Recently I started discovering the Japanese archipelago a little bit more. Taking advantage of the restrictions on traveling abroad, I wanted to explore this beautiful country going beyond the common tourist sights; and found the essence of Japan in the extremely wild nature!
During the “Silver Week” (a week of holidays in Japan around the Autumn Equinox), I went to the little island in the South West of the archipelago – Yakushima. I was so engrossed in organizing what to do there, from the hiking route in the Jomon forest to the natural onsen in the seaside, that I completely forgot that this island is very close to Kyushu, where exactly one year ago I went in search of the best ‘fukamushicha’ (Japanese deep steamed sencha). However, talking with one of my best tea friends – Jurga (Italian readers should check out her blog Prima Infusione), when I mentioned the name “Yakushima” she immediately suggested ‘Oh the island of the Japanese black tea! You should go and visit Hachimanju teafarm’. How could I have forgotten about tea? Eureka! One minute after my conversation with Jurga, I was already contacting the farm and arranging a visit there.
I landed in Yakushima airport, which is basically a little garage, where tiny airplanes travel back and forth from Kagoshima. It was cloudy, and a misty rain was only bothering my eye lenses without really making me wet. It was just about the time to collect my luggage, when very hot sun came out and it became really humid. A few hours later I figured out that the weather in Yakushima is extremely variable, and that heavy rain gives way to beautiful clear skies only a few minutes apart. This keeps changing back and forth all day long.
Perhaps this kind of weather is optimal to cultivate Yakushima’s tea. In the case of Hachimanju farm, it is all 100% organic and is characterized by the perfect balance: green tea – sencha is not too astringent or grassy; black tea (which they do not call “wakocha” but simply “kocha”), is not strong, but rather soft and round.
Once I arrived at the farm, I immediately entered the tiny shop, where hundreds of tea items welcomed me with grace. On top of the hand-crafted packs of sencha, wakocha, genmaicha and matcha, there were also handmade teapots and tea cups, hand-crafted wooden tea items (typical to Yakushima island), tea tins and …. ice-cream!
Yes, you heard it correctly. After few minutes I noticed that this tea shop was also really popular among the locals thanks to the home-made ice-cream, not only in the classical taste of matcha, but also kocha and hojicha. I tried the kocha one and pared it with the same tea. Simply delicious!
The successor of the farm – Watanabe-san, and his young wife came to welcome me. Without hesitation he invited me to the tea farm right behind the tea shop. Well, I will let the picture explain the true tea paradise in which I found myself few minutes later: 6.5 hectares of pure organic tea farms – a mix of Yutaka Midori and Kuritawase cultivars. Kuritawase cultivar is the first one to give sencha in April during the Shincha season.
After a long walk, long talk (and long photo session), I was satisfied, covered in sweat and thirsty! So we headed back for another cup of tea, this time a delicious Genmaicha, that they have prepared in the morning by roasting Aomori rice in little pans. The whole family collaborates to complete this hand process.
Among the tea kinds I tried, I was really impressed by their black tea, which I also found in various places during my journey around the island. It is nice to see that there is a place in Japan where the ‘classical tea’ is not green, and it is absolutely normal to have a tea time with black tea infused cakes and their traditional kocha.