It's hard to escape Tea in Japan. Take Ichiriki Chaya, a 300 year old Tea House in Kyoto which features as the setting for much of Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. Legend has it that in it's heyday it was a meeting point for Samurai, and the starting point for plots to overthrow the Shogun. Today, it is still home to the exclusive entertainment evenings of it's past. Then there is Sen no Rikyū, a famous Tea Master whose Tea Room Taian in Myokian Temple remains a National Treasure. Since it's introduction to Japan in the 6th Century, the availability of tea in Japan has changed dramatically from being an item of luxury for priests and noblemen, to something grab-able for 100 yen at a vending machine.
Tea culture is a much loved part of Japan's past, present and future. From the other-worldly quality of the famed Tea Ceremony, to Tea Soba or Tea flavored Kit-Kats. But have you heard of Obubu Tea Farm?
Located in the peaceful tea farming town of Wazuka, about an hour from Kyoto, Obubu Tea Farm makes a great day trip from the former capital. Obubu is a slang word for tea in Kyoto. So Obubu Tea Farm, really means Tea Tea Farm. But being passionate about tea doesn't simply mean putting the word in your name twice. So what does Obubu Tea Farm have to offer visitors?
The Guided Tea Tour covers everything from harvest to brew. So you really do get an insight into the tea journey from leaf to cup.The part of the tour I was most interested in was the the tea tasting itself, but there is a lot more to the day than that. What’s more, the tour is carefully planned, so that your time is well spent between visiting tea farms, learning about tea harvesting, and tasting 8 different types. Not to mention, a tasty Tea Soba lunch, all for 12,000 yen/person.
The element I enjoyed most about the tour was that it wasn't the solemn affair I associate with Tea Ceremonies, where every hand movement is steeped in history. Obubu takes a relaxed approach to Tea tasting, which is as much about fun as it is educational. It has inspired me to try a quirky cold green tea cocktail idea, and tea inspired appetizers.
At the same time, the friendly, well informed staff at Obubu can answer all your questions. What is the difference between Sencha, Bancha and Matcha? Why can the tea sometimes taste bitter? How can we make it less bitter? And how does the harvest affect the taste? A visit to Wazuka itself has a meditative quality, so you are guaranteed to leave with more than just tea.
One of the most charming stories I heard on my tour was about the work Obubu does in the community. It takes 5 years for a green tea plant to be ready for it's very first harvest after planting. So young people from surrounding schools are invited to plant their own tea plant at the age of 12. Five years later, when the leaves are ready for the first harvest, these young adults are invited back to Obubu to pick the leaves. Of all the coming of age rituals, this one fits perfectly in Wazuka. By inviting these students to the farm, they hope to inspire Wazuka's next generation of tea farmers.
There are tea picking events available to the public too. The once in a lifetime Tea Picking and Rolling experience, is in fact a once every harvest opportunity to personally make tea. It takes place once every main harvest, costing 6,000 yen/person and includes a special lunch box of tea inspired treats. Next chance? September 23rd.
Obubu Tea Farm recognizes that for the tradition of tea culture to survive in Wazuka, community engagement projects are as essential. It's not by accident that, just as young adults in Wazuka are making choices about their next steps in life, that Obubu invites them to their farm. There is no Junior High School in Wazuka, so most young adults move away from their home to attend Junior High. With increasing movement away from Wazuka, Obubu worries about where the next generation of tea farmers will come from.
So Obubu is spreading the word about Japanese Tea. Since 2006, Obubu representatives have held tea seminars and tea workshops in 8 different countries around the world. Take the Tea Club for example, an honorary Tea Farm owner in Wazuka for 2,400 yen/month. A title that comes with many special privileges including free tea deliveries four times/year, discounted tours and much more. Plus the added bonus that since your money supports community engagement events, your tea will (probably) taste all the sweeter. Then there’s the Teatopia Festival November 7th-8th, which celebrates everything Tea in a multitude of special exhibitions and events. Admission, Free.
Obubu Tea Farm isn't just a workplace, an internship, a career, a livelihood, or even a farm. For many, it's also a home. Since many of the interns live on site, there is a welcoming atmosphere which invites you, as a guest, to also adopt Obubu as a home away from home on your tour.