Mount Fuji

This is an image of Mount  Fuji that I took on a perfectly clear, cool and breezy fall day. We were told that one does not often get such a glorious view of Mount Fuji because it is usually obscured in clouds. In fact, just  the day before this we arrived to Shizuoka in a rain and wind storm that nearly diverted our aircraft to another airport, so no eyes fell of Mount Fuji that day.

We had our view of Mount Fuji from the top of this mountain – Mt. Awatake – which overlooks the Higashiyama region tea fields.

It does not look like a very high mountain, but it is. Can you see the character for the word ‘tea’ spelled out in cypress trees near the top of the mountain?  It must have been quite a project to cut away the trees from the slopes to shape this character. This character stands to let the world know how important tea is to this region. And I would add to that, how utterly delicious it is, too.

Kagoshima Japan Tea Fields

The Kagoshima region of Kyushu Island is stunningly beautiful. I am in Chiran, the premiere growing area of Kagoshima. Here, the tea fields lie flat and straight, from a high vantage point one can see small tea gardens of various sizes laid out in a grid pattern. The deep, rich color of the tea bushes is accentuated by a matte finish that the tea bushes have acquired from the final clipping that they have been given in October and from the deep green color stage that they are in this time of year.

The final clipping is not turned into tea but is done to simply trim the bushes and ready them for their upcoming rest period. Tea harvesting will begin again next year in April or May, depending on the location of the tea farm and how quickly the warm air and heat buildup in the soil stimulates the plants to send out new growth.

As in most regions of Japan, tea harvesting is carried out by machine clipping, and the Kagoshima region is no exception. Some small farmers with only 30 or so hectares of land ( approx.. 74 acres ) have invested in the ownership of a massive leaf cutting machine that they use to obtain their fresh leaf in four different plucking times throughout the spring and summer months from June thru August. For me, it is a completely different sight to see these machines out in the fields as compared to the hand-plucking that goes on in Chinese tea gardens, or in a high-mountain Taiwan tea garden where the land is seriously sloped and sometimes almost vertical.

Differences in the contours of the land and the various approaches to tea harvesting and production are just one part what makes tea so interesting. It did not take too many days of meeting these people and listening to their stories and tasting their teas for me to become a big fan. We are excited about the future prospect of having some of these teas in our shop and on our website.

Good Morning Mr. Volcano

This is a 6 AM photograph of Sakurajima from my room. Brooding clouds hover over the top of the volcano and present an onerous appearance. I can detect a little whiff of charred/burning smell in the air from outside on my balcony. It is windy and very chilly….and a dramatic wake-up scene!

According to someone on my team who grew up on the island where the volcano is located in the bay, this smell is always there and only a cause for worry when it intensifies.

The entire panorama of the bay is ringed with mountains as far on the horizon as I can see and it is very peaceful and serene in that early morning blue silhouette-light.

7 Am…the light is changing and the sky brightening.

Breakfast is calling and so are the tea fields…………

Gathering Our Nuts

Are we to look at cherry blossoms only when in full bloom, the moon only when it is cloudless? To long for the moon while looking on the rain, to lower the blind and be unaware of the passing of spring – these are even more deeply moving. Branches about to bloom or gardens strewn with faded flowers are worthier of our admiration….In all things, it is the beginnings and endings that are interesting.” Yoshida Kenko (born c. 1283, Kyōto?—died c. 1350/52, near Kyōto?)

Like Yoshida Kenko’s keen observations about observing the transient beauty of nature, I like the days between the going and coming of the seasons. Lately, here in my corner of New England, these days are neither summer nor fall, but combinations of warm sunshine during the day and crisp, cool nights. This transition provides us with visual reminders that another turn of the wheel in the cycle of the seasons is upon us. At my local farmstand, I find the last watermelons displayed next to a basket of the first just-picked apples.The trees on my street are beginning to drop their leaves, littering neighborhood lawns and the street with colorful, parchment-like leaves. Grasses and tall weeds in the fields surrounding our house, once vibrant and green, are thinning and turning yellow. Corn fields are being cleared and flocks of migrating geese have replaced the squabbling hummingbirds. Pumpkin patches are being emptied and these colorful symbols of autumn are re-appearing on doorsteps and porches. Seed heads are forming where flowers once were, and, suddenly, the annual fall foliage spectacular in New England is underway.

This time of year I enjoy watching neighborhood squirrels scamper across our lawn, each of them carrying an impossibly large horse chestnut gleaned from a cache of nuts festooning the roadside just past our house. Sensing the impending change of season, these hard-working little animals scamper about with a heightened sense of urgency, each of them seemingly intent on finding the perfect burying place for storing their bounty of nuts. While they work diligently, I chuckle knowing that I will find horse chestnuts popping out of my flower beds and lawn next spring.

Similarly, on a morning stroll through nearby Amherst College campus, resident squirrels run hastily past me with acorns that have fallen plop, plop, plop from towering old oak trees. I often wonder if any of these nuts will be dug later by the squirrel who planted them. Or if nut-planting is a communal effort with the end result being that the nut goes to whichever squirrel later finds it. These industrious creatures seem hard-wired to plant as many nuts as possible, plain and simple, and I admire their individual efforts on behalf of the greater resident community.

Similarly, for we humans there is much to do now to prepare for fall and winter. We begin gathering winter-keeping foods such as locally-grown varieties of squash and potatoes and other necessities now in anticipation of the cold, dark winter months that lie ahead.

In our tea store we notice that our customers are purchasing more black, oolong and Pu-erh teas. As with food choices and other drinks we crave in hot weather/cold weather, our taste buds respond to the needs of our bodies according to the season. Dark tea for the dark season makes perfect sense.

Like the busy squirrels, we have been packing tea into our shop in advance of the cold months and the busy holiday season. (While we do not bury our tea, we are putting some tea aside to age……more on that in a month or so). Our supplies of black, oolong and Pu-erh teas are ample and we are happy with both the quality and the quantity of what we have. Our latest additions are:

Nepal:

Everest Hand-Rolled Himalaya black tea2012 Everest black
Nepal High Himalaya Hand-Rolled Tips blak tea 2012 Nepal High Himalaya Hand rolled tips black


China:

Gold-Flecked Emerald Tips Green Wind in the Pines green Yangtze River Gorges green
Spring Hao Ya jasmine Fenghuang Dan Cong oolong – Baiye Fenghuang Dan Cong oolong – Zhi Lan Xiang
Mao Cha – Jinggu County Mao Cha – Yongde County  
Mao Cha –Zhenyuan County
Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong Tippy – black


Japan:

Hojicha with Toasted Genmai  Genmaicha with Matcha

Also, we will be re-roasting some of our oolongs soon and will post those selections online as soon as they are ready.

Our China Yixing and Japan Tokoname teapots are in good supply, too. We are now photographing a stunning collection of one-of-a-kind Tokoname teapots that will be available on our website early in November. All of the artisan Tokoname teapots that we received in our July shipment sold quickly, so we anticipate a swift response to these new teapots. Remember that it is not too soon to begin thinking about the right tea gift for the tea enthusiast on your holiday gift-giving list.

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