If you’re looking for delicious tea during your trip in Japan, head to the #1 producer of Japanese green tea, Shizuoka, only a short trip from Tokyo. You can conveniently enjoy Japanese tea cafes, green tea ice cream, and more around Shizuoka station.
In this article, though, I want to introduce you to a deeper Japanese tea experience.
In a mountain village in Tochizawa(栃沢), within the mountains of Shizuoka (AKA Okushizu), lies Sansuien, a tea farm which has been around since the Edo period.
This farm has maintained a teashop on their veranda since the 1980’s with the desire to share local tea with as many people as possible.
Upon arriving at the traditional Japanese-style home built over 100 years ago, we first enjoyed tea and accompanying snacks prepared by Mr. Kiyomi Uchino, the ‘Mountain Tea Master’ himself.
Tochizawa is the birthplace of Syoichi Kokushi（聖一国師）, later known as the “Ancestor of Shizuoka Tea”, who was a high priest from the Kamakura period.
When returning from his studies in Song Dynasty China, he brought back tea seeds.
It’s the perfect place to experience the history and atmosphere of a village where farms have grown tea since long ago, the deliciousness of tea, and the highly formal and prestigious world of tea.
The water used for brewing the tea is springwater from Tochizawa. This water has a long lineage, being delivered from Tochizawa to Fukuoka at the time of the Hakata Gion Yamakasa (a festival in Fukuoka designated as an important example of Japan’s intangible cultural folk heritage), which is connected to Syoichi Kokushi.
Excluding May, which is tea harvesting season in Japan, by making a reservation in advance you can sample tea out on the veranda, tour the factory and tea fields, and experience tea picking.
If you want an even deeper experience, I recommend participating in the tea ceremony, which is available every year in May and November. Mr. Uchino personally prepares tea using carefully selected leaves.
The first thing that surprised me was the tea being served in a champagne glass. You can tell the tea leaves are superb quality just by seeing how fine and sharp they are, like needles.
A small amount of water, about 30-40°C (86-104°F) is added to the leaves, and the first tasting is a sort of slurping of the tea.
First, you enjoy the aroma of the tea. The rich tea has a unique ‘Umami’ I’ve never experienced before. “We call this Mountain Broth”, says Mr. Uchino. Actually, broth is the perfect word for expressing the deep umami flavor. I’ve never had tea like this before!
The tea snacks are served on ‘Shizuhatayaki’ dishes, which have a history of being produced from the Tokugawa Family’s official kiln since the time of Ieyasu Tokugawa. The underside of the dish looks like this.
After slightly changing the temperature and enjoying 3 tastings, Mr. Uchino says “Now, please enjoy the leave with some salt.” What?! You mean eat the tea leaves!?
At first I was shocked, but it was super delicious! Although I was having tea, it made me want to drink some Sake(rice wine).
Green tea is often served at sushi restaurants and Japanese pubs for free, so I was under the impression that compared to matcha it was a rather casual drink, but I had no idea it could be so prestigious and formal…
This is a place still mostly unexplored by even Japanese people, and it’s not necessarily easy to access, but I’d definitely recommend it for experienced travelers.
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