Tea in Yakushima

Recently I started to discover the Japanese archipelagos a little bit more. I took advantage of the travel restrictions to explore a little bit more this beautiful country going beyond the common touristic places and finding in extremely wild nature the essence of Japan!

During “Silver week”, a week of holidays in Japan around the Autumn Equinox of the 23rd of September, I planned to go to discover a remote little island in the South West of the archipelago: Yakushima. I was so engrossed in the organisation of the activities 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) – you can read my experience here.

However, talking with one of my best tea friends Jurga (for the Italian readers I strongly recommend to check out her blog Prima Infusione), when I mentioned the name “Yakushima” she immediately shouted ‘Oh the island of the Japanese black tea’! You should go and visit Hachimanju teafarm’.

Eureka! How could I not take into consideration a tea trip with the occasion to travel in such a remote and singular island! One minute after ending 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 basically bothering my eyewear’s lenses without really making me wet. It was just the time to pick up my luggage that a very hot sun started to bear, with an incredible sense of humidity – only 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 for a few minutes all day long.
Perhaps this kind of weather is optimal to cultivate Yakushima’s tea which, in the case of Hachimanju farm, is all 100% organic and characterised by a perfect balance: sencha green tea is not too astringent or grassy, the black tea (which they don’t call “wakocha” but simply “kocha”), is not characterised by tannins but it soft and round.

Once I arrived at the farm, I entered immediately at the tiny shop at the front door where hundreds of tea items welcomed me with grace: on the top of the Sencha, Wakocha, Genmaicha and Matcha hand crafted tea-packs, there were also handmade teapots and tea cups, hand-crafted wood tea items (typical of Yakushima island), tea tins and …. Ice-cream!

Kocha Ice Cream

Yes, you heard correctly, after few minutes I noticed that this tea shop was really popular also among the inhabitants thanks to the home made ice-cream, not only the classical Matcha taste, but also black tea and Hojiicha taste (I’ve tried the Kocha one to pare with the same tea I’ve ordered…simply delicious!).

Handcrafted tea ware and wood tea items

To welcome me there were also Watanabe-san, the son of the farm’s founder, and his young wife. Without hesitation he brought me to the plantations right beyond the tea shop.

Well, I let the picture explain the true tea paradise in which I found myself few minutes later: 6.5 hectares of pure organic tea plantations, a mix of Yutaka Midori and Kuritawase type, the latter one is the first one to give Sencha in April during the Shincha season.

Tea fields of Hachimanju
Tea fields of Hachimanju

After a long walk, long talk (and long photo session), I was satisfied, covered in sweat and thirsty! So we headed back to have another cup of tea, this time a delicious Genmaicha that Watanabe-san recommended since they had prepared it the same morning roasting the rice from Aomori island in little pans (the whole family is collaborating in order to complete this hand process).

Among the tea varieties that I’ve tried, I was really amused by their variety of 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 Japanese, but it is absolutely normal to have a tea time with a black tea taste piece of cakes and their traditional kocha.

Elisa with Watanabe san

*Text and Photos by Elisa Da Rin of Il Bollitore, who is also a Tea Fellow of the Global Japanese Tea Association. You can follow her tea adventures in Tokyo on her instagram page.

Tea fields of Hachimanju

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