Volume 2 Issue 3
farming, theNagata organictea co-op, agroup of associated teagrowers, havebeen a curios-ity to their tea-farmingneighbours.Most tea farmers spray their plantswith chemicals fifteen to twentytimes a year, but the Nagata growershave rejected chemical agriculturecompletely. They do not use animalmanures, chemical fertilizers,herbicides, or pesticides; theyreplenish the nutrients in theirtopsoil with vegetable-qualitycompost only. Nature farmingstresses the importance of buildingsoil vitality by maintaining a semi-wild natural environment. Plants arenot overly protected or pampered butare allowed to fend for themselveswith the help of a strong, balancedtopsoil.The Nagatas insist that it is notnecessary to prune tea bushesuniformly. Each bush, he says,should be allowed to grow accordingto its own pattern. Although heharvests a little less tea than similar-sized farms that use chemicalmethods, his plants have far lessmould and blight. Also, the co-optea plants usually produce tea leavesfor twice as long a period of time asplants that have been chemicallytreated. Chemically treated tea plantsgenerally burn themselves out inabout twenty years, but the Nagataplants commonly produce for fortyyears, some for as long as onehundred.In early spring, Uji farmers covertheir tender tea leaves with dark netting or slotted bamboo screens toprotect them from the afternoon sun.These first spring leaves are pro-cessed into
(jewel dew),Japan’s rarest, most expensive tea.Steamed, dried, and ground to a finepowder, these early leaves become
, the jade green tea of theancient tea ceremony.Unlike their neighbours, in thespring, the Nagata growers processtheir most prized leaves into sencha,a high-quality green tea offered tohouse guests and served at fineJapanese restaurants. To makesencha, the freshly picked tenderleaves are immediately steamed for aminute or so. Steaming softens theleaves and turns them a delicateemerald green colour. (The steamingprocess prevents the tea fromfermenting and turning dark. Thisdistinguishes Japanese tea frompartially fermented oolong and fullyfermented black English teas.) Oncesteamed, the leaves are
rolled intothin curls, dried slowly in ovens,cooled, and immediately packed toseal in their fresh taste and aroma.Slightly bittersweet sencha, morethan any other tea, has the fresh tasteof just-picked leaves.The Nagata growers continue topick sencha throughout the spring.By late June or July the leaves aretoo large and coarse to qualify assencha and are processed intobancha. These leaves are steamed,mixed with black volcanic sand, androasted in revolving ovens. The sand,later removed, helps the leaves roastslowly and evenly. Roastingfurther neutralizes theleaves’ alreadyweak astringentand stimulatingqualities (tealeaves losecaffeine strengthas they grow), so bothchildren and adults candrink bancha at any time of day.Bancha is one of the Nagata group’smost popular teas and is frequentlyserved in Japanese hospitals as amedicinal beverage.In Japan, kukicha
has beenstigmatised as a poor man’s drink,because, like brown rice, it bringsback memories of the days of deprivation during and after WorldWar II. Macrobiotics founder GeorgeOhsawa introduced kukicha to theWest forty years ago. Since itcontains only one-tenth the caffeineof sencha and because it is the mostalkalinising Japanese tea, Ohsawaconsidered it to be the most balancedbeverage. Indeed, kukicha is anexcellent complement to the grain-based, mostly vegetarian diet headvocated.Nagata growers
keep the caffeinelevel in kukicha as low as possibleby selecting only older twigs andharvesting them in fall and winterwhen caffeine is naturally lowest.Twigs are steamed, dried, and storedin paper bags for two to three yearsin order to develop the best flavour.After aging, twigs are cut and gradedto size. Each grade is then roastedseparately at different temperaturesand lengths of time to ensureuniformity. Finally, the twigs areblended and packaged. The Nagatacoop formula for just the right ratioof twig size and age is a carefullyguarded company secret.Two other traditional Japaneseteas are barley tea (
) andbrown rice tea (
).Unhulled barley for barley tea is firstsprouted to activate its naturalsweetness, then roastedto bring out itsdeep, richflavour. Excel-lent chilled,barley tea is afavourite of womenand children duringJapan’s hot, humid summers.Brown rice tea is a type of sencha. It is a mixture of 50% greentea leaves and 50% kernels of roasted, popped brown rice. Thewhite colours of the rice dispersed inthe green tea gives genmai cha aninteresting appearance. Enjoyed bothhot and chilled, rice tea has a mild,nutty flavour. Genmai cha is avail-able in the Clearspring label.
Clearspring’s OrganicTea and NaturalFarming
Nature farming stresses the importance of building soil vitality by maintaining a semi-wild natural environment.
Other TraditionalJapanese Teas