I’m sure many of you wonder where we source our teas, as it’s a question I get asked a lot through clients and social media. As a green tea manufacturer, we literally can source tea from anywhere in Japan unlike others who have limited resources.
With our family background in green tea farming in Shizuoka, we are experts when it comes to selecting.
Each year we attend what we call “tea auctions” per harvest season! The busiest off course is 1st harvest in spring (usually April/May).
What happens at a tea auction?
For one whole month, once the tea leaves are ready for harvesting, the top Japanese green tea manufacturers (including us!) attend the tea auctions. In order to attend you must be part of the tea manufacturing industry and have a membership in agriculture and tea organisation of Japan, therefore, no ordinary person can attend them!
Each company has coloured hats and name tags to show which manufacturer we represent. (see below for image) These are no ordinary auctions either! Each company has its own tea masters and roasters who attend the early morning event. All the green tea farmers of the area produce their harvest on long lined tables and await for tasting and judging. For distant farms from other areas of Japan, they are express air shipped to reach the auction on time! Only for the tea harvest season there are special express transporters that do this! A very unique market place in Japan!
We start early too! as early as 4am! And it starts very much on time (typical Japan) with a announcement and bell. The hustle and bustle is all over by early morning about 7:30-8! And it’s every day for the whole month of harvest season! So you can imagine it’s very early nights for us! My eyes are usually hanging by 8pm!
Upon the opening of the auction, the popular or high demand farms are immediately swarmed by a group of people and the negotiating and auctions begin! Sales can be so quick, a matter of seconds or can take the duration of the auction. Negotiating is not done by mouth but we use a traditional number counting tool called “soroban”. Before digital calculators, we used these wooden instruments with beads to calculate numbers called soroban. The beads are moved up and down accordingly to the price being negotiated. Once agreed a hand is shook and the tea is taken away from further viewing.
What we do and look at;
Each manufacturer would talk to the farmers and ask about their farm and produce for the year and then use
look; we visually inspect the tea leaves produced on the table, both raw dry version and brewed to see the colour
touch; feel the leaves in their hands,
By touching we get the feel of texture, strength and weight of the leaves which tells us the moisture level of the tea leaves
smell; by smelling the fresh leaves we get the aroma and green grassy freshness of the tea, we use our sense of smell during tasting too as we take in the aromas through the brewed version
taste; most important of all! After fully inspecting through the first 3 senses we then do cupping (tasting) looking for freshness, aroma, sweetness, bitterness and overall flavour. Similar to coffee cupping!
If we end up liking the raw material we then negotiate pricing. If there is a lot of interest in a particular farm, then the bidding begins and the farmer sells at the best price offered and signs the contract.
When we sign a contract we sign for the full harvest season which guarantees the farmer an income and they, in turn guarantee their best harvest and produce.
This is how we support our farmers in Japan, by guaranteeing their sales for the season.
Many small companies who start up their own tea business don’t realise that if their business isn’t successful, they are in fact making life very difficult for the farmers.
It may be easy for small companies to close up their social media and business but its often the case the farmers are left with produce they thought they were going to be able to sell.
We have talked to many farmers over the years who have been effected by this, so, we always guarantee our farmers their produce for the full year and prebook for the following year.
This is best way we can support the farming industry and their day to day living.
Always consider when selecting your teas or who you buy from, if it’s supporting our farmers in Japan.
Thank you to all of you who support our business who in turn is supporting our farmers! We will continue to work together bringing you the best teas of Japan