“Fukumidori” is part of the “ALL GREEN” lineup. Its scent has been compared to being like that of a flower . Its noble scent makes it the perfect companion for tea time.
How is the taste of Fukumidori, which lifts your mood with its aroma alone, created? To find out the story, we headed to the maker, Okutomien in Saitama Prefecture.
Okutomien has been preserving the tradition of Sayama tea since the Edo period.
Sayama tea is sometimes called ``phantom tea.'' It is a general term for tea produced in areas such as Sayama City, Iriko City, and Tokorozawa City in Saitama Prefecture. According to one theory, tea making in Sayama began as early as the Kamakura period . Many tea farms handle everything from cultivation to sales, and it is difficult to find them in supermarkets or specialty stores, which may be the reason why they have the nickname "phantom."
Okutomien is a place that has continued to make Sayama tea for over 300 years. Approximately 45 minutes by train from Ikebukuro Station. Get off at Shin-Sayama Station and walk down a quiet residential area to find a tea farm.
The tea leaves for ``Fukumidori'', which is part of the ALL GREEN lineup, are grown in Okutomien. We visited him for an interview to hear about his commitment to growing tea leaves and his farm.
This day is mid-May, right in the middle of the tea picking season. The entire family came together from early morning to pick tea and produce tea leaves.
Lily of the valley, rose, peach, muscat...
We carefully and enthusiastically prepare ``wilted tea'' with its unique aroma.
What is particularly noteworthy about Okutomien's tea production is that they actively produce ``withered tea.'' ALL GREEN's "Fukumidori" is also made from Japanese wilt.
Withering is a method of making tea in which the tea leaves are deliberately allowed to wilt. The picked tea leaves are left for a while to remove moisture and activate the oxidative enzymes contained in the tea leaves, bringing out their unique aroma.
Black tea and oolong tea are actually types of tea that have been withered . It is a popular tea making method in some countries such as Taiwan, but many people in Japan may not know about it.
“Is it ginkgo biloba with fallen leaves? ``I'm often asked this.It's a word that ordinary people are not used to hearing,'' answered Mr. Okutomi, the 15th generation owner, with a bright smile. He taught me many things about wilted tea.
There are various types of withering, such as sun withering, which is exposed to sunlight, and stationary withering, which is left to wilt naturally in a well-ventilated room . However, relying too much on the power of nature has the drawback that the scent of tea leaves can vary greatly depending on the temperature and humidity of the day... Mr. Okutomi, who has tried all kinds of manufacturing methods, based on his experience, created a special vinyl greenhouse for withering. It seems that it was created independently.
What is it about the charm of wilted tea that the head of a tea farm that has continued for generations is so particular about?
"The appeal of wilted tea is its rich aroma. Withering brings out the hidden scent of the tea leaves. There are some that remind you of the scent of flowers such as lily of the valley, and others that are reminiscent of fruits such as peach, muscat, and banana. "Some of them have a strong scent. In the case of Fukumidori, I feel that the withering brings out the gorgeous scent of the flowers ," says Okutomi.
Some varieties have scents like vanilla or citrus. Just listening to your story makes me want to try different types of wilted tea.
``It is recommended to brew wilted tea with hot water rather than cold brew.As it slowly cools down, the aroma of the tea leaves gradually emerges.You can enjoy the aroma of drinking it while it is hot, and drinking it after it has cooled down. The scent is a little different and fun,” says Okutomi.
Furthermore, wilted tea goes well with sweet foods, for example, it is recommended to enjoy it with strawberry confiture. Apparently, Okutomien's wilted tea is also used in the dessert course of a restaurant in Kagurazaka, Tokyo, which makes me even more interested.
However, Okutomi says that wilted tea was originally ``undervalued in the industry.'' Why exactly?
``For a long time in Saitama, there was a saying that ``Sayama tea tastes better when it is wilted,'' but withering was considered a drawback in the world of Sencha . It has been criticized as ``poor quality control (of fresh leaves)'' and ``evidence that the tea leaves are not fresh.'' Furthermore, wilted tea requires a great deal of skill to make.If the tea leaves are not withered enough, the aroma cannot be brought out . If you overdo it, the tea leaves will get spoiled and smell bad ...the scent will change greatly depending on the timing of picking the tea leaves.It is a manufacturing method that is extremely difficult to maintain a uniform scent as a product, but if you have such adversity, The more I see it, the more I want to try it.”
Dare to take on challenges to overcome walls. It seems that this attitude stems from Mr. Okutomi's desire to "get more young people to drink tea."
More Japanese tea in the daily lives of the new generation.
We have devised ways to make it feel familiar and casual.
``I think there are many people who have a somewhat formal impression of Japanese tea.It is one of Japan's representative traditional industries, and some people may feel that it has to be done properly.'' However, if we maintain that image, we won't be accepted by the younger generation.If that happens, the world of tea will continue to decline.That's why we value our customers who value tradition. "While thinking about this, I am constantly experimenting and trying to create tea that young people can relate to and be interested in," says Okutomi.
Making wilted tea is one such process of trial and error.
Okutomien also sells original tea products, sells apricot and strawberry black teas, makes original T-shirts with teapots on them, and distributes original eco bags as a bonus for purchasing fresh tea. We also carry out various activities to get people interested. As I was looking at the products lined up at the store, I noticed that there was also a tea with a very unique name called ``Oni no Shirahone.''
``Oni no Shirabone'' is made by collecting only the stems of tea leaves and slowly roasting them until they become white and swollen.Tea farmers have long called tea stems ``bones,'' so it was named that way. However, it is rare to use the word ``bone'' in the name of the tea leaves you sell to customers.' '
The unique and original sensibilities create an impact that stays in your memory. In addition to honing his traditional tea-making techniques, Mr. Okutomi never forgets to get the younger generation interested. We are also active in online sales and SNS activities such as Instagram.
These activities have caught the attention of many people, and each year, not only local customers but also more customers who come by train from within Tokyo are increasing.
"The number of customers from the younger generation is increasing. Tea and other products are especially popular. I think this is amazing. They take the train from the city center, walk from the station, and go to the corner of a private house to buy something. People come here. It must take courage just to walk the distance from the gate to the store. Still, I'm very grateful that there are young people who come and buy Okutomien tea because they want to drink it. I think so.”
Mr. Okutomi says that if a new generation develops the habit of drinking tea, tea culture will naturally become more widespread in society.
While inheriting the tradition of Sayama tea that has continued since the Edo period, Okutomien has a forward-looking approach to actively producing tea that suits the new era. Where does that driving force come from?
``What do you think? Of course I want to be wanted by the younger generation, but I also want to create an environment that will serve as a foundation for my son to enjoy making tea when he grows up.'' ”
In order to continue the history of Okutomien, which has been passed down from generation to generation, it is important that those who inherit it can truly enjoy tea making. Mr. Okutomi himself feels that when he inherited the tea business from his father, ``he laid a firm foundation for the tea industry while also leaving room for me to take on new challenges,'' which is why he hopes to pass the same on to his son. It seems that they want to create a safe environment.
Japanese tea is also loved by people who are highly conscious about beauty.
As you continue drinking, your self-confidence will increase.
``Many people say that Japanese tea can have beauty effects.'' According to Okutomi, there are many benefits to drinking Japanese tea on a daily basis.
"I think it's enough to just drink one cup a day. Tea is something you can easily drink at any time. It's easy to start and continue because it doesn't have to be difficult. The more you keep drinking it, the more confident you will be both internally and externally. I think it will come.”
Indeed, if you do an online search for things like "Japanese tea effects," you'll find a surprising number of sites that talk about beauty and health benefits.
According to Okutomi, the important thing is not to drink a lot at once, but to drink continuously over a long period of time. If it's an easy-to-drink stick type like ALL GREEN, it's easy to incorporate it into your daily routine, such as when you wake up in the morning, between work, or before you go to bed at night.
Along with baristas and sommeliers,
I want to cultivate Japanese tea brewers.
Mr. Okutomi is currently involved in a variety of activities, such as exhibiting at tea competitions both domestically and internationally, and trying his hand at making completely organic tea in order to make even better tea. Brewing Hand”.
``There are professionals in coffee, such as baristas and wine sommeliers.However, there are still very few brewers with specialized knowledge and skills for Japanese tea.I wish there were more attractive brewers. , more people will be able to realize the value of tea, and I think Japanese tea will become more accessible and familiar.It will also increase the number of people who brew tea and raise its status. I want to work hard on this,” says Okutomi.
It is true that the number of cafes and shops that specialize in Japanese tea is increasing year by year, but it is still limited compared to other products such as coffee. If Japanese tea brewers could become equal to baristas and sommeliers, Japan's tea culture would change dramatically. Just thinking about it makes me very excited.
Mr. Okutomi of Okutomien not only makes traditional tea, but also takes on new challenges one after another. His wilted tea ``Fukumidori'' can be easily enjoyed at ALL GREEN. Please try.