Working for Rishi Tea has allowed me to combine two of my passions – tea and organic farming. Often I read doubts about organic tea being as tasty as conventional tea. In some previous posts, I have read that others have also been successful in finding organic teas that are up to our flavor standards. But what about the organic practices that make those teas so delicious? Let me take you to the pristine mountainsides of Taiwan and the beautifully manicured tea fields of Japan and walk you through some of the farming practices that I believe enhance the flavor of the tea.
This is the voyage my tea mentor, Joshua Kaiser, took me on through cupping sessions with him and explanations of farming techniques that made the farm nerd in me dream and giggle.
I start with Mr. Nishi-san and his farms on Kirishima Mountain. His was the first Japanese tea I ever tasted. Nishi First Flush Sencha was my first Japanese infatuation. This year we are lucky enough to have images and video of Mr. Nishi-san and his organic cultivation methods. One dream that I have is smelling his compost pile that is alive with wood from mushroom cultivation, bamboo, and rich Kirishima soil. That may sound a bit bizarre to many, but I think a good compost pile is like magic. Aside from his compost pile, he also allows nitrogen-fixing weeds to grow between his rows, which permits beneficial earthworms to thrive.
I believe that the holistic care he gives his fields and his technique directly affect the flavor of his tea. Many have commented that his shincha was the best shincha they tasted this year. I would have to agree.
I recently watched a video about tea culture in Taiwan. It was fascinating because the government was teaching farmers the importance of organic farming practices. They understand that in order to protect their crops and land they must care for it with thoughts of sustainability.
This year Joshua took pictures of organic farming practices in Song Bo Lin, Taiwan that I thought were pretty interesting. Nitrogen in the soil is very important for final flavor in the tea. As in Mr. Nishi-san’s garden, in this garden they use a natural mix and composted peanut shells that add to the richness of the soil. They also use the same technique of leaving nitrogen-fixing herbs by the tea bushes to help earthworms aid in enriching the soil.
The teas from this area are not only delicious, but also healthy for the consumer, the farmer, and the land. As Joshua says, “Rishi is from Sanskrit and it means sage, teacher or revealer of the natural path and that’s what we are trying to do… At Rishi, we want to share natural and simple alternatives with people so that they might live healthy and delicious lives.”