Green tea - discovering the real taste of Shizuoka

Our journey into the world of green tea started in Okabe town on the banks of the Asahina river, ( easily accessible from Tokyo via the Tomei Expressway and a 20 min. drive from Yaizu interchange). The area, situated in a valley between hilly slopes blessed with good drainage and clear mountain water, is one of three biggest producers of Gyokuro tea in Japan. The Gyokuro produced here is said to be the finest in terms of its mellow flavor and sweet aroma. Gyokuro is a shade-cultivated tea, and in early May, about a month before picking, the tea bushes are covered with a sheet to deprive them of sunlight, resulting in a milder, sweeter tasting tea.
We visited on a cool fall day when the tea bushes were in full view and the deep green of the leaves truly breathtaking among the beauty of the natural surroundings.

One of the best ways to enjoy the whole tea experience is with a visit to Gyokuro no Sato, a small facility set in a riverside park.
Visitors can participate in a tea ceremony at Hyougetsutei, a tea house in the grounds of a lovely Japanese garden. It is a very peaceful setting with nothing to distract you from savoring the full flavor and aroma of the tea but a burbling brook and the sounds of birds chirpping in the trees!
We ate lunch at the adjoining restaurant which prides itself on using fresh local produce. Pictured here is "Tea noodles salad", green tea noodles served in a sesame sauce and topped with a variety of raw vegetables and dried seaweed. Surprisingly substantial, the tangy sauce proved a perfect match for the crisp vegetables and the refreshing taste of the noodles. Highly recommended!
The Japanese have a saying " betsu bara", which means that however much you eat, you will always have room for dessert!
A visit to Gyokuro no Sato would not be complete without sampling "Gyokuro shiruko", a dessert made with white bean paste and, of course, Gyokuro sauce!
The first mouthful of Gyokuro sauce is pure "tea" which then takes on an added dimension when combined with the thick sweet bean paste beneath. The little floating dumplings have a firm, springy texture and seem to have the added advantage of prolonging the wonderful taste of the dessert on your tongue. Completely different from the outright sweetness of western desserts, it does not sit heavily on the stomach and the green tea leaves a pleasing fresh aftertaste in the mouth.
Feeling refreshed after our healthy lunch, we then proceeded south to Makinohara, another large tea producing area. The tea plantations seem to stretch for miles and miles, carpeting the area in a deep green color. One of the amazing aspects of the plantations is that they are all so well groomed. The bushes are trimmed into a neatly rounded shape with a special cutter. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing but also ensures that the leaves grow to a similar size, making them easier to pick and sort.
Makinohara has an airy, modern Tea Museum covering the history of tea from around the world. Particularly interesting to us was the display explaining the roots of tea planting in Shizuoka and the "hands-on" section where we tried making our own Matcha, grinding tea-leaves into a fine powder with a grind-stone. It was hard work, but very satisfying to see the soft green powder emerging from between the stones.

The tea plantations of Makinohara where on a clear day Mt. Fuji can be seen on the horizon
On the trip home, we talked about how Shizuoka is such a perfect location for the cultivation of tea with its clear streams, steep hills and clean mountain air. Green tea is an integral part of Japanese life,and one which is all too often taken for granted.It takes a trip into the heart of the tea-producing area to truly appreciate the time and effort required to produce good quality tea, and the memory of those lush green slopes may well come back to us with every sip we drink from now on.
Copyright 2007 Artistic Nippon by Yoshikawa Toki Co. All rights reserved.
[Artistic Nippon Home]