Tea is harvested three times a year, in the spring, summer, and autumn. Spring tea is processed to become green tea, such as sencha, kabusecha, and genmaicha. Summer tea is processed to become black tea. Autumn tea is processed to become bancha and roasted tea, known as houjicha.
PROCESSINGFirst processing for green tea is done by Kazuki Kinezuka. Tea that is harvested in the spring and autumn is brought to the factory to be processed the same day. Steaming is the key factor in the initial processing of Japanese green tea. While Chinese green tea is cooked in a large wok after harvesting, most Japanese tea is steamed to prevent oxidation, which is how the leaves maintain their verdant hue. The steaming time has a large impact on the flavor, aroma, and appearance of the final product. Steaming times vary according to the quality of the leaf as it enters the factory. Shorter steaming times of anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute result in asamushicha, light-steamed tea, and chumushicha, middle-steamed tea. Longer times result in deep-steamed tea known as fukamushicha. All green tea produced in the autumn is known as bancha regardless of steaming time.
Mountain-grown tea such as ours is exposed to more environmental stresses than tea grown in flat areas, such as shorter periods of sun exposure and larger temperature fluctuations. The result is that mountain-grown tea has thinner leaves and is thus better suited to shorter steaming times, which causes the leaves to break less in later stages of processing. The environmental stress also results in tea with a higher density and variety of aromatic phytochemicals, and the shorter steaming time preserves this complexity. Tea grown in flat areas has more sun exposure and grows much faster. The thicker leaves produced are better suited for long steaming times, and the resulting brew has a darker, more opaque color and a strong aroma. We make fukamushicha, but most of the green tea that we produce is asa- or chumushica.
BLACK TEA PROCESSINGWhile there are very few insects among the tea plants in the cool spring, the summer heat and humidity provides them with ideal living conditions. During the summer, a tiny, green insect called unka inhabits the tea plants and bites the leaves. This causes oxidation to begin in the still-living leaf, as well as producing new compounds designed to fight off the insects. The resulting change in flavor and aroma, though undesirable for green tea, is quite well-suited to the production of black tea!
After harvesting, the summer leaves are delivered to the black tea factory. First, they are left to wither in a well-ventilated room for around 12 hours, depending on environmental conditions and the moisture content of the leaves. After that they are sent down to special rolling machines, imported from Sri Lanka, that bruise and cut the leaves. This allows for a more rapid oxidation, the key factor in producing black tea. After being left to oxidize, the leaves are cooked to prevent further oxidation and then dried.
FINAL PROCESSINGFinal processing of all the tea is done by Tamiko Kinezuka. This is mostly done immediately prior to delivery, so as to maintain the best flavor and aroma. This step involves checking the shape and condition of the leaves, and the smell, taste, and color of the brew. During the spring, the tea is examined every day to determine the grade of the leaves, and whether or not to remove the stems.
A final drying is the most important step in this process. Certain teas, such as kabusecha, require a low temperature and slower drying time to maintain the desired flavor. Spring tea also has a distinct flavor for the second month after harvesting, and so a lower temperature is used during this period. The method for drying also changes with the season. For example, during the spring many Japanese customers prefer a milder flavor in their tea, while in the winter they prefer a bolder, roasted flavor, and so drying time and temperature must be adjusted with these factors in mind. Finally, the tea is ready to be packaged and sent out to consumers.