Obubu Tea Farms came highly recommended to us by our dear friend Dorothy, who had recently completed an on-site internship at the estate located in Wazuka, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan. As excited as we were to visit and learn more about Japanese tea, we weren’t really sure when we would be able to visit. But as fate would have it, a visit to Obubu came within reach as we chose Japan as our holiday destination.
What better chance to try out some of the tea in the Kyoto region?
Obubu Tea Farms grow and process single origin Japanese green and black tea, primarily harvested from Yabukita cultivar of Camellia sinensis, which is found in roughly 75% of green tea plantations of the Japanese archipelago. More specifically, the Uji region where Obubu is based is well-known for its matcha; the area itself was one of the earliest areas in Japan to start cultivating tea. In fact, Uji has continuously cultivated tea for over 800 years!
A mere hour and a half train journey from Kyoto station delivers you to the wonderment of Obubu’s aptly coined Heavenly Tea Field. As soon as we stepped off the bus connecting the station to the field, we found ourselves bewildered by the unassuming beauty of the sleepy town of Wazuka. Nestled amidst the cascades of dormant rice paddy fields and stoic upright bamboo forests, dotted here and there with quietly reflective Shinto shrines and fallen sakura blossoms.
Preceding our guided tea tour, we were welcomed with hōjicha and introduced to the farm and its different types of green and black tea production. This presentation was led by Hiro-san, the event, factory and tea tour instructor, alongside Connie, a kind and passionate intern with a wealth of information to share. We quickly discovered how incredibly passionate the staff are in educating and advocating for fine quality Japanese green tea domestically, but also with a view to increasingly engaged international audience. Accordingly, obubu means “tea” in Kyoto dialect!
Following our warm welcome, we were promptly whisked away by van to visit some tea fields that were scattered all across the hillside. During our tea field visit, Hiro-san explained that the sub-tropical climate, elevation and mineral-rich soil, particularly slate, were conducive to growing flavourful green tea. The tea is processed into sencha, kabuse sencha, matcha, gyokuro, kukicha and hōjicha. The Obubu tea fields currently span about 6 acres across different areas in Higashi-Wazuka.
Following the tea fields, we toured the local production facility and learnt about the different mechanics of sorting, steaming, rolling and drying tea in a modern context. We also witnessed the hoiro, a large rectangular wooden table lined with washi paper that is heated from below. Long before machinery was a commonplace feature of tea processing estates, the raw product was extremely laboriously and patiently rolled on the hoiro. Interns are given a chance to try their hand at this challenging assignment to produce their own sencha.
For lunch, we visited a soba shop nearby. We both ordered matcha soba with yasai, locally grown vegetables, and were rewarded with a flavourful broth and noodles with a delicious bite.
It was then back to Obubu HQ for tea tasting. We tasted hōjicha, which is a traditional welcome drink, ice sencha (ice left to melt and infuse into sencha leaves), kukicha, genmaicha, kabuse sencha (3 infusions), Japanese black tea, and eventually prepared our own matcha under the guidance of Simona Zavadckyte, a Japanese Tea Master and Obubu’s International Marketing Manager.
Our visit brought about an even deeper appreciation for Japanese tea, and it was with much regret that we said goodbye to newfound friends at the end of our four hour tour. We enjoyed our guided tea tour so much that it has become a highlight of our visit to Kyoto, and possibly of the entire trip. It is definitely an unmissable experience and well worth the journey into the Japanese countryside.
Wazuka is a beautiful town, but as with so many of the smaller country towns, is experiencing a population exodus as young people seek the familiarity of the working modern day lifestyle. In opening its doors to the public with utmost enthusiasm and welcome, Obubu is doing the tea world and its own region a great service. With any luck, the future of tea from the Uji region will become even more of a household name, and hallmark of fine Japanese tea.
For more information about Obubu’s tea tours, please visit their website.