Airport, we could see lush green tea fields everywhere below me. One of them is the field of Arimura Tea Factory. Just a few hundred meters away from the airport, the Arimura family, father, and son endeavor to make tea today.
At the base of Takachiho Peak, in the Kirishima area, where fog rolls deep, as the site's name suggests (Kiri 霧 means fog), delicious tea has been produced due to the severe temperature difference and the fertile soil.
We visited Arimura Tea Factory, a reliable tea producer in the Kirishima area, which has won the top prize in Japan many times.
"An island in a sea of mist."
Kirishima is located at the foot of Takachiho, a famous mountain associated with the myth of the descent of the gods. The origin of its name is "An island in a sea of mist." The land has been shrouded in mist since the age of mythology and boasts a mysterious beauty.
The first name that comes to mind as a tea production area in Kagoshima Prefecture is Minamikyushu City. It is the largest tea production area in Japan, and its production has been increasing in recent years due to the vast plains and mild climate.
On the other hand, the tea production in Kirishima is entirely different even though it is in the same Kagoshima.
This area has a cool climate with severe temperature differences and fog in the mornings and evenings. The mist provides moisture to the tea buds while moderately blocking the sunlight, and the soft tea leaves are processed to make Kirishima tea, which is quite fragrant and attractive.
The fields are located at an altitude of around 270 meters above sea level. The minimum temperature in midwinter is -4 to -5 degrees Celsius, and in some years, it can be as cold as -10 degrees Celsius. It is the opposite of the tropical climate that people imagine when they hear the name of Kagoshima. Compared to the plains of Minamikyushu, the picking of the first tea is delayed by about two to three weeks.
The earlier the tea shipped in the recent tea market, the higher the price, so the price will drop significantly if the shipment delays three weeks. Since they could not get a reasonable price in the market, they aimed to produce tea, focusing on quality rather than shipment speed.
The result is the Arimura Tea Factory's tea, which has won the top prize in Japan many times.
Awarded the top prize in Japan four times.
Arimura Tea Factory has won the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Award, the highest award at the National Tea Fair, four times in the past: 1999, 2011, 2016, and 2019.
10kg sencha category, there are over 100 entries every year, and teas from all over Japan that have been produced with great care are gathered here.
Although the evaluation at the fair is not the whole story of the tea, the tea has won the highest award many times, and its skill is well known.
Other than that, they have offered tea to the Emperor of Japan at the Daime-sai festival and won a gold medal at a green tea contest in Paris, so there is no doubt about their deliciousness.
70years in the business, tea produced by three generations
At Arimura Seicha, three generations of parents and children, Yukio (the second generation), Koji (the third generation), and Yukiryo (the fourth generation), are currently making tea.
"The factory was started in 1953, so it has been around 70 years. The first generation died the same year we built the tea factory, so I took over the tea business when I was 16."
Yukio is 85 years old (as of 2021) and has been working in the tea industry since he was 16 years old, making this his 70th year a tea grower. He is a very experienced tea grower who has spent most of his life in the tea fields.
Since he was a young man, Yukio, who has been running the business alone, was joined by Koji, a university graduate, and three years ago by Koryo, a graduate of an agricultural university, to form the current organization. For the past 70 years, they have continued to follow the teachings of the first generation to produce fragrant and delicious tea while gradually changing with the changing times.
A delicious tea made with mist and covering
The first time we drank Arimura's tea, We were surprised by its umami and aroma richness.
The umami is so concentrated that the moment you put it in your mouth, it spreads like wildfire, and the impact is one of the best we've ever experienced. The natural curtain woven by the mist and the covered cultivation nurtured by years of experience has created rich umami.
Another thing that makes Arimura extraordinary is its aroma. We couldn't help but savor the exquisite balance between the aroma of each tea cultivar and the fire aroma created by the skilled fire heating process.
Saeakari has a sweet chestnut-like aroma, Okumidori has a cool and refreshing scent, and Saemidori has a gentle, sweet green leaf aroma. The scent of each cultivar is unique to Arimura tea, with the addition of a fire aroma.
The secret of its deliciousness lies in the processing that makes the most of the region's individuality and cultivar.
Strive to preserve the flavor of the fresh leaves.
"In the case of tea, even if a leaf has a 100-point taste, it will not become a 120-point tea just because it is processed in a factory.
It would be great to make the best use of the 100 points, but the taste inevitably diminishes. The question is how to make a beautiful tea without losing the original flavor of the leaves. This is the skill and skill of the tea maker. I think the way to become a craftsman is to spend a long time experimenting with various things yourself."
Koji told me this when we asked him about tea processing.
Most of Arimura Tea Factory's teas are made by medium steaming.
The longer the steaming time, the less astringent the tea will be and the brighter the color will be, which will lose the more of the original flavor. On the other hand, tea that is steamed for a short time has a strong astringent taste, and it is difficult to pick the shoots when they are still soft.
Originally, Kirishima itself is a relatively asamushi (light steamed) production area. The medium steaming process chosen by Arimura results from their pursuit of a balance between the two.
Kirishima tea, which grows softly with moisture from the fog, does not need to be deep steamed. It is the result of 70 years of research and development to achieve the right balance of bitterness, astringency, and flavor and maximize each cultivar's taste.
"Making tea is a learning process every year. I've been making tea for decades, and I've made many mistakes. I never repeat the mistakes I made. I'm sure I'll make mistakes, but I try to keep them to a minimum and try not to make mistakes."
Even if you have 20 years, they can experience the first tea season only once a year. In this limited number of times, trial and error is accumulated, and the skills developed in this way are passed down from parent to child and then from child to child.
Koryo, who has only been making tea for three years, is learning how to make tea from Koji. We hope that we can work together to build the future of the tea industry as the young producer sees it.
Healing and a little happiness. Produce with attitude.
Lastly, We asked about Arimura Tea Factory’s commitment to tea production.
"If I don't make a tea that I think is good, people won't think it's good either. "If I don't make a tea that I think tastes good, people won't think it tastes good. I think my goal is to give people a sense of healing."
Yukio, Koji, and Koryo. The names of the Arimura Tea Company all have the character for "happiness 幸" in them.
And just like the character, the Arimura Tea Factory's tea brings comfort and a little happiness to those who drink it.
In these busy times, we want people to feel a little happiness from a cup of tea what must have realized this delicious taste because they think so. They are an outstanding producer who made us think so.