Green Tea Kagoshima

Top Prefecture 

Green Tea Kagoshima

Japan’s 2nd largest green tea producer with attractively priced leading organic green tea. Best Senchas are from the terroirs of Kirishima, Chiran & Shibushi.

Kagoshima Green Tea Profile

Location: Situated in the southernmost prefecture of Japan, on the main island of Kyushu, about 1000km (in a straight line) from Tokyo.

Relevance: Ranked as the second biggest green tea producer and situated in the one of the best growing regions in Japan. Moving away from its past as a mass producer it is now being compared to top prefectures such as Shizuoka and Uji. Recognized for its economical price / performance ratio. 

Best RegionKirishima (Makizono, Mountainous Region), (North-) Chiran (Mountainous Region), Shibushi (Ariake). 

Famous Green Tea Varieties: Shincha (the first Shincha throughout Japan), Sencha mainly from the mountainous regions but still very respectable Senchas, Banchas the top price performance comes from South-Chiran but other regions apply such as Fukamushi and Tamaryokucha. The province is also a leader in organic farming with the best organic Tencha (for Matcha Tea) and recently with the production of a fantastic organic Gyokuro.

Special Seed Varieties: because of its mild climate its known for rare, seasonally early as well as late and non-frost-resistant varieties, especially Yutakamidori, Saemidori, Asatsuyu, Okumidori. Additionally on the southern islands grows a new and very special green tea variety Sunrouge – which has unique health benefits. 

Typical Taste: strong, intense character, fragrant full of volcanic minerals.

Typical Infusion-Color: vibrant dark green.

Landscape & Climate: particularly mild, subtropical environment with a higher sunlight intensity. It is a volcanic region with mineral, fertile soils. 

Special Features: It is an active volcanic region and farmers often have to wash volcanic ash off the tea leaves. Highest productivity in Japan is in the flat agricultural areas. Known for its very good, special agricultural products and excellent cuisine.

Which Teas to try:

  • Earliest produced annual Shincha
  • Sencha from Kirishima Makizono
  • Sencha from Chiran: the mountainous area of north-Chiran produces the best quality tea, South Chiran for best price-performance as well as for Fukamushi-Sencha tea (deep steamed)
  • Sencha made from the seed varieties of Saemidori, Asatsuyu and Okumidori
  • Tamaryokucha from Shibushi
  • Organic Matcha Tea from Tencha of Kagoshima (but only from the 1st harvest and ground on the stone mills in Uji)
  • Organic Gyokuro made from Saemidori seeds and Okumidori from Kagoshima
  • Sunrouge, a new exceptional type of green tea with particularly special health benefits.

Kagoshima Prefecture in southern Japan

Kagoshima (Jap. 鹿 児 島) is the southernmost prefecture of the Japanese mainland and lies on the main island of Kyushu. It stretches 600km from north to south and 270km from west to east but in total encompasses only 9,189 km2 (comparatively speaking roughly the size of Vermont or New Hampshire) with only about 1.7 million inhabitants.

The region has an approximately 2.600km long coastline on the East China Sea and is bordered to the north and east by two other well-known tea growing-regions in Japan, Kumamoto and Miyazaki. The prefecture includes about 200 small islands that can be found well offshore.

The south is known for the fertile, flat and coastal plains of the Satsuma Peninsula. The north is dominated by an impressive chain of volcanoes in the stunning Kirishima-Yaku National Park.

Important Agriculture

While Kagoshima is clearly rural it’s famous for manufacturing high-quality products. Its biggest commodity is by far tea, followed by rice, sweet potatoes, sugar cane, potatoes and Chrysanthemums. Additionally Kagoshima is famous for its giant radishes, potato liquor (shochu), pork, fish and special sweets.

In 2006, the total tea produced valued at 26.5 billion yen (approximately $213 million), which amounted to about 6.5% of total agricultural production in Kagoshima (Source: Kagoshima Tea Association).

Kagoshima: Japans 2nd biggest Tea producer 

After Shizuoka, Kagoshima is the second largest prefecture for green tea production in Japan. In fact its mild and warm climate enables the area to harvest Japan’s earliest Sencha, which is traditionally harvested at the end of March.

In 2014 the region exported nearly 25,000tons amounting to about 30% of all Japanese green tea production. The region cultivates about 8080ha roughly 21% of all Japanese acreage of green tea (source: Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries February 2015).

Green tea has only been grown in Kagoshima since the 19th century (明治 時代) during the Meiji period. It was characteristic for most households to plant green tea bushes to act as hedges.  Examples of which can be still seen today in Chiran, such as the famous Samurais House renowned for its magnificent green tea hedges.

Originally, Kagoshima was viewed as an unimportant green tea producer and incomparable to the likes of Shizuoka and Uji / Kyoto. However the decades following the end of the Second World War saw a marked change in its fortunes. After 1954, Japan experienced massive economic growth leading to a boom in domestic demand for green tea. This resulted in an enormous expansion of cultivation in Kagoshima, especially post the late 60’s.

Thus, since the end of the 1960’s right up to 2008 the amount of tea grown rose steadily upward. To make it more tangible in 1985 around 12.431t was produced in comparison to about 26.000t in 2008.

Harvesters in Kagoshima’s lowlands enable tea farmer’s larger productivity

Harvesters in Kagoshima’s lowlands enable tea farmer’s larger productivity

All the more astonishing given that the actual land mass used to cultivate the tea only increased minutely in terms of acreage – namely 7.610ha in 1985 to 8.660ha in 2008. This represents almost a doubling of productivity in this period. (Source: Kagoshima Tea Producers Association).

This was mainly due to Kagoshimas favorable climate with its warm winters and the increasing use of harvesting machines in the flat, fertile fields in the south of Kagoshima. On average, Kagoshima relies roughly 86% on tea harvesters, whereas the Japanese average in 2007 was only 40% (Source: Kagoshima Tea Producers Association).

In addition, in Kagoshima, there are far more large scale tea farms than elsewhere in Japan with about 55% of the tea farms measuring bigger than 1ha, while in the biggest tea Prefecture Shizuoka only 29% are comparable in size. (Source: Kagoshima Tea Producers Association). Accordingly, in Kagoshima, the productivity of time spent working for the cultivation and harvesting of tea is about 1.6 times higher than in Shizuoka (2003). For the management of a tea plot measuring 10a (equivalent to 0,1ha) in 2003, it was estimated that an average of 78.2 working hours was required in comparison to the 122 hours needed in Shizuoka (source: Kagoshima Tea Producers Association). 

The expansion of production as such was hugely reflective on the wholesale tea market in Kagoshima (Kagoshima Tea Market). In 2006, 15.916t tea was transacted of which about 68% was sold via cooperatives (Source: Kagoshima Tea Producers Association).

The Japanese market however considered for a long time the quality of sold tea from Kagoshima was as low. Due largely to the fact that tea was sold to the top prefectures Shizuoka and Uji and there mixed with the local tea. (According to Japanese law up to 50% of “raw” tea may be combined with tea from other regions, without having to specify it on the sale as a mixed tea.)

As a result, in the last 90 years, the administration of the prefecture and the local tea farmers have undertaken considerable efforts to mechanize not just production and to increase productivity, but also improve the quality and increase the marketing / PR of the best regions and distribution. The result was the establishment of the “Kagoshima Kirishima Tea Brand Association”. In addition, major focus was placed on organic farming and the cultivation of more specific special green tea seeds.

Organic Green tea fields filled with naturally growing herbs in Kagoshima

Organic Green tea fields filled with naturally growing herbs in Kagoshima

A Growing leader in Organic Farming

These efforts achieved results. In 2007 two Senchas from Chiran won for the first time ever the national Japanese tea contest (61st competition in the 30kg class). The region has also seen many other prizes and awards handed out to the farmers of Kagoshima. This has seen the gap between Kagoshima and the other “flagship” prefectures shrink year on year.

From 2008 to 2014, the growing amount remained roughly at the level of 24,000 – 26.000t per year. Recently, however, mainly attributable to the growing international demand for organic tea such as Sencha and Bancha there has been an expansion of cultivation. According to the Kagoshima Tea Industry Production tea cultivation is in development to rise to 30,000 t by 2018.

Another factor that benefits the region is that unlike other Japanese prefectures Kagoshima enjoys continued interest in tea cultivation from new farmers. Between 1998 and 2006 an impressive 295 new tea farmers were added, an average of 30 per year (Source: Kagoshima Tea Association).

In 2015, the massive increase in demand arising from several large international customers led to a shortage of available organic teas and a sharp rise in tea prices.

Organic Green tea fields filled with naturally growing herbs in Kagoshima

Organic Green tea fields filled with naturally growing herbs in Kagoshima

As such in the production of well-priced organic teas Kagoshima can now be considered a major player in Japan. Recently the development of organic Tencha production (Tencha is the raw material for Matcha tea) has also greatly increased further supporting the areas Green Tea dominance.

Historically Kagoshima was essentially the Japanese home for relatively cheap, mass-produced green teas ideal for large customers whose emphasis was more on price and organic certification rather than the purest quality.

However trends are changing and now there are some areas that have started to produce excellent top quality green tea, especially Sencha that previously would not have been able to compare with the top teas from Uji and Shizuoka. These include above all the teas from the best sub-regions of Kirishima, Chiran, but also Shibushi. The price for these teas is reflective of their worth as they are on par with the top dollar prices of their counterparts.

Conclusion: Kagoshima was formerly known as the mass producer of cheaper green teas for bulk buyers but in recent years has achieved a high level of quality with additionally the best price / performance ratio. It is now easy to find absolutely phenomenal teas, especially following the Sencha and Tamaryokucha first harvest (organic and non-organic) from Chiran, Kirishima and Shibushi, Tencha for Matcha (best organic quality in Japan) and Gyokuro (best organic tea in the market).

Top 3 Kagoshima Green Tea regions

From the perspective of green tea cultivation, the prefecture can be divided easily into the following three regions:

  1. Those with a particularly mild climate, therefore allowing the earliest green tea harvests in Japan.
  2. The wholesale agricultural, flat regions which allow for the easiest productive and competitive cultivation of premium grades
  3. The hills at the feet of the striking mountain ranges ensure the best tea varieties but due to their topography are expensive to manage. 

The following figure shows the map of Kagoshima divided by said regions. The bright green regions have more than 1.000ha each under tea cultivation. The bold lines indicate those regions with a mild climate and the earliest harvest time, the thin lines represent agricultural flat land, while the dashed lines show the hilly to mountainous tea production.

Kagoshimas green tea growing regions

Kagoshimas green tea growing regions

Source: Kagoshimas Tea Producers Association

1. Earliest Shincha in Japan

The favorable mild climate in Kagoshima is found predominately in the southeast of Kagoshima in Kumage (熊 毛), as well as the southern islands Tanega Island (種子 島) and Yaku Island (屋 久 島), the lowlands around the river Satsuma, the west coast of the south eastern Peninsula Osumi (大 隅 半島 and lastly the southern coastal regions of the Satsuma Peninsula (薩摩 半島).

Due to the warm climate, the Kagoshima tea harvest can begin far earlier than in comparison to the other prefectures in Japan. The flatter regions tend to protect against frost damage, generally considered one of the biggest risks to the tea farmers. The harvest usually start towards the end of March and as such allow for a four to five harvests per annum.

Kagoshima Hashiri Shincha

The very first tea harvest each year is typically called Shincha. It is especially rich in nutrients and catechins and is highly sought after by tea connoisseurs each year. The first Shincha of the year in Kagoshima is called “Hashiri Shincha” (走 り 新 茶). Hashiri translates as “running”, but also can be interpreted as “to be first”, or to “give something”. In Kagoshima, the harvest can begin as early as only 66 days after the beginning of the spring of the old lunar calendar, instead of the usual standard 88 nights in Japan. 

The Hashiri Shincha is grown mainly in Nishinoomote City (西 之 表 市) and Minamitane Town (南 種子 町) on the island Tanega / Tanegashima (種子 島). The cultivar is the particularly early Kuritawase. The Hashiri Shincha is eagerly anticipated each year and as such also achieves the highest market price.

2. Highest Green Tea Yield Comes From Satsuma & Osumi 

Although Kagoshima has only a small share of the Japanese flat agricultural landmass 99.7% of all tea fields are concentrated here in the Prefecture (2007). The Japanese average is, however, only 52.3%. In the largest tea Prefecture Shizuoka far more tea is grown in the mountains, as opposed to Kagoshima.

Notable tea growing areas are the Satsuma Peninsula (薩摩 半島) and the Osumi Peninsula (大 隅 半島) with Shibushi City (志 布 志) and the southwest coast of Kagoshima (鹿 児 島 湾) to Oonejime (大 根 占).

Fertile, easily manageable tea fields in South Chiran against the backdrop of  Mt. Kaimondake

Fertile, easily manageable tea fields in South Chiran against the backdrop of
Mt. Kaimondake

3. Top Quality Tea – Mountains of Kirishima & North Chiran

Approximately 9% of all Kagoshima consists of national parks with stunning natural beauty. These enchanting mountainous regions have a very favorable climate for the production of high quality green tea. The big difference between day and night temperatures, the heavy morning and evening mist that dampens the very intensive solar radiation in the region and increases the humidity, ensures better a markedly better quality of tea. 

Here the tea grows slower and due to the lower sun intensity allows for slightly less catechins (bitter) while maintaining a higher L-theanine content. As such the tea is much sweeter and lighter in taste.

The drawback however is that land management is considerably more complicated and less productive. As such the smaller crop yield has a correspondingly high price on the market.

The well-known regions at the foot of the mountain ranges and volcanoes, or in some cases even located right on the mountains are:

  • Kirishima Mountain (霧 島 山) (especially Makizono)
  • East Kirishima (霧 島)
  • North Chiran (知 覧) in the southern, mountainous Satsuma (薩摩)
  • Sendai River (川内川), average current,
  • Osumi (大 隅) south, mountainous part
North Chiran’s picture perfect mountainous tea fields

North Chiran’s picture perfect mountainous tea fields

Best Green Teas in Kagoshima

Kagoshima can be broken into 15 known tea producing regions, three of which are particularly renowned (in bold). In the following map regions are displayed individually.

1. Satsuma (さつま)

6. Chiran (知覧)

11. Shibushi (志布志)

2. Hioki (日置)

7. Ei (頴娃)

12. Kanoya (鹿屋)

3. Matsumoto (松本)

8. Kirishima (霧島)

13. Tashiro (田代)

4. Kawanabe (川辺)

9. Soo (曽於) – Takarabe (財部)

14. Oonejime (大根占)

5. Makurazaki (枕崎)

10. Soo (曽於) – Sueyoshi (末吉)

15. Tanegashima (種子島)

Kagoshima proactively markets and communicates the advantages of these top regions.

  1. Kirishima (especially Makizono)
  2. Chiran,
  3. Shibushi (especially Ariake).

Kirishima Cha

The mountainous regions of Kirishima produce arguably the best Sencha in Japan, especially in the sub-region of Makizono. Special attention should be paid to the rare seed varieties of Saemidori, Okumidori and Asatsuyu. Sencha from these terroirs and from North Chiran cannot be compared with the other top regions of Japan, Shizuoka and Uji however more details regarding this can be found in article on Kirishima Green Tea.

Chiran Cha 

Acknowledged as one the best green tea terroirs in Japan. North Chiran with its mountainous landscape produces green tea with the best Matcha qualities.  South Chiran on the other hand provides excellent value for money. Popular and recommendable here are the Sencha from seed strain Yabukita and Fukamushi Senchas from Yutakamidori. The details are set out in the article on Green Tea from Chiran.

Shibushi Cha 

As the second largest tea region towards the coast of Kagoshima it is noted for a very mild climate, flat, easily manageable agricultural landscapes and the harvest of the early Shincha. Well known are the sub-regions Matsuyama and Ariake. The region is excellent for Tamaryokucha, the earliest Shinchas and more recently also for the best organic Gyokuro tea. Further information can be found in the article on Green Tea from Shibushi.

Other Tea areas in Kagoshima

It must be also emphasized that the other 13 regions also produce high quality green teas depending on the tea farmers and obviously the terroirs.

Soo

A good example of this the Soo Cha (曽 於 茶) originating in the east of Kagoshima. The local sub-region Takarabe (財 ) found at the foot of the Kirishima mountain range with its bracing climate produces a good Sencha: Fukamushis, known for their particularly gentle and mild taste and suitable as “all-day“ teas. In the southern part of Soo situated in the Sueyoshi Mountains (末 吉) the topography is perfect for the cultivation of Tamaryokucha. The Sueyoshi Cha is characterized by a fresh and friendly taste and a light green color. The Osumicho Tsukino also located in the south of Soo (大 隈 町 月 野) is completely surrounded by mountains and very suitable for the cultivation of organic teas. It is, incidentally, very close to the above-mentioned highest quality-producing region of Ariake in Shibushi. A further benefit is that the tea is protected from all sides by mountains and as such there is little to no risk of wind contamination by pesticides from neighboring tea farms. The plateau has excellent conditions for the cultivation of green tea and produces an excellent quality.

Ei 

In addition, the Ei (頴 娃) region should be mentioned particularly for its mild climate and the fertile soil. It is located in south of Chiran and also includes a mountainous landscape. Since 1836 the areas has produced the Ei Cha, which is known for its full, strong body and bright green color. At least 60% stems from the cultivar Yutakamidori and more often then produced as deep steamed Fukamushi Sencha with its unique special flavor.  The largest tea farm in Kagoshima is located in Ei with over 1350ha.

Kawanabe 

Kawanabe (川 辺) recently focused more on the cultivar Asatsuyu (大 根 占) which, in the mild climate of Oonejime, produces the particularly early harvestable Kuritawase for making the famous Hashiri Shincha.

Tanegashima

This green tea seed variety thrives particularly well on the island of Tanegashima / Tanega Island (種子 島) southwest of Kagoshima. It produces the very first Shincha harvest each year in Japan at the end of March. The tea tastes very sweet and rich.

Satsuma

The green tea from Satsuma (薩摩), in northern Kagoshima, on the other hand is very refreshing and has a very rich savory flavor.

Hioki

In Hioki (日 置) emphasis should be placed on the wide range of tea and seed varieties. Here are among others Sencha, Bancha and Gyokuro are cultivated. In addition to the main area Yabukita – production and farming can also be found in Yamatomidori, Kanayamidori, Asatsuyu, Yutakamidori and Okumidori.

Matsumoto 

The Matsumoto cha (松本) from around Kagoshima City’s is also known as Cha Hanzu representing the Kamairicha seed variety- the end product is a „fired“ green tea.

Makurazaki

Makurazaki (松 崎) is known for the production of black tea. Here the seed strain Saemidori is grown, which produces a tea rich in umami and with a low astringency.

Tea fields with views onto Makurazaki and Kagoshima’s famous landmark the active volcano Mt. Sakurajima

Tea fields with views onto Makurazaki and Kagoshima’s famous landmark the active volcano Mt. Sakurajima

Kagoshima green tea: Vibrant Green with a full bodied intense taste

The special climate with its high percentage of sunshine and unique volcanic fertile soil creates a green tea that is personified by its refreshing aroma combined with the rich full-bodied savory taste of umami. The pigment of the tea leaves is a very dark and vibrant green, which is reflected, in the actual color of the tea infusion. The only exception is the teas from the mountainous areas of Kagoshima, which are much more of a golden green color.

Conclusion: Matcha tea connoisseurs are well acquainted with the knowledge that the terroirs of Kagoshima are excellent for the production of Sencha, Tamaryokucha and Sencha Fukamushi. However in addition to this,  recognition is also growing for their award winning organic Gyokuro and organic Tenchas.  Highly recommendable is trying the teas from northern Kirishimas (Makizono) and from Chiran given their very unique, wonderful character.

Crop production during the harvests

Green tea is cultivated in various crops spread throughout the year. The first harvest (Ichibancha, translated = first leaf) is regarded as the best in taste and nutrition values. Subsequent harvests right towards the autumn and winter are considerably less fine and have more tannins, which can have a more lasting effect on the body. However they can also from a health view point have special qualities due to their higher catechin content (mainly healthy polyphenols).

The latest available data (as of February 2015) highlight the varying differing quantities produced in 2014. Around only 34% of raw tea came from the valued first tea harvest significantly less than the circa 41% Japanese average. Kagoshima produces in contrast markedly disproportionate subsequent harvests, especially the third harvest (Sanbancha) in late summer / autumn.

Japan Production in 2014 in t

in % v.Ges.

Kagoshima 2014 in t

Ichibancha

 34.100  

40,80%

 8.430  

Nibancha

 24.100  

28,80%

 6.730  

Sanbancha

 6.080  

7,30%

 4.400  

Yobancha

 1.380  

1,60%

 929  

Fuyu Haru Aki Bancha (winter, spring, autumn bancha)

 18.000  

21,50%

 4.160  

Aracha (Raw tea)

 83.660  

100,00%

 24.649  

Source: Statistics of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Japan, 24. February 2015

Crop Statistics for the Varying Green Tea Varieties

The most farmed green tea strain in Japan is by far Senscha with about 61% of total production in 2013. (Source: National Federation Tea Association). This is followed by around 24% for Bancha (harvest of tealeaves between the main crops, usually coarser leaves). In the case of Kagoshima, nearly 67% is Sencha and around 31% Bancha. In the latter case this is reflected in the region due to the subsequent harvests.

The more noble shade grown teas, such as Tencha for Matcha, Gyokuro & Kabusecha amount to about only about 1% of total production in Kagoshim(mainly Kabusecha), whereas the Japanese average is roughly around 6%. 

Japan

in %

Kagoshima

in %

Gyokuro

 228  

0,30%

Kabusecha

 2.530  

2,90%

 206  

0,80%

Tencha

 2.243  

2,60%

Sencha

 52.469  

60,70%

 17.200  

67,20%

Kamaryokucha

 171  

0,20%

Tamaryokucha

 2.788  

3,20%

 269  

1,10%

Bancha

 20.836  

24,10%

 7.850  

30,7

Other  Green Teas

1.484

1,70%

 55  

0,2

Black Tea

19

Other Teas

TOTAL

 86.467  

100,00%

 25.600  

100,00%

Source: National Tea Production Federation Japan

Best Organic Sencha comes from Kagoshima 

In recent years an interesting trend has developed in the organic tea market. Kagoshima has become the top Prefecture for the production of organic Sencha and Banchas. It has to be remarked that often the quality of the best organic Sencha from Kagoshima has rivaled the level of the best non-organic Sencha from other top prefectures. This is extremely encouraging for many tea farmers as previously it had been assumed by the experts that these top strains were not possible for organic farming due to the less intensive fertilization.

Shade Grown Green Tea in Kagoshima

Due to intense solar radiation and sunshine found in Kagoshima farmers often find it prudent to shade the tea plants shortly before the harvests. Depending on the weather and season the tea fields are usually covered with a special plastic sheeting in the so-called Jikagise technique.

In the south, the sun-intensive prefectures of Kagoshima and Miyazaki require far more tea shading of the Sencha than is common as in the much colder Shizuoka Prefecture, the largest tea producer in Japan. The tea farmers are here almost forced to measure and monitor the strength of the sunlight, especially right before harvest.

By shading the tea leaves you can protect the plant from the majority of the sunlight. Simple shades reduce the exposure by about 70-80%. The tea plant compensates by activating its metabolism and producing significantly more chlorophyll. In addition, much more palatable amino acids are preserved, which otherwise would be converted by the sunlight into increasingly bitter catechins. Typically, this technique is observed to obtain the special green tea varieties such as Gyokuro, Kabusecha and Tencha (for Matcha).

In Kagoshoma, standard practice is to shade the green tea 2-3 days prior to harvest to reduce bitterness and add more sweetness. Many tea farmers decide at short notice depending on prevailing weather conditions. This spontaneous and short lived shading is ideal in the production of Sencha because farmers want to maintain the typical character of the strong Sencha but reduce the bitterness. 

It is generally not communicated to the market whether through promotion or packaging if the tea has been shaded and to what time length. 

Shading the Sencha in Kagoshima as the harvest approaches

Shading the Sencha in Kagoshima as the harvest approaches

Kabusecha, Matcha and Gyokuro in Kagoshima

The shading application is markedly different for the more special green tea varieties such as Kabusecha and especially Tencha (for Matcha) and Gyokuro. Here stronger shields are required. In most cases up to one or two weeks shading is necessary prior to harvest for (Kabusecha = half shading) or even up to two to three weeks (Tencha and Gyokuro = full shade). Accordingly a large number of amino acids, chlorophyll and much less bitter substances are created resulting in a much more elegant and sweeter taste filled with umami.

Although the shading technology was originally invented in the regions of Japan were the strong volcanic activity and the corresponding ash fall protects the tea plants, Kagoshima and the entire main island of Kyushu are traditionally not one of the major producers of Kabusecha, Tencha and Gyokuro. This title has long been reserved by the regions Uji, Mie, Yame and in part Shizuoka.

Tencha fields fur Match Tea during the spring rain in Kagoshima

Tencha fields fur Match Tea during the spring rain in Kagoshima

The market leader in Organic Matcha

Furthermore some of Kagoshima’s tea farmer have become the market and quality leaders in organic Tencha production – due to this some the best Matcha teas to be found in the market now come from Kagoshima. For elevated Matcha tea the best grinding still comes from the stone mills in Uji.

However a definite negative drawback is that the non-Japanese markets becomes over saturated by the poor organic Matcha tea quality from the Kagoshima Tencha second Harvest. This should not be blamed though on Kagoshima as a whole but on the dealers who use instead of the 1st Tencha harvest the lower quality 2nd Harvest with labeling properly which is being sold. This leads of course to higher trading profit margins and European Matcha beginners associate this with weaker products unknowingly. 

Buyers of organic Matcha tea should make sure when purchasing that it comes from the Matcha Tencha first harvest and ground were possible on stone mills.

Quality Kagoshima Organic Gyokuro 

The production of bio-Gyokuro is considered one of the most difficult exercises in tea cultivation. This is due to its greater susceptibility to pests and fungi in part aided by a longer shading process. In addition, the tea plant uses more power requiring many more nutrients for the formation of amino acids. As such an intensive fertilization is beneficial.

Organic Gyokuro must be content but with much less intensive organic fertilizers.

The result is that the Umami from Organic Gyokuro is not as strong as those from conventional cultivation.

It is therefore all the more surprising and gratifying that various tea farmers in Kagoshima have very recently been able to produce very high quality organic Gyokuro. Compared even to the best organic teas in Uji and Shizuoka these first harvest Kagoshima Gyokuro perform considerably better and are even comparable to the level of non-organic Gyokuro. 

Kagoshima’s Subtropical sunny climate

Kagoshima’s mainland is characterized as being a moderate, warm-humid climatic zone, while on the southern islands it has primarily a particularly humid, subtropical climate. The prefecture experiences relatively cold winters (especially in the mountains) combined with a warm, precipitation-rich spring and summers with a very long daylight hours followed by a milder Autumn with much more rain fall.

The annual average temperature (measured between 1981 to 2010) is nearly 19 ° C (German average: 8 ° C 1961-1990), with about 9 ° C in January and 29 ° C in August. The sunshine duration (average) achieved even in January was about 137 h (for comparison Germany 44 hours), its peaks in August with 207-hs (Germany 197 hours in August and 209 hours in July), and annually it’s blessed with about 1919 hours of sunshine.

The annual rainfall (average) is 2.266mm, in compare comparison to Germany’s 789mm (average 1961-1990). Most precipitation falls in the rainy season up until the summer. In summer and autumn treacherous typhoons threaten the tea fields. In summer however it is not uncommon for the region to suffer from droughts.

Rain-fall (mm)

Temperature (°F)

Relative

Sunlight in hours (h)

Atmospheric Phenomena

Air Humidity (%) Ø

Total

Ø

Day-

Day-min.

 

 

Snow Fall-

Fog-

max.

Days

Days

Statistic Year

1981

1981

1981

1981

1981

1981

2000

2000

-2010

-2010

-2010

-2010

-2010

-2010

-2010

-2010

January

77,5

47.3

55.04

40.28

65

132,7

2,3

0

February

112,1

49.64

57.74

42.26

65

135,1

1,8

0,2

March

179,7

54.5

62.6

47.12

66

148,8

0,5

0,1

April

204,6

62.42

70.88

54.86

68

167,5

0

0

May

221,2

69.44

77.36

62.78

71

174,2

0

0,2

June

452,3

75.2

81.68

69.8

76

121,8

0

0,2

July

318,9

82.58

89.42

77.54

75

190,9

0

0,1

August

223

83.3

90.5

78.08

73

206,2

0

0

September

210,8

78.98

86.18

73.04

71

176,7

0

0

October

101,9

70.16

75.92

63.5

67

186,7

0

0

November

92,4

60.62

68.54

53.42

67

155,2

0

0

December

71,3

51.08

59.54

44.06

67

149,8

0,8

0,1

Year

2265,7

65.48

73.04

58.82

69

1935,6

5,5

1

 Source: Japan Meterological Agency

Best-known seed varieties

Due to the warm climate Kagoshima has a particularly early and extensive harvesting period. This allows the cultivation of especially early and especially late seed varieties. Kagoshima is famous for its rare and tasty seed varieties.

In Kagoshima only 37% of widely planted Yabukita is cultivated as part of Aracha production as opposed to the 69% average of the six other main tea prefectures of Shizuoka, Mie, Miyazaki, Kyoto (incl. Uji), Fukuoka and Kumamoto. By contrast Kagoshima grows much more Yutakamidori, Saemidori, Okumidori and Asatsuyu. This focus is much appreciated by Green tea connoisseurs who like these rare seed varieties for their special flavor. As shown below in the following table. Note: Sayamakaori and Kanayamidori is also grown though in much smaller quantities.

Aracha-Production from Cultivars (2012)

Kagoshima in t

 Kagoshima in % 

Sum 7 Main-Prefecture* in t

Sum 7 Main-Prefecture** in %

Yabukita

 9.620  

37%

 54.312  

69,40%

Yutakamidori

 7.280  

28%

 7.280  

9,30%

Saemidori

 2.340  

9%

 2.954  

3,80%

Okumidori

 1.040  

4%

 1.912  

2,40%

Asatsuyu

 1.300  

5%

 1.300  

1,70%

Sayamakaori

 –    

 698  

0,90%

Zairaishu (native cultivars)

 –    

 687  

0,90%

Kanayamidori

 –    

 427  

0,50%

Samidori

 –    

 222  

0,30%

Takamidori

 –    

 75  

0,10%

Yamakai

 –    

 49  

0,10%

Others

 4.420  

17%

 8.376  

10,70%

TOTAL

 26.000  

100%

 78.290  

100,00%

*Shizuoka, Kagoshima, Mie, Miyazaki, Kyoto (inkl. Uji), Fukuoka, Kumamoto

Source: “ Policy of the development, protection and spread of the new breeds and new technology” veröffentlicht im Dezember 2013 durch Maff (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries)

Conclusion: Tea connoisseurs appreciate the rare seed varieties Saemidori, Okumidori, Asatsuyu and Yutakamidori from Kagoshima. One should definitely try these teas for both in taste, as well as a variety of additional health benefits, as each seed strain is based on differing ingredients.

Kagoshima’s volcanic landscape

Kagoshima is known for its distinctive volcanic landscape and the numerous still active volcanoes, including one of the largest active volcanoes in the world, the 1.117m high Sakurajima, Kagoshima national landmark and then further north Mount Kirishima. Of all of Kagoshimas 24 volcanoes further stricter definition places all of them as active but of which 6 are particularly volatile and active: Kirishimayama (1,700m), Sakurajima (1.117m), Yoneyama-Sumiyoshi Ike (100m), Wakamiko Caldera, Ikeda and Kaimondake. The Kirishima mountain range stretches over Kagoshima and the neighboring Miyazaki Prefecture and essentially is 20 individual volcanoes with the highest and active peaks: Mt. Karakuni (1,700m), Takachiho-no-mine (1.573m) and Shinmoedake (1.412m ). This region has particularly prevalent fog with correspondingly high humidity, which promotes the growth of green tea.

The Sakurajima ( 桜 島) is one of the three largest active volcanoes in Japan and often erupts together with the Shinmoedake sending larger clouds of fine ash into the sky, which settle on the tea fields explaining the special soil fertility. This happens so often that the tea farmers in contrast to other regions of Japan are forced to wash the tea after the harvest in order to clean off the ashes.

To the north between Kagoshima and the neighboring Miyazaki Prefecture lies the mountainous Kirishima-Yaku National Park with its impressive chain of 20 individual volcanoes.

Fertile soil and intense sunlight make Kagoshima one of the best growing areas in Japan. Most vegetable species can not only flourish here but grow unusually fast and large. The same applies to the green tea. In Kagoshima of green tea can be harvested earlier than anywhere else in Japan, mostly already in mid-April.

Kagoshima’s imposing volcano, Mt. Kaimondake

Kagoshima’s imposing volcano, Mt. Kaimondake

Most of Kagoshima’s topography consists of stunningly beautiful lower mountain ranges, such as in particular the Takakuma Mountains (高 隈 山地), Izumi Mountains (jap .: 出水 山地), Satsuma Mountains (薩摩 山地) and Kimotsuki Mountains ( 肝 属 山地), and the enchanting plateaus that interconnect these mountain regions (Shirasu Daichiシ ラ ス 台地).

In the mountain regions the tea cultivation is particularly troublesome, less productive and expensive, but the special localized climates also creates some of green tea’s finest qualities.   

With the exception of the Sendai River (川内川) Kagoshima has no major or large rivers and water features. The best agricultural larger flat land can be found accordingly only along the Sendai and along some areas around smaller rivers, such as the Kimotsu River (肝 属 川. In these areas green tea is grown with relatively little effort and is extremely profitable.




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