It was February 2013 when I decided we needed to relocate Chiki Tea to Japan.
On returning from a two week trip around the country, sourcing teas for our website and meeting with our farmers and suppliers, I had the sudden urge to move back there. I’d spent large chunks of my life living in Japan already as a kid growing up in Nagoya, and then later working various jobs in Nagoya and Tokyo.
My husband and I (and our dog Jasmine!) were living in London at the time, thinking about how best to progress our online Japanese green tea business. It might sound a bit extreme but in hindsight it was totally the right move. In May of that year, we landed in the very rural farmlands of Kyushu, in what felt like a billion miles away from fashionable London, dog in tow.
We spent several months travelling around Japan, building relationships with our farmers and teaware producers and eventually setting up our first Japanese green tea café in January of 2015… but first we had to jump through a myriad of hoops to set up our Japanese subsidiary in order to even do business here with these small producers.
There are several instances these past couple of months that have reinforced my conviction that moving here, specifically to Kyushu, was exactly the right thing to do. One such instance was a trip down to Kagoshima to visit with one of our longer-standing tea farmers, an artisan producer specialising in Kabusecha teas that are to die for!
Kabusecha is Chiran’s speciality. It’s like a baby Gyokuro, but without the crazy high price tag.
The city of Kagoshima, complete with a giant rooftop Ferris wheel (!), overlooks the ominous active volcano, Sakurajima, sitting proudly in the bay. In fact, Kagoshima Prefecture has eleven active volcanoes and much of the area is covered in a layer of ash known as “shirasu”. This ash contributes to the abundance of minerals in the soil, and coupled with perfect climate and ample rainfall, tea and agriculture from this area is some of the healthiest in Japan.
Kagoshima Prefecture is at the forefront of producing new varieties of camellia sinensis cultivars and this is celebrated in our own tea selection. The Yabukita cultivar is the most well-known cultivar in Japan, representing 76% of all tea plants, but over the past three decades, Kagoshima producers have created an astounding variety of cultivars, including the stunning Sae Midori and Asatsuyu cultivars. These cultivars are not widely seen in other tea growing regions.
We feel like we’re living in tea Nirvana! Based in Nakatsu, near Oita, we’re sandwiched between Yame (for Matcha), Yabakei (for Sencha), Kumumoto (for organic Sencha) and Kagoshima (for Kabusecha), all producing unique and distinct flavours. Kyushu is the gift that just keeps on giving!