“My farm is so old. I lost my grandfather and father when they were rather young, so I never heard of the old history. I did not learn how to knead tea or other skills. I just tried.”
Takashi-san is at the age of 79. He looks back on his tea making, speaking in a strong Shizuoka accent. Although reaching 80 soon, he still works actively. When I saw him drive his pickup truck skillfully to his farm, I could feel his history of tackling tea.
This time we visited Nakayama Tea Factory, which has been making tea for many years in Fujieda City, Shizuoka.
Mr. Nakayama’s tea making in Fujieda City, a refined tea production area
Fujieda City is located half way up in Shizuoka Prefecture. The area has been producing a lot of tea between the abundant water sources Abe River and Oi River since old times . Due to its geography, most of the tea farms in the city are in the mountains, where the fertile soil by the river and day-and-night temperature difference can lend fragrant aromas to tea.
Mr. Nakayama’s farm ranges across steep mountain slopes.
A bumpy pickup truck ride to the tea farm infinitely close to the sky.
“We cannot get there with this rented car,” said Mr. Nakayama, offering me the passenger seat of his pickup truck. After a several-minute ride on his pickup truck, I understood what he meant when we departed.
How rough the mountain road was! The road width was hardly for one car. The slopes were wild and we had to move forward in the bumpy mountain road like Indiana Jones.
Steep slope so hard to climb on foot
When I reached an altitude of 400 m, I caught my breath.
Tea farms, mountains, and the sky spread below us. We could only hear birds sing and trees rustle. The mountain surface was shadowed by clouds and the boundary line between light and shade was slowly moving. Cold air pierced me to remind me that I was at an altitude of 400 m in January mountains.
Wherever I looked, only tea farms, mountains, and the sky were in my sight. The spectacular view carried away my mind.
“Now I have 3 chobu. I am adding 1 chobu this year.”
1 chobu is about 1 ha. Locals make farms in the mountains, where each farm cannot be large. He always comes and goes between farms with his pickup truck, which explains how Mr. Nakayama became such a skillful driver.
It is of course not easy to expand a farm. A heavy machine is required to cultivate a part of the mountain and remove fallen trees.
He says it is hard work to remove remaining tree stumps and develop the land into a farm.
Some stumps are as big as this.
Mr. Nakayama now manages this large tea farm and grows tea while energetically expanding the farm. However, like his tea farm, his professional path was not so easy.
History of Fujiedakaori, an ultra individualistic cultivar
”Fujiedakaori” is, as you can guess from its name, a cultivar created in Fujieda City. It was a hybrid between “Yabukita” and “Inzatsu 131.” Its active production started about 20 years ago to create a specialty product of Fujieda City.
However, most of Fujiedakaori’s producers quit its production within several years, confronting the traditional tea making in Shizuoka Prefecture.
Tea making in Shizuoka; is Yabukita a mainstream cultivar?
Shizuoka Prefecture has been leading Japanese tea industry as the nation’s largest tea production area since old times. “Yabukita,” today’s most produced cultivar in Japan, was also born there. In 1950’s, “Yabukita” became explosively popular among tea farmers nationwide because it was high-quality and easy to grow. It still accounts for over 70% of the total domestic production. In Shizuoka Prefecture, it has an over 90% share.
In a word, Shizuoka Prefecture’s tea making is the classic of green tea, focusing on producing Yabukita.
Is Fujiedakaori an intruder for blending?
To stabilize tea quality every year, tea processing finishes with blending. Multiple cultivars are blended in a well-balanced way to complement each other’s umami and astringency for an ideal flavor.
However, as its name suggests, “Fujiedakaori” is featured by its aroma. Note “Kaori” means a fragrance in Japanese. The flowery odor that wafted out was amazing by itself, but it did not fit Shizuoka’s blending, which focused on Yabukita. Fujiedakaori was regarded as unfitted for blending because of its aroma, which was the cultivar’s best feature and advantage.
The man who bet on Fujiedakaori
While other producers around were giving up growing Fujiedakaori, Mr. Nakayama believed in its potential diligently.
Mr. Nakayama remembered the event in which Fujiedakaori was launched.
“That time, I actually bit its bud in secret. Then I found it should be an interesting tea. I immediately decided to grow it. While everyone else started at a small scale like 5 se (almost 5 ares) or 1 tan (almost 10 ares), I just started largely like about 1 chobu (almost 1 hectare).”
He started growing Fujiedakaori about 15 years ago. Usually, it takes 5 years until tea trees grow enough to be harvested. That means no crop yields are expected from the farm in the meantime
He did replanting for about one third of his own farm. It should have been a huge challenge to grow a new cultivar with no guarantee of making profits. While other farmers kept quitting its production, he collected stocks from them to plant at his farm.
“I helped this Fujiedakaori. So Fujiedakaori should help me.”
It was almost a prayer. Actually, his grandfather and father passed away young. While established knowhow was not available, Takashi-san succeeded to the farm. His production got on track thanks to support from many people, but management was tough. He started growing Fujiedakaori as a last-ditch measure.
Individual cultivar featured by fresh astringency and floral aroma
“I worked like mad,” said Mr. Nakayama. Thanks to his courage and effort, his Fujiedakaori became really delicious tea with a unique exquisite aroma.
The liquid color is light yellowish green similar to gold. The flavor is spiced up with fresh astringency. A floral aroma like jasmine and sakuramochi (rice cake with bean paste wrapped in a salted cherry leaf) floats. The distinctive aroma is for sure not suited for blending. However, as a single origin tea, Fujiedakaori’s individuality is outstanding. It was basically by chance that we met Mr. Nakayama.
In fact, our first producer of Fujiedakaori was Yamamoto Tea Farm, which has been dedicated to the cultivar’s growth since its registration. When we first tasted his Fujiedakaori, we felt that it was the tea we had been looking for. A moment after our joy, however, Mr. Yamamoto stopped its production due to old age.
As a matter of fact, It was Mr. Yamamoto who introduced Mr. Nakayama to us. Mr. Nakayama used to study under Mr. Yamamoto to learn the cultivation and production methods of Fujiedakaori. That’s how the two were connected.
It was Fujiedakaori which connected us with Mr. Nakayama, whose information seldom shows up on the Internet. With his personality, beautiful tea farm, and this episode, Fujiedakaori has been a somewhat special tea for us since that day.
Enjoy Mr. Nakayama’s Fujiedakaori, a somewhat special tea for FETC.
Although turning 80 years old soon, Takashi-san is still working actively. His son Ryugo-san has taken over Nakayama Tea Factory already. They work at the farm together. In addition, his grandchild goes to a tea school now. I think Nakayama Tea Factory’s tea making is still expanding.
Fujiedakaori is a rare cultivar that is produced only in Fujieda City basically. It is like a miracle that we can sell his Fujiedakaori, which he has made betting his professional life as a farmer. Please enjoy the delicious tea.