Our most recent tea journey brought my husband, Rob, and me back to Japan, a country that shares our profound passion for tea. Following a dynamic five days in Tokyo meeting our Japanese distributor, Harney & Sons Japan, and interacting with our local staff and customers at our Omotesando store, we journeyed west. In Tokyo, I hosted tea seminars, shared stories, and reveled in the mutual love of tea that transcends cultures and borders.
Our next stop was Nagoya, home to our store in the grand Takashimaya department store. From lively meetings with our Harney staff to engaging discussions with the Takashimaya executives, every interaction further solidified our deep-seated bonds with our Japanese partners.
Boarding the Shinkansen, we traveled back east, stopping at Kakegawa, where we were warmly greeted by Kohei Sugihara, a member of the Otsuka team. A meal was the first order of business - simple, satisfying soba. Despite the warm weather, Rob insisted on a hot meal, but I enjoyed the refreshingly cool soba.
Our anticipation escalated as we headed to the Otsuka tea factory, a 20-minute drive from Kakegawa. The crew at the factory had already been up working since 3 am; however, they were kind enough to have saved some tea to finish in their machinery until after we had arrived. The smell of roasting green tea was welcome in our noses.
The Otsukas introduced us to a delightful newcomer, Asanoka Sencha. With a sweet aroma reminiscent of ripe mangoes, this wonderful tea hails from the Miyazaki region, a new addition to our tea origins. We were also treated to an advanced tasting of Ichiban Sencha, a tea we've regularly sourced from the Otsukas. Freshly completed that very morning, its delicate aroma and full-bodied flavor brought a certain tranquility to our day.
Kohei informed us that this year's harvest had been abundant, thanks to a refreshingly rainy March. The harvesting season in Shizuoka had kicked off just six days prior to our arrival, and the first flush was expected to last until the first of May. The first flush is an important season in the tea world - it marks the time when the leaves are at their freshest and most flavorful. Our other Otsuka favorite, Sencha Scent of Mountains, would be produced in mid-May from tea fields nestled higher in the mountains.
Following our factory visit, we traversed into the countryside, exploring the thriving tea fields. The locals were racing against an incoming rain forecast, eager to harvest while the leaves were still dry. As tea enthusiasts, we felt their urgency – knowing all too well how the weather could affect the flavor profiles of teas.
After a day steeped in the beauty of the tea fields, we joined the Otsuka family for an exquisite Sushi-style Kaiseki dinner. The warmth of tea makers, coupled with the intoxicating aroma of the fields and factories, filled our senses. It was a reminder of why we do what we do - for these extraordinary, irreplaceable experiences that bring us closer to our teas and their creators.
This marked our first visit to tea fields since 2019, and the joy of being back was indescribable. We left Kakegawa with full hearts, full bellies, and reinvigorated for our craft. With the taste of Asanoka Sencha still lingering on our palates and the excitement of our next adventure - a visit to Studio Ghibli Park - we look forward to the rest of our tea journey in this wonderful country.