Ukiha, Fukuoka.

I met my new heroes today. The father and son duo pictured above are Japan’s most committed “zairaishu” farmers. Zairaishu can be thought of as heirloom tea. It is a mixture of several varieties of tea cultivar which have been grown specifically from seeds, not saplings. This is an incredibly hard way to grow tea for many reasons. Tea from seed takes several years of slow growth to even be considered for cultivation. And much of the time, the plants dies well before this period. The yield is also much lower on zairaishu and must be harvested carefully as each cultivar comes into its ideal growth period at different times. So why would anyone do this? “We are outliers, we believe this is real tea, its healthier, and its worth our time” they said. Their commitment to this art form is incredible. The taste? This stuff tastes like true tea. If you chew the leaf in the field you get a real idea what the finished product will taste like: tangy, full bodied, with a slightly fruity finish. It was an honor to spend the afternoon talking about cultivation and I must say, their fields were some of the most idyllic and beautiful I’ve ever seen. 

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