Japanese tea - mainstream vs artisan 1
To me, Japanese culture represents "together we stand strong".
It is like the movie "Matrix" - it is about the collective action - everybody doing the same without questioning.
To the western world, this can be hard to digest.
Yet, under this uniforming kind of culture, Japan becomes very good at producing at very high standard almost without fail.
Everything has two sides.
The other side of this uniformity is the culture can lack pioneering spirit.
Don't get me wrong. There are definitely innovations in Japan. However, if the innovation is too "out there", it can easily be dismissed prematurely as it is out of norm.
Tea production is one such case.
We love Japanese tea for the high quality consistently appearing across from low end to high end tea.
However, you might have noticed, Japanese is all about green tea.
Any tea producers trying to create black tea, oolong, or simply making green tea differently are doing hair raising businesses. Their income maybe affected because of such creative spirit.
Today we are in Hamamatsu, about 1.5 hrs by express train from Shizouka, Japan.
We are guided to see Tarui-san and the tea plantation and production facility started by Tarui's father back in the 1970s.
Around that time, tea was a growing industry and lots of new cultivars coming up. Tarui's father decided on tea farming was easier comparing to other forms of farming without worry about animals and pests.
Gradually he started to investigate different cultivars of tea, mainly because he needed to find a way to manage workload even when there was only him on the field.
By farming different cultivars, he staggered harvest times, making life a bit easier.
But of course the world of tea would have him doing his farming differently. Yabukita cultivar was easy to handle for mass produced tea in Japan, contributing to80-90% tea sold in the market.
He was persuaded to go mainstream. But his creative spirit called him to pursue tea with special characteristics and his experiments fortunately paid off.
With a wholesale buyer expressed interest for organic green tea, and his was organic, he took a risk to develop this tea for this wholesale client.
Today Tarui family continues farming 4 cultivars of tea, including 2 rare ones. Most of his tea are sold as organic green tea (that's what the market wants) but not as tea from rare cultivars.
Besides green tea, he also makes a 3 year old bancha for macro-diets, oolong that reminds me a heavier roasted Tie Guan Yin oolong from China, and a very mesmerising cinnamon smelling black tea.
Unfortunately the market is not paying for a rare cultivar grown over 300m up in the mountain, completely isolated, appreciating his farm is the only farm up in the forest, unpolluted, undisturbed.
A tea that can only yield 12kg a year is rare in this world of commericalisation. Everyone wants to make more to earn more.
For me, meeting Tarui-san, an artisan who has found a way to inner peace between income and creativity, mainstream and speciality, brings me joy and hope.
Yes the world is still like the Matrix, but a few of us choose the red pill. Fly like Neo.