When planning out my trip to Japan this past May, I decided I wanted to do something different, something I didn't see many tourists do in Japan. Something a little more intimate and educational. So I did some searching and I ended up booking a reservation to Obubu Tea Farm, which is in Wazuka about an hour from Kyoto. Obubu only runs their tea tours Monday through Friday, so after moving around some of my reservations between Kanazawa and Kyoto, I made it happen for the Friday of my travel week.
From Kyoto, I had to take two trains and a bus to get out to the farm and the office of Obubu Tea. I'm glad they had such great instructions on their website! Thankfully, I made it there with a few other people at the time the tour starts. I didn't get lost! Hurray!
Once inside the office of Obubu, we learned a little about what we would be doing that day. We met the head of the staff, Hiro, and some of the interns there who would be teaching us about tea. After ordering what we would eat for lunch, we got in the Obubu vans and headed out to see the tea farms!
Pretty much all of Wazuka is tea. The people who live there are involved in tea from birth all the way through death (to the point that their remains are buried right next to the fields).
Obubu shares the mountainside with several other tea manufacturers in town, but Hiro knew which ones were his and which belonged to others.
Tea is a very interesting plant. Only one species is grown here, and how it's grown and then processed gives you the different kinds of tea you drink. If you look at that photo I posted above, you'll see that some of the fields are covered, or shaded. Shading the bushes make the chlorophyl multiply and gives the leaves a very dark and rich flavor so that they can become the dark green matcha tea.
Tea is also a plant that is not irrigated, at least not here in Wazuka. These bushes are planted alongside the mountain and into the valley in pretty rocky conditions. In the morning, the mists that form along the mountain fall on the tea plants and give them the moisture they need from above. Fans mounted on poles help circulate the mist so that all the bushes are thoroughly watered (you can see that too in one of the above photos.)
Here I am enjoying the view. It was such a beautiful day! The sun was shining and the breeze was just wonderful. I got so lucky with the weather that day!
Here is Hiro showing us which leaves they pick first and which ones come later. The first flush of tea is the most delicate and full-flavored. It's also usually the most expensive, of course. Obubu usually takes the first flush and does a hand-steaming and hand-rolling event every year. We watched a video about it and it looked really fun.
And here's a final photo from the fields. This is a matcha field all covered up. They have a system of covering them for a few weeks before harvesting them, and some get more shade than others.
From the fields, we went to their processing facility to see the machines they use to process the tea. When we arrived, there were a few huge containers of tea leaves that were set to be steamed. I put my hand in them and they were already warm just from the pressure of sitting in the big containers.
With tea, you can do any of these things: steam it, oxidize it, wilt it, dry it, bake it, and smoke it. Many combinations of these bring you different flavors. Green tea has been steamed. Black tea has been oxidized (basically, allowed to sit in the open and become brown like apples do if you leave them out.) Many Chinese teas are smoked. This is a simplification, but you can check out this pretty thorough Wikipedia article on Tea Processing, if you're interested.
Most of the tea from Obubu is steamed green tea or matcha, but they do have a lovely black tea as well. I bought some to bring home, of course.
After lunch, we returned to the Obubu offices to taste test many different kinds of tea including Hojicha, Sencha, Kocha, and Matcha.
Hiro taught us that temperature is the most important part of brewing tea. Though all tea in England is usually served boiling hot, this is not the case, and should not be the case, with green teas. Green teas should be brewed at around 80ºC. The higher the temperature, the greater the bitterness. So if you like a smooth, mellow green tea, go for 70ºC. That was my favorite, along with the cold brewed sencha using only ice cubes melted over it into a glass.
When pouring tea for several people, it's important to go back and forth across all the cups from beginning to end of the tea pot. This way, the first person gets the same strength of tea as the last. Here, my table-mates from Czech Republic practiced pouring for many.
The harvesting season for Obubu is pretty long. So depending on what time of year you go, you'll get to try other kinds of tea!
Now, here's my favorite part of the day! After we had brewed the sencha at cold, 70ºC, and 80ºC, we then took the tea leaves, put them in a small bowl with a few drops of soy sauce, some puffed brown rice, and then we ate them! They were pretty tasty. I had never eaten tea before, so it was a new experience for me.
Then finally, Hiro taught us all how to make matcha properly. Guess what? It's all in the wrists, of course. Lol. This matcha was so smooth, very little bitterness. I had to buy some to take home!
After a very long day at the tea farm, I took the bus and two trains back to Kyoto with the new friends I had made TOTALLY buzzed from all the tea I drank. Honestly, I drink plenty of caffeine, but this was a lot all at once! Lol. Be prepared should you decide to make this trip yourself!
All in all, Obubu Tea was a big highlight of my trip. I loved seeing the tea for myself, meeting Hiro and the rest of the Obubu team, and learning all about tea. It's an experience I'll never forget.