The ``Saeakari'' of ``ALL GREEN'' is made by ``Kamasabo Maezuru'' in Hioki City, Kagoshima Prefecture. This is a tea farmer who produces ``Kamairicha'', which is extremely valuable in modern times.
Kamairicha is a historic tea-making technique that is said to have been introduced from China around the 15th century. There are very few tea farmers nationwide who have this skill. What kind of person is this tea maker with rare skills? What kind of thoughts do you have in making tea? I asked around the place.
Visit the only producer of Kamairicha in the prefecture.
About an hour and a half by car from Kagoshima Airport. Kama Sabo Maezuru is located in a place rich in nature surrounded by mountains .
When we visited in mid-May, Ichibancha production had just finished. Due to the warm climate in the southwest, the tea picking season is a little earlier than in Honshu.
``Welcome to visit us. Please come and see everything. We are a small factory run by only our family,'' says Maezuru, the company's representative. He is a veteran craftsman who is dedicated to making kamairicha.
He speaks with a cheerful intonation in the Kagoshima dialect, and I get the impression that he is a very bright and friendly person. The fact that we have been in the tea business for about 80 years, starting with Mr. Maezuru's grandfather, and the fact that we have been producing kama-iricha since our founding...they teach us many things.
Sencha, which is commonly drunk in Japan, is made by "steaming" tea leaves, but kama-iricha refers to tea that is made by "roasting" the tea leaves without steaming them. While listening to his story, we also took a tour of the factory that makes Kamairicha.
``Tea leaves are placed in a pot and a fire is lit from underneath to roast them.Compared to sencha, which is made by steaming, kamairicha has a more fragrant flavor.However, compared to sencha, the amount that can be produced at one time is smaller. There are very few of them. Perhaps due to poor production efficiency, we are the only ones in Kagoshima prefecture that still make kamairicha. There are some tea farmers in Miyazaki and Kumamoto prefectures that continue to make it. , compared to the whole country, there are quite a few,'' said Maezuru.
Under such circumstances, why does he continue to make Kamairicha?
``Since I was born, I've only been drinking kamairicha.When I was little, I thought this fragrant tea was the norm.As I grew older, I began to think of it as a family business and started looking around. Only then did I realize “That! ? Our house has changed! ? "That's what I realized.But since I'm a bit of a nerd, I thought it might be best to do something different from other people," says Maetsuru cheerfully.
Kamairicha is now considered to be valuable, but in Kagoshima, people originally roasted the tea leaves they harvested in their own gardens to make tea. It was a very familiar product, ``tea that you could drink at home.''
Perhaps it's because of this, that so many families in this area have tea plants in their gardens. Maezuru says that every year during the tea season, local people bring bags of tea leaves from the garden and ask them to roast them.
``Some people bring just 1kg of tea leaves.When roasted in a pot, it weighs around 200g, but they say things like, ``My relatives are coming together, so I'm going to give them some potted tea.'' When I see people's faces saying, ``Kamaairicha is delicious'' or ``I'll bring it again next year,'' I feel like I have to continue.''
With this in mind, Mr. Maezuru continues to make Kamairicha. The tea leaves are withered and then roasted in a pot, which takes time and effort to create a unique aroma.
``Currently, the production of Ichiban tea has finished, and the machine is hardly in operation,'' he said as he showed me the machine used exclusively for kettle roasting.
``You put tea leaves into this machine and light the fire.I think this machine was manufactured around the time I was born.This machine is no longer in production, so there is no way to send it in for repair or to buy a new one. We can't even do that. We continue to use it while repairing it ourselves."
This is probably the only machine in the country that exists here, and there are signs that it has been carefully cleaned, showing that it has been used with care for a long time.
Kama-iricha is guzzling while you eat!
Along with fried foods.
Tea leaves are basically sold by tea farms to wholesalers, and from there they are sent to various manufacturers. Although it is rare for manufacturers and tea farmers to meet directly, Mr. Maezuru says that people and companies who want to try new things regularly visit this place in person.
``We are often approached directly by people who want to do something new with tea.Since we are just a family, we have a lot of flexibility.When we receive a request, we do our best to respond. What do you use it for? ”. Personally, I can't stand it when the tea I've spent so much time and effort on growing becomes part of a blended tea. I also don't want it to become a single-origin tea or a new tea initiative. I think it would be nice to see it used.”
Mr. Maezuru repeats, ``We only run it as a family,'' but the scale of the business actually served as an opportunity to create an interesting business.
As an example, he told me about a collaboration sweet made by a local Western confectionery shop using Kamatairicha from Kama Sabo Maezuru.
“Matcha is often used to make sweets, but it has the disadvantage that the color of the tea leaves disappears when it is processed.However, with Kamairicha, the color does not change much even after processing, perhaps because the tea leaves are cooked once. That's right. You can directly incorporate the original taste and flavor of tea leaves into sweets."
However, according to Maezuru, the best pairing for drinking Kamairicha is with daily meals rather than sweets.
``Kamaairicha is a tea that has been drunk at home for a long time, and rather than being an elegant drink, I think it would be better if people would gulp it while eating rice. If you drink a lot, you'll feel refreshed."
Fresh green tea leaves dance in the teapot, turning the tea into a golden color.
The aromatic flavor leaves a refreshing aftertaste.
After being shown around the factory, we headed to a tea leaf store that has been around since our grandfather's time. There are many types of tea for sale in the quaint store.
Just by looking at the many award certificates hanging on the wall, you can tell that the tea business has been continued sincerely by the grandfather.
``Please come and try the first-class tea that we make,'' said Mr. Maezuru's wife, who brewed the kama-iricha. You can feel the aroma of the tea leaves from the moment you pick up the teacup and bring it close to your face.
When I asked him about the trick to brewing kamairicha, he told me, ``It's best to brew it at a higher temperature than when brewing sencha.''
``In Kamairicha, the tea leaves are green in color, but the water color is a bright yellow, like gold.See?''
Pour hot water into the teapot and watch the tea leaves spin slowly...that is an important time to bring out the flavor of the tea. Easy-to-drink tea bags are great, but after drinking the tea my wife brewed, I realized once again that the flavor comes out best when the tea leaves are carefully brewed.
``We sell tea leaves online, but many of our customers are from outside the prefecture.There are quite a few customers who are from Kagoshima and buy tea online because they are looking for a nostalgic taste.Even young people like drinking tea.'' "I wanted to get one, so I was conscious of trying to make the package design as cute as possible," says his wife.
Apparently, his wife also comes up with plans for tea packaging designs. The packaging reflects the idea that ``I wanted to create a design that would be easy for young people and women to drink.'' The circle and cross design is the Shimazu family crest, which is also the symbol of Kagoshima City. The design is reminiscent of Kagoshima, but is approachable to people of all ages and genders.
I want young people to drink it too. For Mr. Maetsuru and his colleagues, how do they feel about a new challenge like "ALL GREEN"?
"I think it's great! If it's in stick form, you can carry it around with you. You can also put it in your lunch box. It's also great that you can absorb the whole tea leaf."
So much so that you can eat it as is.
Kama-airi tea leaves are characterized by their aromatic and umami flavor.
“Oh yeah, when my eldest daughter was little, she used to pick up Kamairi tea leaves and eat them like sweets.She seemed to like the way the texture of the tea leaves became crunchy when roasted. I just eat a lot of expensive tea (lol). Please, if you like, try it too. It tastes bitter if you eat too much at once, so just grab a spoonful."
As I was told, I picked up the tea leaves with my fingers, put them in my mouth, and then chewed on them directly...I found that it had an addictive texture. The flavor of the tea leaves spreads in your mouth with every bite. Although it has some bitterness, it is surprisingly easy to eat, perhaps because of the pot roasting process.
“My younger children and I also ate brown rice tea rice, but my eldest daughter was the only one who ate the tea leaves whole,” says Maezuru.
``I don't know if it was because of this, but for some reason, my eldest daughter didn't get sick as much as her other siblings,'' says his wife.
Perhaps because of this experience, both couples were very interested in the ``ALL GREEN'' initiative, saying, ``It's great to be able to absorb the whole tea leaf.''
In search of the word "delicious".
We will continue to inherit the culture of Kamairicha.
“Tea making is interesting. When I try something new, the tea reacts immediately. That’s what makes it fun.Also, I haven’t been making tea as often these days due to the coronavirus pandemic. , When we open a store at local events, we can directly see the reactions of people who come to buy our products.The moment when they drink our products and say, ``It's delicious!''That's what makes me the happiest. .That's what I'm doing it for.''
We asked Mr. Maezuru, who feels that making tea is his vocation, what he would like to try in the future...
``I would like to try various things.In the future, I am thinking of creating ``five colors'' of tea.There is green tea, there is brown black tea, and Pu'er tea is also called black tea. "But there's also a Chinese tea called white tea. And there's one more color. I'd like to make a new color of tea," he replied.
Be light and positive. Mr. Maezuru's approach to tea making, which takes on new challenges over and over again, makes me want to use him as a role model for how to live. Please enjoy the deliciousness of the Saeakari grown by him with ALL GREEN, which allows you to absorb all the nutrients from the tea leaves.