Our journey through Japan, a country synonymous with tea, continued with a captivating visit to the ancient town of Koyasan. Nestled high in the mountains above Osaka, this secluded town exudes a sense of tranquility that prepares one perfectly for a tea journey. Rob and I had booked an evening at a temple lodging, immersing ourselves in the solemn, spiritual atmosphere.
We embarked on a nighttime tour by a local monk of the Okunoin Cemetary, home of the template of a thousand lanterns and a place of profound peace veiled in mystery under the moonlight. The air hung heavy with the scent of ancient Japanese cedars. Countless gravestones (our guide said 200,000!), each bearing a silent testament to lives lived and the passage of time, were tucked in amongst the trees. The next day, as dawn broke, we joined the temple's monks in their morning chant, a ritual as invigorating as it was tranquil, before revisiting the cemetery under the soft glow of morning light.
The call of Kyoto and tea friends, however, couldn't be ignored. After a four-hour journey involving a cable car and three trains, including the iconic Shinkansen, we arrived in Kyoto, hungry and eager. Katsukura, a renowned Kyoto restaurant, provided a hearty welcome.
The next day, April 28th, began with an early pick-up by Tsuyoshi. We set off on a road trip to Wazuka Valley, home to our long-time tea friend, Matsuda. Upon arrival, Matsuda and his wife were busy in the fields, harvesting tea. Rob and I had the exciting opportunity to join them in this labor of love, traversing a couple of rows before returning to Matsuda’s home, tucked into the hillside.
As we sipped tea with Matsuda, he shared that he would complete his harvest by month's end, an optimal timing given the unusually cold spring. The tea had flushed early, and now farmers were waiting for more growth, but unfortunately, the leaves could become too thin with the progression of the season. He also expressed his disappointment that his son showed no interest in joining the family business. Rob and I offered to help him next year, a proposal welcomed with gratitude.
Our visit culminated with heartfelt thanks to Matsuda for his time, his hospitality, and of course, his excellent tea. We then journeyed back to Uji, stopping for udon at a local spot where the noodles were freshly prepared to order. I added a topping of beef and onions, a decision that turned out deliciously.
We also visited a farm owned by Mr. Fukawa, the producer of our Unjunotomo Matcha, a blend of Asahi and Samidori cultivars. These tea plants are grown side by side and at first glance, look identical. As we got closer, though, we could see the serrations of the leaves differed, as well as the leaf size. The factory where this matcha is made is owned by 4 different families, and because of an ongoing disagreement, we weren’t able to visit it firsthand.
Tsuyoshi's factory, standing for decades if not centuries, was our last stop. There we tasted the exquisite Wazuka Guricha, a unique, partially withered tea with curly leaves, contrasting with the standard flat leaves of Gyokuro and Sencha. Its luscious body and sweetness made it an irresistible addition to our tea collection. This will be available for purchase shortly! Our day concluded with a hearty meal with Tsuyoshi before we resumed our journey toward Tokyo. A delightful detour took us to the charming mountain town of Hakone, famous for its hot springs and intriguing black hard-boiled eggs.
Japan, with its lush tea fields, centuries-old tea traditions, and the indomitable spirit of its tea makers, continues to be a source of inspiration for us as we continue to source teas to make you smile. We look forward to sharing more of these incredible experiences and the flavors they bring to Harney & Sons with you, one cup at a time.