Interview with a tea producer: Shigeo Nakayama

Preserving Tea History in Kikuchi with Challenging Cultivation Methods

Mr. Shigeo Nakayama, Ocha no Nakayama

Mr. Nakayama produces tea in Kyokushi, Kikuchi City, Kumamoto Prefecture. He is from the same generation as Mr. Noda, and together he is one of the creators working hard to boost the tea industry in the Kumamoto/Kikuchi region. He has a strong spirit of challenge and embraces new ideas one after another for making tea. Currently, he is working hard with his son to make the best tea possible.

New culture method with yogurt

Nakayama: What I enjoy about making tea is always taking on new challenges. For example, we now use yogurt as one of the products we sow in our fields. By sprinkling yogurt containing lactic acid bacteria, the tea-damaging mites are less likely to attach themselves to leaves. My hobby is collecting information and I found this farming method on the internet. This farming method was originally used for other crops, but I thought it might work for tea as well. It’s been 4-5 years since I first used it, and I can feel the effect on the field.

Sprout Ice Cream Kimono

Nakayama: Tea buds are sensitive to cold. Gradual cold weather towards the end of the year is when next year’s buds sprout, but if the first frost falls here, next year’s buds will be badly damaged. Therefore, when the temperature reaches 0 degrees, I sprinkle water on the field to temporarily freeze the buds. The natural frost would drop the temperature to minus 2 or 3 degrees, but my action prevents the buds from going below 0 degrees. It was as if the shoots were wearing kimonos. I think this method of cultivation is a privilege for fields that can provide abundant water 365 days a year. Our field is near a dam, so this method is possible for us.

If the 1st crop (ichibancha) is damaged, the year will have to start with the 2nd crop (nibancha), and the taste and aroma of the tea will change.

Philosophy of tea making

Nakayama: After cultivating the tea using our new cultivation methods, the leaves are steamed, kneaded, and heated at the factory, but here I have to act manually on the process. We taste the unrefined tea several times a day, determine its peculiarities and finely adjust the steaming method. Sometimes we have to taste up to the equivalent of a basin in total! However, this process is essential.

In the future, I think it would be fun to involve our consumers in our creative process. It would be great if you could come to Kumamoto and Kikuchi and drink tea while watching our fields. I also like to take on new challenges. I have a tea drying machine, and therefore, I took the opportunity to also produce dried fruits from local fruits. I am also very interested in foreign markets and I actively use social networks such as Facebook.