A Taste of Miyazaki in London

Postcard Teas, London’s legendary purveyor of quality loose leaf teas, hosted a fabulous tasting on Jan 9th featuring the teas of Issin En tea farm in Miyazaki prefecture. Despite short notice for the event and advertising only on instagram, Postcard’s shop was packed to the rafters with tea enthusiasts  – almost 30 in total, impressive indeed  for a gloomy Tuesday night in January. 

The teas were introduced by a talented young teamaker, Mr. Takuya Yokoyama, who lived in London a few years ago and worked round the corner from Postcard at Monocle Cafe, a famous coffee shop, where they struck up a friendship. Yokoyama-san actually had his first taste of wakoucha, Japanese black tea, at Postcard in London. He fell in love with Japanese tea, and moved to Miyazaki Prefecture to work for Issin En after his return to Japan. He was back in London for a visit and wanted to share Issin En’s tea with local tea fans and get some real-world customer feedback to inspire future directions for the company – we were a willing an eager audience for this! 
Timothy D’Offay and Takuya Yokoyama presenting the teas to the guests.

Issin En is a pioneer of organic tea farming in Miyazaki and has been producing high quality tea with a focus on the prefecture’s famous kamairicha for over 30 years. As GJTea students will know, there are many challenges facing the Japanese tea market currently including the falling population in Japan (resulting in less people to both grow and drink tea), waning interest in loose leaf green tea in general, and a shift to much cheaper bottled green tea. As a result of these influences, it is harder and harder to make a living growing traditional tea styles. Issin En diversified into oolong and black tea (wakocha) 10 years ago, which have been very well received and are helping to attract new customers – last year’s oolong harvest haw already sold out. They already had all of the roasting equipment needed for preparing oolong and black teas thanks to their history of making pan-fired green tea, so this diversification didn’t require a big initial investment, and these newer styles can command higher prices than kamairicha. Yokoyama-san explained that low prices are a particular problem for Miyazaki tea farmers, as this region lacks the historic fame that would allow them to command Kyoto or Shizuoka prices for their green tea. The farm is located at an elevation of 200-400 metres, which is on the lower side compared to other farms in their area. Yokoyama- san told us this poses some challenges for them when growing Taiwanese oolong cultivars that prefer higher elevation sites and can contribute to lower yields (they only process a maximum of 10kg of oolong per day during the growing season), but nonetheless the quality has been impressive. 

Despite the successes with oolong and wakocha, there are still challenges. More workers are needed to expand production, but not many young people are keen to move to the countryside and take on a physically demanding, seven day a week job during the growing season. Housing is also very limited in this rural area of Miyazaki, so prospective new transplants struggle to find somewhere to live. Postage costs within Japan are also higher for small farms based in the southern island of Kyushu, so while many people tasting their tea at events in Tokyo respond positively and express interest in purchasing, the additional shipping costs involved serve as a barrier. The workload of just keeping the farm going and producing great tea also doesn’t leave much time for innovation around marketing and growing the market, but Yokoyama-san is trying to make a difference with this – his passion for tea and fresh take on the challenges the industry is facing  really shone through during his presentation, and attendees hung on his every word and enthusiastically asked questions. 
Yokoyama-san and the Postcard team shared five teas with us:
1)Tsuki no Shizuku Tokusen kamairicha, Issin En’s traditional pan-fired green tea. This had gorgeous notes of buttered popcorn on the nose and a rounded, lactic finish that made for an incredibly moreish cup of tea.
2) Benifuki wakocha second flush – served both warm and as a cold brew left to steep for 9 hours in Radnor spring water from Wales, which the Postcard team specifically recommends for preparing Japanese teas here in the UK where much of our water is incredibly hard. Yokoyama-san also enjoys preparing this tea as a cold brew using milk, simply prepared by steeping the leaves in milk in the fridge overnight.
3) Seishin Oolong (Taiwanese cultivar), served both as a cold brew steeped for 3 hours and hot. Both preparations were delightful, but the cold brew particularly captivated me: anyone who enjoys drinking bottled oolong tea will never be able to look at it the same way  after sampling this delicate, aromatic elixir with a sweet rounded finish.
4) Seishin Dapan (Taiwanese cultivar) black tea, prepared as a cold brew for 9 hours – this tea is in extremely limited supply and not sold online, so we felt very privileged to receive a taste of it. Cold brew techniques enhance the sweetness and reduce tannins, which brought out interesting nutty aromatics in this tea.
5) Minamiyasaka Oolong First Flush, served warm. This is a local Miyazaki cultivar with a milky flavour and pleasant shibumi (astringency) on the finish. 
Beautiful leaves in beautiful teaware! Asahiyaki teaware from the famous Uki kiln.
Those in Japan can purchase Issin En’s tea directly via their websitewhile people living in or visiting Tokyo can purchase a selection of their range at Konne Shinjuku, the Miyazaki Prefectural Product Center. Online shop Nio Teas stocks their Tokujo kamairicha and ships worldwide. While Issin En don’t have immediate plans to start selling tea in the UK due to challenges with small production volumes and importation, the many new fans leaving this tasting will keep their fingers crossed that it becomes an option in future! In the meantime, I can highly encourage those of you based in Japan or visiting there this year to try to track down some of this very special tea for yourselves.
* This article and photos are by Urasenke chado practitioner, our Tea Fellow and GJTea Intermediate Course Graduate Sarah Stewart. You can follow her tea adventures on instagram.

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