily sorted, resulting in lots of layers to the final flavor. We also had the Kabuse sencha/shaded sencha, which is usually shaded anywhere from ten days to two weeks and produces a pure Umami flavor. Then there was the brewed tea-leaf with a little soy sauce topped with Genmaicha brown rice for a small snack, and finally, we were so excited to sample some rare Japanese black tea. Only 300 farmers in Japan make Japanese black tea, but one of them happens to be Obubu's neighbor. The brew was like a light ceylon with honey notes. It’s difficult to choose, but perhaps our favorite for the day was the smooth and honey-like Kyoubancha - not a fancy tea by any means, but Bancha that is sold and served exclusively in the Kyoto region.
Lauren talking quality with Matsu-san.
But our favorite moment of the day... was a true #MatchaMoment. We ground our own Matcha. When Matsu-san pulled out some very dark green leaves, we immediately knew that it was Tencha: the raw leaves that are used to make Matcha. Taking an Ishiusu, or the classic stone-mill, we measured out tencha leaves on the top, spun the mill counter-clockwise, and watched as vibrant, fresh, Matcha appeared in the bottom basin. Matsu-san immediately whisked us up one of our most memorable, freshest chawans of Matcha.
The look of pure, albeit nerdy, tea-excitement: grinding tencha into Matcha using an ishiusu