Yame Tea is famous not just in Japan but increasingly throughout the world! In late April, a group of foreign residents from Fukuoka City visited Yuge Seicha, one of Yame City’s most dedicated tea growers, during the first harvest of the year. Not only did they get to pick tea leaves, but they also got a tour of the plant and enjoyed a very special lunch including several dishes made with freshly picked tea. Read about their day trip below, including how you can join and where to buy delicious, authentic green tea, but first, let us introduce you to Yame-cha.
Introduction to Yame-cha – Taste, Aroma & Hue
Yame-cha, or Yame Tea, is the brand name representing all the tea produced in the Yame area, which is in the south of Fukuoka Prefecture. Within Japan, Yame-cha is the sixth largest tea brand, and most of it is grown within Yame City (with some farms also in Chikugo City, Hirokawa-machi in Yame-gun, Ukiha City and Asakura City). Chikushino Plain, located in southern Fukuoka, is ideal for growing tea: Kyushu’s largest plain receives 1,600 to 2,400 mm of rainfall per year, and temperatures are high during the day and drop drastically at night, which is important if you want to grow rich, sweet tea in large amounts. What’s more, the ethereal mist and fog often found blanketing the fields in the morning don’t just add an air of mystery and beauty; they protect the leaves from the sunshine’s harshest rays. As a result, the Yame Tea grown here is packed with theanine, glutamic acid and arginine – if you’re not up on your chemical compounds, then just understand these give Yame Tea its rich flavor! The young tea leaves are steamed deeply (in a method called fukamushi) before being made into a tea which, when brewed, creates a green, sweet and flavorful cup of cha.
Yuge Seicha’s tea has won several awards at national tea conventions and tea contests in Kyushu. Not only do they provide the world with excellent tea, but they place emphasis on innovation and outreach. More than 20 years ago, Yuge Seicha was one of the few tea companies in Japan to begin to reduce its use of pesticides and fertilizers. Yuge Seicha is also keen to promote tea amongst the younger generations. For over ten years, they have regularly visited elementary schools in the area to teach children the pleasures of authentic tea: its benefits, how to prepare it and how best to enjoy it. They want children to know what truly good tea is like, as opposed to the bottled variety found in convenience stores. They continue to dedicate themselves to producing great tea: from tea leaf to tea cup.
Already tempted by a cuppa? You can find a wide range of teas on their official website. Shopping from overseas? Take a look at their Amazon shop, where you can find not only tea but “Hospitality Sets” including teapots, mats and premium green tea.
A group of foreign residents from Fukuoka City – made up of a Brit, a Canadian, and three Germans – went on a day trip to explore Yame and try tea picking first hand. Here’s their report…
Discovering Yame-cha, Shincha and Yame City
Japan is famed for its green tea; it’s enjoyed at home, is served in restaurants, accompanies wagashi sweets and has it’s own ceremony. But where does the process start? The answer may be closer than you think. On Apr. 24, a small group of foreigners and Fukuoka Now staff enjoyed a day trip to witness the first harvest of the year, and see some nearby attractions in Yame. Our host was Yuge Seicha, a passionate family-run Yame-cha tea grower and producer. Below are some snapshots from this unforgettable day!
Mr. and Mrs. Yuge, the owners of Yuge Seicha.
The first harvest usually takes place over two weeks sometime around the end of April. It’s a mad rush to pick and process all the tea. The entire extended family, their children and everyone’s friends are all involved.
This is the Yuge Seicha factory and shop. It’s about 15 minutes by car from Nishimuta Station (JR Line) which is about one hour from Hakata Station in Fukuoka.
Upon arrival we were immediately served freshly brewed shincha (tea from the first harvest).
We were also handed a bottle of water with a sachet of green tea leaves to infuse the water and keep us fuelled for the rest of the day. Portable green tea!
We were first taken on a short drive, winding up through the green hills to view some of the tea fields. From this high vantage point, all was green as far as the eye could see. The fields of tea were punctuated with tall windmills, whose propellers start automatically and push air downwards as a type of “anti-frost” device. Some of the tea leaves were also covered over to help them become greener more quickly. The tips (the top two leaves and the bud) grow much slower and so tea made with the tips is very good, albeit very expensive!
Different types of tea are divided into different plots. Kabuse cha tea, for example, is deprived of sunshine by the use of a black plastic cover, so that the leaves become soft and green. In order to be classified as kabuse cha the plants must be covered for five days of the week.
Equipped with bamboo baskets, we headed out to try tea-picking for ourselves!
The leaves are uncovered ready to be picked
We were given a quick tea-picking demonstration and instructed to only pick the bud and the top two leaves: they are the youngest, the softest and not as bitter. The trick is to try to keep the leaves whole, first collecting them in your individual basket and then transferring them to a bigger sack.
One kilogram of leaves equates to 200 grams of tea and the leaves we collected are going to be made into tea and sent to us, so we can enjoy the taste of Yame Tea in the comfort of our own homes.
After seeing how leaves are picked, we proceeded to see the next stage of the process: how the leaves are made into tea powder.
The leaves are placed on the conveyor belt ready to be processed
The leaves are steamed, separated from the stems, dried and then swished around in a process which takes four to five hours and requires a series of custom-made machines.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the day was when the owner showed us the pure juice which can be obtained from tea leaves after they have been steamed. He squeezed the tea leaves, producing a bright green liquid on the back of our hands, which admittedly tasted a bit bitter, but wonderfully refreshing. You can’t get tea any fresher – that is for sure!
Our tour was rounded off with an introduction to the art of properly brewing tea. After many intricate steps including slowly shaking the teapot, we enjoyed several small cups of tea.
We then made a stop at the factory shop to make sure we were well stocked up with tea (as well as treating ourselves to the great Yame-cha t-shirts the family were sporting!) before settling down to a well-earned lunch. (Want to have Yuge Seicha tea delivered straight to your door? Shop online here or here.)
All participants ate outside together and were treated to a tea-themed bento lunch consisting of matcha flavoured mochi, tea tempura and tea pancakes.
There were two cooking stations – one for the tempura and one for the pancakes – both of which included freshly picked tea leaves in the batter.
The pancakes were enjoyed with anko, sugar cane or pickles and mayonnaise and we finished off lunch with strawberries (which were still in season)!
Tummies full of a tea-riffic lunch, it was time to explore the city of Yame! Our first stop was Yame Traditional Craftwork Center, where we saw displays of many local handicrafts and cultural exhibits.
Yame is famous for producing stone lanterns of the kind which are often found in Japanese gardens.
We also tried on the light, comfortable tea-picking backpacks which are made from woven bamboo, another local handicraft.
One of the highlights was the washi, (japanese paper) making area. The entire process was on display. There was even a kozo tree outside the building, the bark of which is used to make the pulp.
Indeed, Yame has the longest history of washi-making in Kyushu. The process requires a lot of water so it is often made close to rivers. At one time the number of washi factories peaked at 2,000 but now only two remain.
A tour of the paper-making facilities
The finished product
There are also various colours available
After a lengthy process of collecting, steaming, bleaching, washing with water, filtering, pounding, squeezing out the water, re-adding water, filtering out the fiber, squeezing out the water again and then drying, paper is created. The end product was available to buy in a little shop next door.
You can browse and purchase a variety of products made from the paper produced here
From here the next point of interest was a visit to a full-scale model of a puppet theatre used at an annual festival at the nearby Hatchimangu Shrine. The full-scale model contains a bridge, two pavilions, sakura and momiji (Japanese maple trees).
The puppets used were also available for viewing. These “old-age robots”, as one tour-participant described them, were originally made of whale bone, although they are now made of wood. A very intricate internal construction is used to make them move.
Visiting Yame in April also meant that the beautiful wisteria were in full bloom and we were taken to a wisteria walkway over a former train track. Walking through the streets of Yame we encountered traditional wooden and white-walled buildings and even spotted a house with little stone mice hidden at various points along the facade.
Many thanks to the Yuge family and staff at Yuge Seicha for this wonderful experience. This was not only a great day trip, but an insight into the effort and dedication behind every cup of Yame-cha. We can’t wait to do it again!
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What’s your cup of tea?
Here are several kinds from Yuge Seicha
Yuge Seicha steam their leaves two to three times longer than usual; this gives their tea a finer, more powdery texture, and the tannin (which gives tea its bitterness and sharpness) breaks down more, resulting in a tea with a more mellow flavor. Fukamushi Sencha is, pure and simple, a delicious, flavorful tea.
Tea made with the first tea leaves of the season! The tender tea leaves are packed with an unrivaled delicious flavor.
¥1,400 (tax incl.) for 100 g
Gokujo Fukamushi Sencha
This tea has a rich and mellow taste. By steaming the tea leaves for a long period, it takes the bitterness out and softens the tea leaves, bringing out the sweetness of the tea. This tea is deep green in color and is full of insoluble nutrients.
¥2,160 (tax incl.) for 100 g
Fukamushi Sencha Tea Bag
Yuge Seicha’s signature tea is packaged in convenient tea bags – no muss, no fuss, just gorgeous tea on the go (no teapot required!). Plus, this tea tastes great both hot and cold.
¥648 (tax incl.) for 10 x 4 g
All of these products are available at the on-site gift shop, as well as online.
Shopping from overseas? They have an American Amazon shop too!
Check Out the View!
Just ten minutes by car from Yuge Seicha is the picturesque Yame Central Tea Garden. This garden is located on a verdant hilltop, and its observation point offers an amazing view of the tea fields and beyond. On a clear day, you can even see as far as the Ariake Sea and Shimabara Peninsula!
Address: 375-2 Hon, Yame, Fukuoka, 834-0015
Tel.: 0943-22-6644 (Yame Tourism Association)
Parking: 20 spaces
Access: 15 min. by car from “Yame IC” on the Kyushu Expressway
Lecture: How to Enjoy Tea
The owner of a tea farm will give a lecture on the various ways to enjoy tea on May 28 (Sat.) and May 29 (Sun.). The event will be held at the event space on the 7th floor of Hakata Hankyu, and there will be two sessions (from 13:00 and from 15:00) on each day.