Ancient Tea Tree
Spring comes in its own good time. But for tea lovers, it can never come too soon. This is the season of New Tea. Some places call it First Flush. For some regions it is their “flavor season”. In Japan it is Shin Cha. Tea farmers, producers, traders, and drinkers bubble with anticipation as the first shoots of the year begin to emerge. In Japan, the end of the tea bushes’ winter hibernation comes first for the Southern island of Kyushu. And that is where the World Tea Tour’s Tea Tour of Japan 2019 began its adventure. Tour members consisted of tea business people, educators, as well as avid tea lovers. All shared a common desire to enhance their appreciation and understanding of Japanese tea and culture.
Sonogi Tea Farmers
In total, there were no less than 16 main destinations, each with its own unique tea-related offering. From Fukuoka City we drove out into the countryside and had our baptism in tea by visiting the oldest tea tree in Japan. It is said to be over 400 years old; and though it looks like several trunks, all originate from the same root system. In Ureshino we were received by the mayor of the city, tea farmers, and traders at the newly-built tea culture center where we participated in a forum exchanging market trends and issues in Japan and North America. We studied the historic, now rare, method of making Tamaryoku Cha from an octogenarian and tried our skill at making our own tea. Our outstanding guide Scott Noguchi was very well connected, and facilitated some extra-special encounters such as visiting a group of five progressive-minded tea farmers (Sonogi) who had formed a cooperative to market their individual tea brands. We tasted several award-winning teas. At the end of each day, we retired to our hotel: A traditional Ryokan-style accommodation with futon comforters placed on tatami mat floors. Besides the bountiful and healthy Japanese breakfasts and the culinary artistry of the Kaiseki dinner banquet, the onsen (hot tub) featured a giant stone teapot which poured real tea into the steaming outdoor pool.
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