What makes Miyazaki tea so delicious
Blessed Growing Environment
Miyazaki has the best environment in Japan for growing tea in terms of sunshine hours, number of clear days, and average temperatures. Miyazaki ranks third in Japan for number of hours of sunshine (2116 hours per year), second for number of days with clear skies (53 days per year), and third for average daily temperature (17.4°C). No other tea production area in Japan has these conditions, and it is clear how suitable Miyazaki is for the growth of tea trees and their leaf shoots. However, it is not good for tea to grow in warm weather all year round. It is important that the temperature drops during the winter so that the tea tree can absorb and accumulate the right amount of nutrients. This is similar to how animals hibernate in the winter; when the temperature drops sufficiently in the winter it allows the tea trees to rest so that they can be harvested in the spring. In this respect, Miyazaki has an advantage as a tea production area because it has appropriately cold temperatures from November to February.
Miyazaki is one of the leading agricultural prefectures in Japan in terms of livestock production, and there is an abundance of high-quality organic fertilizers and ripe compost. Therefore, a wide variety of fertilizers are available at all times at low cost, and timely and effective fertilizer management can be performed according to the growth of tea trees. In addition, Miyazaki has a lot of flat land so the work efficiency is high. The work can be done as planned for the growth of tea trees and the best shoots can be harvested at the best time. If the tea plantations are located in mountainous areas, the fertilizer runs off when it rains. Furthermore, it takes time to transport the plucking machine to the tea plantations so there’s a risk of missing the best harvest date.
Young tea trees and the ability to develop new varieties
Although tea trees can grow for several decades, it generally takes up to 40 years to produce good tea. Compared to other famous tea producing areas in Japan with a long history of tea production, Miyazaki has many young tea trees that have only been planted relatively recently and these young trees produce tea leaves that are fresh and full of flavor. In addition, Miyazaki has a long history of breeding under the auspices of the prefectural government and many excellent varieties have been developed for quality and resistance to pests and cold. In particular, in recent years, many excellent varieties from Miyazaki have been developed, including "Haruto 34", which is highly regarded for its aroma and flavour. There are nearly 400 tea growers in Miyazaki, and there are many motivated young successors, so we can expect more and more Miyazaki teas in the future.
The secret of good flavor is the number of days of "cover"
In Miyazaki and the Kyushu region, tea tree rows are covered with a black cloth that blocks more than 50% of the sunlight for one to two weeks before the tea is plucked. This method reduces the astringency and increases the flavour of the tea, resulting in a mild and gentle tea. On the other hand, if the black cloth is left on for more than two weeks, the natural aroma and coolness of the tea will be lost, making it unpleasant to drink multiple cups. The longer the cover time, for example, two weeks or more, the less natural aroma and coolness the tea has.
Small lot production
The mass production of tea by large scale farmers or by expanding the area of tea production is not suitable for today's consumers who have finer tastes. Although the harvest in Miyazaki is small, accounting for less than 5% of the national total, small-scale farmers can easily harvest and produce tea according to the conditions of their farms and are therefore able to harvest high-quality tea leaves with unique characteristics. In addition, there are few large production lines so they can produce high quality products from a small amount of raw leaves according to the internal quality of the tea leaves.
In Miyazaki, there is frequent interaction between tea producers, sellers, and guidance organizations, such as the prefectural government and the Federation of Economic Organizations, and a close and friendly relationship is maintained. As a result, it is easy for buyers to convey their requests for quality to the producers.
Proposals for safety and security
Although the use of pesticides is carried out in accordance with the national guidelines, the Miyazaki Economic Federation and tea marketers are now strictly instructed to keep records of the use of pesticides and fertilizers so that if any problems occur, traceability can be fully implemented to investigate the cause. Also, if a piece of plant or animal gets into the product, we can quickly investigate the cause and take corrective measures.
The reason why our tea is chosen
The new shoots gradually grow from mid-March and are harvested from late April. Cold air flows from the continent, and on clear nights, frost occurs due to radiative cooling. It takes about 40 to 50 days before the end of April to harvest the tea to prevent the buds from being damaged by frost at night. We use sprinklers to spray water instead of frost fans (large fans), which are not the best way to prevent frost. Sprinkling water during night frosts creates a film of ice on the shoots to protect them from frost. The watering is done at 3 or 4 a.m. every day. If the new shoots are damaged by frost, the new tea cannot be harvested and all the hard work of the past year is wasted.
The temperature, humidity, rainfall, sunshine hours, and other natural factors are always changing. Therefore, I always monitor the condition of the tea trees and analyze the soil composition twice a year. Based on the results, the absorption rate of fertilizer is taken into consideration for each season, and organic fertilizers (rice bran, oil cake, fish meal, etc.) that directly affect the flavor are used to manage the tea plantations. In addition, trace elements such as minerals and plant and animal fertilizers are used as needed to enhance the flavor. Taking care not to apply too much fertilizer at a time, but spread it out a little to increase the absorption rate. After the fertilizer is applied, the soil should be tilled (agitated) to mix the fertilizer with the soil in order to further increase the absorption rate. It is difficult for the fertilizer to work if the soil is hard. As a result, the absorption rate of the fertilizer is increased and delicious tea leaves can be harvested.
Number of days to cover and timing of plucking
The best time to pluck tea is when the shoots are at their optimum maturity. The earlier the tea is picked, the less sweet it is, the more astringent it is, and the less bright green it is. On the other hand, if the tea is plucked too late, the yield will increase, but the leaves will be more fibrous, less mellow, and more bitter. It also reduces the coolness characteristic of Japanese tea.
In order to improve the quality of the tea, the trees should be covered with the black cloth for a period of about one week, and the number of days of cover should be adjusted according to the weather and temperature. It is also important to do a final check before plucking to determine the best time for the tea leaves to turn a bright green color and have a full flavor and sweetness. The timing of the plucking is so delicate that it depends on whether it is done in the morning or in the afternoon.
After plucking, the leaves are immediately transported to the manufacturing plant. The reason for this is that if there is delay, the freshness of the plucked leaves decreases with time, and the refreshing aroma unique to Japanese tea diminishes, while the color and taste also deteriorate.
Number of annual pluckings
In Miyazaki, tea is generally plucked three or four times a year: late April for the first flush, June for the second flush, July for the third flush, and October or later for the autumn flush. However, if for some reason the condition of the tea trees deteriorates and good leaves cannot be harvested, the number of pluckings are reduced in order to lessen the stress on the tea tree and to help it recover.
In addition, when picking in the autumn, the work should be done as early in the season as possible. The reason for this is to increase the resistance of the tea plant to the cold of winter, and to prolong the period when the upper shoots are hardened.
Selection of raw materials is important
In order to collect high quality tea from the more than 10,000 tea leaves and products produced in Miyazaki every year, it is necessary to be able to judge the quality of the tea. There are nearly 400 tea growers in Miyazaki, and the tea produced by the top 10-20% of them is of very high quality. Tea sommelier Shingo Kuroki, the representative of Shinryokuen, who holds the 9th rank in tea appraisal, and Toshifumi Kuroki, the general manager of the production department, who holds the 8th rank, select the best tea leaves. The tea appraisal rank is given to those who get high scores in the tea appraisal competition held by the National Youth Tea Association, a national organization, to identify tea varieties, production areas, and tea seasons. More than 100 tea brewers from all over the country who have passed the local qualifying rounds gather for the competition, and their appraisal skills are put to the test. The skill to select the best tea is based on the sincerity with which they deal with tea every day, their years of experience, and their innate ability to distinguish taste.
What are the characteristics of our quality and what makes us different from other companies?
What the two Kuroki tea brewers aim for is a tea that has a good flavour, sweetness, mellowness, aroma, and an elegant astringency with no bitterness. Each tea has its own unique taste. There are differences in taste, sweetness, nourishment, bitterness, and astringency, as well as differences in aroma, such as coolness, odor, roasted aroma, and young aroma and flavour. There are differences in the appearance and color of the tea leaves, as well as the quality of the leaves and the difficulty in harvesting. There are also variations in the technology used in blending. Tea leaves are blended with various elements to bring out the best of each component and create a well-balanced taste as a whole. The best products are produced using high grade blending technology.
What is also important is to provide a stable supply of products of consistently high quality to our customers throughout the year. In order to do this, the company secures a year's supply of raw materials at the time of harvesting new tea leaves according to the sales results and plans. For example, for a product that sells 10,000 units of 100 grams per year, about 12,000 kilograms of carefully selected raw materials are secured and stored and refrigerated. The tea leaves are processed on a regular basis, and a process chart is kept to ensure that the blending materials and processing methods remain the same for one year. If the sales volume increases more than planned and there is a shortage of tea leaves, we will order samples from our competitors and add more tea leaves of the same quality.
The key points in manufacturing are blending and roasting temperature. The blending process begins with giving each tea a role from among the many leaves. A product is determined by the ratio of tea leaves with different characteristics such as aroma, flavor, sweetness, color, and moderate astringency. Even if the tea looks bad, it will be used if it tastes good, and even if it looks good, it will not be used if it has no characteristics that give any impression.
Roasting is done with a machine that has two characteristics: far-infrared roasting, and direct-fired rotary drum. The far-infrared roasting process heats the core of the tea leaves and produces a mellow taste. With the direct-fired rotary drum process, heat is directly applied to the exterior surface of the drum, and this produces a fresh aroma in the mouth when the tea is drunk.
This two-stage roasting process produces a Japanese tea that is both mellow and fragrant. In addition to the temperature, the amount of tea leaves flowing into the machine and the rotation speed of the drum are also adjusted depending on the particular leaves, the humidity, and the temperature of the day. During the roasting process, tasting is repeated every 10 minutes. If the aroma is weak, the temperature is raised. If the aroma is only a little weak, the temperature is raised once. After 10 minutes, it is then tasted again and the process is repeated. If the aroma is good, but the tea lacks mellowness, the temperature should be lowered. The temperature is repeatedly raised or lowered according to the characteristics and role of each tea leaf.
After the roasting process is complete, the tea leaves are vacuumed-packed in foil sacks in units of 30 kg
and stored in a cold store. The temperature of the cold store is usually between 5 and 10 degrees Celsius. The deterioration of the quality of the tea is minimal when it is stored in this way. When decanting stored tea leaves from the 30 kg sacks into smaller bags for sale, they must be taken out of the cold store a day prior to opening to allow the leaves to return to room temperature. If the sacks are opened while cold, the tea leaves will absorb moisture and affect the quality. This is a very thorough process.
The process of packing the finished tea leaves into 100g bags is also done in a safe and secure manner. Immediately before filling the bags, tea is poured onto the production conveyor and a visual inspection is conducted to prevent contamination by foreign substances. Magnets of 10,000 Gauss are installed at each stage of the process to remove metals. In addition, an auto-checker is installed to check all the contents of the bags and to ensure that the weight is correct. The bags are then heat sealed and the sealing temperature is monitored, as a low sealing temperature can result in problems, such as the bags opening during transit. The sealed bags are then stored in a low-temperature warehouse (about 10 degrees Celsius) and shipped upon receipt of orders.
This is not an obsession, but a natural process
We are often asked, "What are your specialties in tea production? There are many processes involved in tea production, from plantation management to sales. We aim only for 100% accuracy in each process. For example, if each process is repeated 10 times at 95%, the quality will be close to 60% when it is finished.
In other words, we perform every process “without cutting corners”.
Our products are highly evaluated in Japan and overseas
Our products have won awards many times at home and abroad, in various food contests and tea industry fairs, with our representative products, "Maremono", "Gokujo", and "Fukamushi". In particular, the company has won awards in the U.K., France, and Germany, and its products are also used by airlines in first class on international flights.
Overseas contest awards The Great Taste Awards, a global food contest held annually in the United Kingdom, attracts more than 10,000 entries of various kinds of food products from around the world. Judging is done by restaurant chefs and buyers. In 2018, Maremono tea won the highest award of 3 stars, which is only given to the top 1% of all entries. In the 2020 contest, the three products that were entered, Maremono, Gokujo, and Fukamushi, all received two stars, with two stars being awarded to the top 10% only. In the UK, where tea has a long history, the fact that Japanese tea has received such a high evaluation gives us confidence.
In 2019, "Tokusen Fukamushicha" won the Gold Prize and "Sencha Maremono" won the Silver Prize at the Paris Green Tea Competition was held in France, which was also judged by food buyers. In addition, Sencha Maremono won a gold medal at the International Fine Tea Competition was held in Denmark in 2018.
ANA (All Nippon Airways) have been serving our products on their international first class flights since September 2019. They also used our products in 2015 and 2016. This is quite an honour for us.
Domestic contest awards
At the National Tea Fair, which has a history of several decades, Shinryokuen won the ‘Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Award’, the highest award in Japan, for three consecutive years from 2016 to 2018. This is the first time in 60 years that a tea producer has won this award three years in a row, proving the level of excellence of our products and the annual management.
Maremono and Fukamushi won the Platinum Award for three consecutive years from 2016 to 2018 at the Japan Tea Awards, where not only tea experts but also general consumers are included in the judging panel. The reason why ordinary consumers are included in the judging panel is to avoid divergence from the modern tastes of consumers if the judging is done only by tea industry experts.
At the World Green Tea Contest 2017, held in Shizuoka Prefecture (a prefecture with a long history and tradition of Japanese tea), among the many teas from around the world, Jewetea, a line of eight Miyazaki teas, won the highest gold award for its quality and package design.
In Japan, our products are high-end department stores (Takashimaya catalog, Miyazaki Yamagata-ya) and premium supermarkets (Seijo Ishii, Yaoko, Queen's Isetan, etc.).