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KAGOSHIMA PREFECTURE, YAKUSHIMA: WATANABE'S ORGANIC TEA GARDEN

The Watanabe family’s organic tea garden is located on Yakushima, a small, paradisiacal island in the south of Japan, about 160km south of Kagoshima city. Yakushima is part of Kagoshima Prefecture, which is known for its many tea gardens. However, on the small, mountainous island Yakushima there are only few places at the seaside, which are suited for tea cultivation.

for more about Mankichi Watanabe’s organic tea garden: watanabe-yakushima.com

photo, starting left: Mankichi Watanabe, Ms. Watanabe, Ms. Goto, and Mankichi‘s harvesting helpers

Ms. Goto (blue clothes) encountered the idea of organic farming in the 1990s, when she read a book about the eating habits of Japanese people. Mankichi Watanabe already had a strong connection to nature, but had not started organic farming yet, so Ms. Goto was able to convince him easily of her ideas. Since that time Mankichi Watanabe cultivates his tea garden organically, including the organic certification, which the tea garden now has carried for over 10 years.

Green tea in all its different forms is an integral part of Mankichi Watanabe’s tea garden. He produces teas from shaded cultivation [kabuse saibai], as well as teas from non-shaded cultivation [roji saibai]. One of his finest green teas is the “Watanabe Tokujou Kabuse Asatsuyu” for which he uses the name-giving tea cultivar Asatsuyu, which is rarely used in organic cultivation.

Mankichi Watanabe’s black tea “Watanabe Kanaya Midori Koucha” is a special expression of his artistic ideas. The tea bush variety Kanaya Midori, which he uses in this tea, was originally bred for green tea production. This particular use of Kanaya Midori combined with Mankichi Watanabe’s intuition for processing and the subsequent storage of two years create a fresh and inspired black tea with a lemonlike fragrance.

The Watanabe family’s organic green and black teas

Watanabe Asatsuyu Tokujou Kabusecha (organic)

The Watanabe family shades mostly bushes from the tea bush variety Asatsuyu for this elegant, organic kabusecha. The description “Tokujou” means that especially good leaves from the first flush harvest were used.

The leaves of this Tokujou Kabuse, the highest quality from the regular first flush harvest (not the pre-harvest called shincha), are sorted perfectly and produce a fascinatingly green infusion. Fragrant notes of flowers are combined with the teas sweetness and mild freshness.

Available in 100g

Watanabe Genmaicha (organic)

Mankichi Watanabe’s organic Genmaicha is able to delight with its elegant style, in contrast to other tea garden’s genmaichas, which are mostly used as a simple drink for a meal. The first difference is detectable in the very fine and intensively green leaves that are used for the Watanabe Genmaicha. Usually only simpler and bigger leaves like Bancha are used for genmaicha. Even more unusual than this is the rice that Mankichi Watanabe buys from organic farming in Kyushu, which is then roasted on-site in his tea garden.

These special characteristics make the Watanabe Genmaicha a special tea, which is an honest expression of the character of the Watanabe family teagarden. It also has a pleasant and not too strong sweetness.

Available in 100g or 1kg

Watanabe Kanaya Midori Koucha – black tea (organic)

For this elegant black tea, leaves from the tea bush variety Kanaya Midori are used by Mr. Watanabe. Kanaya Midori is a tea bush variety that is usually used for the production of green tea, while black tea is usually made from tea bush varieties like Benifuuki. This seemingly odd decision creates an important basis for the fascinating character of this black tea.

The typical flowery nuances of black tea are created during fermentation from the bitter tasting compounds of the tea leaves. Because of this, Mankichi Watanabe uses not only leaves from the first flush harvest, but also from the second and sometimes third flush harvest as these leaves had more time to absorb sun light and to create bitter tasting compounds. In order to create a fascinating black tea, is necessary to have a completely different philosophy than during green tea production. The former is focused on changing the leaves’ compounds, while the latter can be interpreted as the conversation of the leaves’ compounds and structure.

Another reason for the characteristic and animating aroma of the Watanabe Kanaya Midori Koucha is the fact that Mankichi Watanabe only ‘releases’ this tea after two years. While one could think that this creates a heavy, overwhelming aroma, it actually does the contrary. The Kanaya Midori black tea is highly aromatic and animates with ease, while also delivering an intensive depth. An extraordinary, inspiring and also elegant black tea.

Available in 100g or 1kg

Watanabe Karigane Kukicha (organic)

For their organic Watanabe Karigane Kukicha, the Watanabes harvest the leaves of numerous tea bush varieties (Asatsuyu, Yabukita and Sae Midori among others), which are then steamed, kneaded, rolled and dried, before a special sorting machine separates the leaf stalks (kuki) from the leaves. Obviously the way this sorting machine works is a huge influence on the character of the sorted tea.

Here it is important for the Watanabe Karigane Kukicha, that the sorting is able to extract the “normal“ leaves, while smaller leaves and leaf buds stay together with the leaf stalks to form this kukicha. A very good kukicha of the first flush harvest.

Available in 100g or 1kg

Watanabe Kabuse Shincha (organic)

Mankichi Watanabe loves his tea garden, which is located on the tropical island Yakushima. His connection to nature and his teagarden are evident in Mankichi’s teas. The diversity of his tea bushes are also very important to him, which allows him to harvest the bush varieties which are sprouting very early, for his fine shincha. Only 25kg are produced from these tea bushes, which are also known for their elegant, slightly sweet and springlike nuances.

The three rare tea bush variety Kuritawase (which we have not encountered in any other tea garden yet), Sae Midori and Asatsuyu are blended for the Watanabe Kabuse Shincha. The name already indicates that this is not a “normal” shincha from unshaded bushes, but a spring tea for which the tea bushes were shaded.

Available in 50g (only available in spring / early summer)