Large scale tea cultivation began in Kagoshima in the 1970s. Originally, tea blenders deemed the tea grown here unworthy of its own branding. They used Kagoshima tea as a “filler” tea and blended it into other teas from other more renowned regions.
This changed a couple of decades later. People grew to realise that the fertile volcanic soil in Kagoshima prefecture was capable of supporting high quality produce. That began a sustained effort to promote Kagoshima tea as a quality product in its own right. Our partner company in Kagoshima prefecture saw this entire journey over its (more than a century) history. They saw the demand for domestic tea increase during Japan’s boom years, and the resulting decline during the “lost decades” and shrinking population.
Today, they pins their hopes on exports as matcha grows in popularity all over the world. During our recent visit, we found that many tea factories had invested in brand new lines of machinery for producing tencha. Tencha is the pre-cursor ingredient for matcha. Factories need new machines because tencha production involves cutting the leaves to roughly uniform sizes, while sencha machiney rolls the leaves into needle-like shapes. It is a remarkable change to see an equally large tencha line next to a sencha line in a region more known for sencha.
Kagoshima produces many agricultural products like citrus fruits, grain alcohol, pork and beef. These are already famous throughout Japan for their quality. It is very exciting that the tea industry in Kagoshima prefecture is now looking towards improving the quality of their matcha. Many of the factories are building out the same traditional brick ovens found in Kyoto to ensure good quality tencha and matcha.
But that’s not all. Areas like Chiran are also trying to grow awareness of “Chirancha”, or Chiran Tea as a high quality product in itself. Uji matcha is the spiritual home of classic Japanese matcha. But the growers and producers in Kagoshima are much more willing to innovate and experiment with new techniques to make tastier but more affordable matcha.
Two of our partner-factories in Chiran and Kirishima have done exactly this. They are keen advocates of organic farming, and have come up with tasty, organic matcha blends. Our Organic Ceremonial Blend comes from one such estate in the Kirishima region. Their factory also features top end equipment to make tencha exactly the same way as in Uji.
Because Kagoshima has plenty of fertile land and larger, flatter areas to grow teas, mechanised agriculture is much more common. The Chiran estate we work with for our Seasonal Ceremonial Blend is a classic example. Harvesting is quick and efficient thanks to these large harvesting tractors. This allows them to save costs which we pass on to you. High quality matcha can be obtained at a more affordable price thanks to these estates willing to go against more traditionally-minded matcha producers.
As the competition in the tea industry heats up across Japan, we are relieved that farmers, factories and blenders are all alive to the opportunities that are available in the market. There is now more types of matcha to curate than ever before, and we cannot wait to share the ones that make the cut with everyone.