Hi, I’m Espi, and this is the 3rd week of my homestay adventure in Kawane, Shizuoka. Throughout the last week, I have had the opportunity to see firsthand the full tea production process. This is an amazing experience, as Shizuoka, specifically the region I’m in, produces over 70 percent of the green tea in Japan.
The green tea process begins in the fields, where farmers spend countless hours caring for their green tea plants. Long, bright green rows of tea leaves line the streets of Kawane; if you weren’t aware of the town’s agricultural history, they could easily be mistaken for hedges. The fields of tea leaves are dotted all over Kawane, some as big as a kilometer, and others as small as a backyard. My host family has a tea field of the latter size, and though small, it still produces a plethora of tea each year.
Once the leaves are ready to harvest, they are collected by tractors, and transported to the nearby factories. I had the privilege of visiting a local Kawane factory earlier this week, and the size and power of the machines was surprising. The process begins with 70 kilograms of tea leaves, and 3 hours and 8 machines later, 14 kilograms of harvested tea leaves come out. Later that day, we drank tea grown on that very farm. We also had the honor of drinking the farmer’s award winning tea, and while my host parents and the farmers shared stories of their high school days, I marveled at the taste of the tea itself, which was unlike anything I had ever drunk before.
After the tea leaves are properly harvested and packaged, tea vendors will sell them to companies, supermarkets, and even individuals. They also occasionally attend “tea fairs”, which are regional fairs where, after paying the entrance fee, residents of that area can enjoy the variety of teas offered while conversing with the farmers, as well as purchase other tea-related products. My host family and I attended one a few weeks ago, and it was both charming and informative. While at the tea fair, I was also introduced to the local ちゃばこ (ChaBaKo) maker. ChaBaKo boxes are wooden boxes, lined with metal on the inside, that have been used to keep tea leaves fresh for centuries. Now, besides their original purpose, they are used nationally as decorative boxes, food storage containers, and more.
Finally, a popular destination for tea drinkers is the local tea house. These can vary in size and the tea selection offered, but usually, they will provide a “tea plate”, consisting of tea leaves, a teapot, teacup, another water cup, and a small dessert-like snack. In our case, a tea expert came and explained each step to us, and guided us as we brewed our tea. Most tea houses have a garden surrounding them, usually manicured in a traditional Japanese way.
Though I always knew tea production was a long process, it still surprised me to see how many steps each farmer went through to guarantee the quality of his tea leaves. From the first planting of the leaves until their sale, these farmers work numerous hours to produce the tea we see in our supermarkets, in our restaurants, and most importantly, in our homes. The untold story behind a Japanese, and now international household staple is amazing, and something I believe everyone should have the ability to witness and understand.
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