A Spot of Tea in Japan

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and it turns out that it also takes a village to make a cup of tea. Okay, maybe more than a cup of tea…a whole field of tea! While I’ve never raised a child, I did join the villagers of Wasuka, Japan this spring to help them start a new generation of tea. For a self-proclaimed tea aficionado, this endeavor was such a thrill to add to my tea experiences.

I had been invited by a fellow tea-loving friend on what I thought was to be a tour of a tea plantation. However, it turned out that I had been recruited to a ‘farm crew’ of a Camellia Sinensis community like no other. Immediately upon my arrival, I was graciously greeted and warmly received by a number of diverse ‘field hands’. From age 8 to 68, these people gathered on a small plot of land next to a mountain road with a backdrop of mature tea terraces to give birth to a new “spot of tea”. The town of Wasuka is almost a barren bump in the road, as the urban drain has left the wee village with only a handful of dedicated descendants to continue the crops of this Uji special-tea. Uji is the second biggest tea-growing region in Japan, and the area’s tea leaves have supplied Kyoto’s tea culture since the 14th century.

tea plantingSo, I pushed up my sleeves, donned a pair of cotton & rubber gloves and began plugging rows of pre-dug holes with starter sprigs of my favorite beverage base. Spades of soil were shoveled into the holes to secure the plant in a straight, upright position, and then patted and packed with the palms of my hands until each original hole had disappeared as fast as my first cup of Irish Breakfast each morning.

When the planting was finished, I figured it would be “tea time”, but it was not us that would be served a drink, but rather, the tea plants themselves.

water lineAs with any newborn, care must be taken with regard to the amount and method of the first feeding of the delicate creature. So, there would be no invasive irrigation system, nor any gushing garden hose. No, we (the villagers) would strew ourselves throughout the field with outstretched arms to receive and return buckets of water from the small flat bed truck parked next to the road. Each individual tea plant was given one full bucket of water that was hand-dipped and dripped around the base until the last drop had been drunk down into the earth.

With dusk descending, it was time to put the wee ones to bed. With a bushel and a peck, (a bushel of straw, and the last peck of daylight) we covered the tiny tea trees and took the first ‘baby pictures’ to preserve our memories before communing in conversation and camaraderie over a perfect cup of Ujicha.

Black tea, flavored tea, green tea, white tea, herbal tea, rooibos, chai, I’ve drunk them all! I’ve bought tea, brewed tea, picked tea, roasted tea, and even read tea leaves. I’ve had spiked tea as a nightcap, and I drink a pot of tea every morning. I’ve sipped on high tea in London, been scammed into afternoon tea in Beijing, and soaked in hot tubs of tea in South Korea, but not until I went to Wasuka did I ever plant tea, and learn how much the ‘offspring’ of this little village is cultivated, cared for and central to the survival of this town and tradition of Japan.


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