December 06, 2020
A young tea producer dedicated to infinite possibilities of tea. | Ishiyama Tea Factory in Sashima, Ibaraki

Tea production methods have been increasing infinitely.

Different tea production methods can make different teas from the same tea leaves: black tea would be made when oxidizing tea leaves, oolong tea would be made when discontinuing the oxidation, and green tea would be made with no oxidation. Some tea producers have recently been producing Icho-sencha by slightly withering and oxidizing tea leaves.

Although each one of tea cultivar has its own characteristics that suit certain types of tea like green tea and black tea, it is technically possible to produce many types of tea with every tea cultivar.

Mr. Ishiyama is a tea farmer in Sashima, Ibaraki who has been seeking the infinite combinations to try.

Sashima, Ibaraki: where you can see unique tea farmers.

Tea farm in Sashima, Ibaraki

Ibaraki isn’t a big tea producing area. I remember that its geographic characteristics allow a variety of crops to grow; from rice and veggies to fruits.

Farmers who bother to choose tea cultivation in Sashima are pretty unique.

Briefly speaking of our impression of Sashima green tea, the specialty is its bitterness: It goes along with umami that slowly spreads and leaves an aftertaste. This bitterness brings out the tea’s flavor just right, which makes the tea taste clearly well-balanced.

Sashima is not strongly connected with tea distributors unlike Shizuoka and Kagoshima, which allows Sashima tea farmers to cultivate unique tea leaves with their own methods as they don’t need to worry about tea distributors’ preferences for the appearance and flavor of tea .

Particularly, Ishiyama Tea Factory’s tea cultivation is pretty unique.

Ishiyama Tea Factory’s tea cultivation: The unique tea farmer who cultivates 18 tea cultivars.

What we think affects the taste of tea the most is tea cultivars after all. It is not too much to say that different tea cultivars can taste totally different because the balance of catechin (astringency), caffeine (bitterness) and theanine (umami) varies according to tea cultivars. The tea cultivation and production methods would be decided according to the characteristics of tea cultivars, such as the color/shape of tea leaves, the growth of buds, the yield and tree vigor as well as the taste of tea.

Mr./Ms. Ishiyama currently cultivates 18 tea cultivars. “People say what is wrong with me but I’m hoping to end up cultivating about 25 tea cultivars.“

Tea farmers with that many tea cultivars would be considered as a tea geek in the Sashima area where not so many tea leaves are cultivated: Tea farmers in general cultivate 4-5 up to 10 tea cultivars and few tea farmers nationwide cultivate close to 20 tea cultivars.

Increasing the number of tea leaf varieties every year as seeking impressive tea.

Mr. Ishiyama cultivates new tea cultivars every year.

When replanting tea plants, it normally takes about 5 years to be ready for harvesting. In the meantime, tea farmers seek the best tea cultivation and production methods that are suitable for the replanted tea plants. They harvest to try their crops, if available in the second or third year, to see if the tea cultivars is really suitable for the cultivation area including the climate and soil quality, and suitable for black tea or green tea.

1 or 2-year-old tea plants

You can’t imagine how hard it would be to seek the most suitable cultivation methods for almost 20 tea cultivars as getting to become familiar with the characteristics of each.

“It is absolutely hard! I don’t even know what I’m gonna do from now on. But since my dad still works and lets me do whatever I want, I kinda wanna try many different things while I can.“

He smiles and tells us when asked about the pain. Originally, his father used to research hard on tea breeding at the prefectural test centre, and there had already been many tea cultivars when Mr. Ishiyama started tea cultivation.

Now Mr. Ishiyama’s enthusiastic research pushes him to keep trying tea cultivation methods of the multiple tea cultivars, such as green tea, black tea and oolong tea, to find the best combinations of tea cultivars and producing methods

Seeking infinite combinations of cultivar and tea types. Green tea, red tea and oolong tea.

Oolong tea made from green tea cultivar

Oolong tea (Aracha) of Kanayamidori that’s suitable for producing green tea.

The biggest difference among green tea, black tea and oolong tea is their aromas.

The aroma of green tea consists of 200 aroma components. On the other hand, black tea’s and oolong tea’s are more than 600: Their rich aromas, that are described as flower, fruit and spice, are made with infinite aroma components.

Remember, green tea, black tea and oolong tea are all from exact the same tea leaves: The flavor and color are the same in the first place, but totally different teas would be made according to tea producing processes.

The flavour, taste and color of tea is decided by a process of oxidation called Icho (withering) that is to wither harvested tea leaves.

Mr. Ishiyama has been trying tens of tea cultivars from black tea and oolong tea even to Ichocha by contentiously testing in the process of withering.

Although the producing methods of black tea and oolong tea have already been developed, what Mr. Ishiyama has been working on is to produce black tea and oolong tea from green tea cultivars. We do know a couple of tea farmers producing black tea from green tea cultivars Yabukita and Tsuyuhikari, but the number of Mr. Ishiyama’s tea samples is incredible.

“ I do get some advice, but my tea producing methods are totally self-taught. Even though I was taught, I wouldn’t be able to bring the result as expected because I have different techniques and machines to use. Well then, I should find my own way I guess.“

Seeking good tea from infinite combinations of tea cultivars would never end. Mr. Ishiyama who’s sometimes called “a maverick tea farmer of Sashima” continues to approach to the potential.

Not just withering but to roasting: Insatiable enthusiasm for trying

Steel Pan for making tea

Mr Ishiyama, who has been trying infinite tea cultivars, tried the Kamairi (pan-frying) method last year. This method seems to be only seen in a couple of tea cultivation areas such as Miyazaki and Saga in Japan, but some tea farmers personally purchase machines to produce Kamairi-cha.

Mr. Ishiyama purchased one to produce black tea and oolong tea as expecting the characteristic flavor that’s only made by Kamairi. But he no longer uses the pan in terms of the volume of production.

“It is fascinating to try a variety of things, now I have tried too many things and got lost: I don’t know where I’m going or what should be based on. It does taste good by using the pan but this method can’t be mass-produced at all.

Mr.Ishiyama continues to try a variety of tea producing methods and tea cultivars from oxidized tea to the Kamairi method. This young tea farmer never gives up his research in this deep tea world as he considers and struggles every day.

As enjoying changes of tea that’ve been evolving

Beautiful tea leaves of Japanese oolong tea

We tried the oolong tea produced with Kanayamidori. The shape and color of the tea leaves look beautiful.

“I’m sure it’ll get hard for sure from now on but I’m also excited. I believe my tea cultivars have potential: some ones that are not highly rated as good quality of sencha might actually be suitable for black tea and oxidized tea. I’m eager to discover them.”

Mr. Ishiyama, who proudly told us, produces tea with full of his ideas, uniqueness and innovation that never bores his customers.

The taste of tea is affected by the weather in the year. Therefore, we normally maintain the quality of the taste by blending different teas. However, with single origin tea that’s produced with one single tea cultivar, it is impossible to produce tea with exact the same quality of taste every year.

Mr. Ishiyama’s tea, that changes the taste little by little every year, can be recommended drinking to enjoy the changes.