interview: matsu and akky at obubu tea, kyoto, japan

This interview is with two really interesting guys, Matsu and Akky of the Obubu tea plantation, located in Wazuka, in the southern most part of the Kyoto Prefecture, in Kyoto, Japan.

Akky of Obubu Tea

A sincere thank-you to Ian Chun of Matcha Latte Media for translating my questions into Japanese, and then translating the answers back into English for me.  There are quite a few things that I think are really cool about Obubu, they have developed a close relationship with Ian, someone who has lived in Japan for over a decade, and is obviously fully bilingual.

Akky writes, and Ian translates, a Farmer’s Blog together, and on a recent tea tour to Hawaii they fully documented their trip so we could all follow along through the Obubu site and on Twitter.  The result was a behind-the-scenes view of something that most of us don’t see and what I have to say are some pretty fantastic (and funny) photos.

Akky is someone I would love to have a beer with, he looks like such a fun character with such an interesting story to tell.  All the answers below are quoted verbatim from Ian’s translated answers, Japanese and English are so different, but I wanted to keep them as-is, rather than weave them into a more complex piece.

Matsumoto-san, what does tea mean to you.

It is a tool for people to communicate.  In meetings, at meals, or just sitting around with friends and family…in Japan, tea appears at all of these moments of communication. Tea itself also has a chemical component that helps you to relax, so that’s important to me too.

Who do you admire in the tea world; do you have any tea heroes.

Yuji Sugimoto-san, and Nossan (a local tea farmer here in Wazuka). Sugimoto-san’s tea is crazy good, and Nossan is crazy good at selling his tea.

And I think Sen no Rikyū is amazing because he raised the level of tea culture to such great heights.

How did Obubu Tea get started.

It started when our president Akihiro “Akky” Kita met his first cup of Wazuka sencha as a college student taking on a part time job as a farmhand. He was so moved by sencha drunk straight off the farm in Wazuka that he left college and dedicated his life to tea farming.

After ten years of training with Wazuka tea farmers, he felt that he wanted others to experience the same wonderful tea that had changed his life and started Obubu to sell tea straight from the farm.

Akihiro “Akky” Kita

Can you describe a typical day.

It depends on the time of the year. During the winter months, we spend a lot of time fertilizing the fields and trimming the hedges. In one year, about 340 days are spent doing some kind of farm work.

What’s the best perk of your job.

“To be able to cultivate tea the way I want,” says Akky. “It feels best when the tea comes out just as I had planned.”

From cultivation and production to sales and instruction, for myself, it is to be able to do work for which I can be proud. That flow from start to finish (with the customer) is something that connects me to the world and I’m very proud to be involved in doing this.

Japan has a history of independent tea farming – what do you think this aspect brings to the global tea community at large.

Hmmm…I wonder if you can say we’re making a contribution? I think we may be creating a new, independent culture, especially, if we can bring the craft of tea cultivation to other parts of the world.If there is one tea you could introduce to everyone in the world, what would it be and why.

Akky says:

While I feel that the Sencha of the Spring Sun was the best tea I made in 2010, I would have to say the Kabuse Sencha is something I would like to the world to know about. It is the tea that I myself like the best, and the one that I cultivate with the most love. It is the tea convinced me to become a tea farmer and changed my life after all. Because it has qualities of both high quality sencha as well as gyokuro teas, until recently, it was used primarily by industry manufacturers to blend with sencha raising its quality, or with gyokuro to increase volume.

Matsu says:

I agree with Akky. You can steep this tea in so many ways: from steeping with melting ice, to cold water steeping, warm water steeping, hot water steeping…and each method changes the taste dramatically. Plus, you can enjoy the leaves afterwards as a salad with a little bit of soy sauce.

What’s your most memorable tea experience or memory.

The most memorable one would have to be at an overseas event to introduce Japanese tea to non-Japanese (part of our Winter Tea Tour that we do every year). Many non-Japanese, especially westerners, feel that Japanese tea is too bitter, but I was surprised that everyone from adults to kids enjoyed eating the tea leaves with soy sauce.

How have your tea tastes changed as you’ve aged.

“My tastes have not changed yet,” says Akky

Most people’s preferences start to change from tea with strong caffeine to weaker tea. But I think that there are also generational differences in the types of tea that people like more

What are your thoughts on tea tourism.

I think it’s great. The beauty of the tea field is the harmony that is formed between nature and people. I think this landscape is beautiful to both Japanese and foreigners alike.

What’s special about Japanese tea, what makes it different from Chinese, Korean, Indian tea (not in method but in feel or sensibility).

I think the unique sensibilities of Japanese are reflected in tea from Japan. The differences between different types of tea in Japan are extremely subtle. Although tea originally came from China, Japanese sensibilities have made this tea very delicate, something that requires a lot of time, effort and skill to produce.

How do you see Obubu Tea helping to educate the world about Japanese tea, what are your hopes.

The most important thing for us, I believe, is to make the best possible Japanese tea that we can. I think this must be out basis for introducing good Japanese tea to the world. This is our contribution to spreading Japanese tea throughout the world.

And, if we can we can somehow combine our efforts with other farmers who feel the same way about their tea, I would like to put effort into doing this as well. To create a network of passionate tea farmers in each country producing tea unique to that country…this is my vision.

__

Matsumoto-san is currently realizing his vision through the creation of the International Tea Farms Alliance, www.teafarms.org, currently in its building stage. Show your support by registering on the under-construction website or by joining them on Facebook: http://on.fb.me/teafarms.

Lastly, Obubu have free worldwide shipping on all of their orders, if you want to buy some of their tea don’t forget to use the code ‘travelandtea’ for 10% off.

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