Saitama Prefecture’s Japanese tea production is about 1% of the domestic production. Saitama is not a prefecture with a large production volume, but ‘Sayama tea’ is one of the three major teas in Japan along with ‘Shizuoka tea’ and ‘Uji tea’ and is also recognized as one of the top production areas of high-quality Japanese tea.
The production in Saitama is small because of its location.
In areas such as Kagoshima Prefecture, where climate and sunshine are favorable, tea can be harvested up to five times a year, while in Saitama, which is a cold region for producing tea, it can only harvest twice a year.
In addition to this, due to the small cultivation area, the amount of tea production has to be small.
Features of Sayama-cha(Tea in Saitama Prefecture)
Saitama Prefecture, and Sayama in particular, is a somewhat unusual tea producing area from our point of view.
In this issue, we will introduce the characteristics of Sayama tea from our perspective of meeting with dozens of producers throughout Japan every year.
An attractive flavor of Sayama tea
There is an old song that goes, “Tea in Shizuoka for the color, Uji for the aroma, and Sayama for the flavor.” The song describes the characteristics of Shizuoka, Uji, and Sayama teas, the three most famous teas in Japan.
The reason for this is the soil quality and cold climate.
In the Sayama area, where poorly drained soil from the Kanto Loam layer is deposited, the leaf flesh grows thick, which has the disadvantage that it is difficult to produce beautiful tea with needle-like pinnacles like in other areas.
On the other hand, the thick leaves are also rich in nutrients, and the flavor remains strong even after the second or third brew, which is a characteristic of Sayama tea.
The strong flavor produced from the soil is the best feature of Sayama tea, which has been appreciated for a long time.
Many farmers produce and sell their own tea leaves
The characteristic of tea farmers in Sayama is that many of them produce their own tea leaves, finish them by themselves, and sell them by themselves.
In Sayama, which is located near the center of the city, there are many small-scale farmers because it is not possible to have a large area of tea farm, and the cultivation area per farmer is the smallest among the major production areas. Therefore, many tea growers sell their tea at their own stores or online stores, or at local direct sales outlets or commercial facilities.
This means that they are free from the constraints of the tea trade and the tea market, and they are free to produce their own teas while directly meeting the needs of their consumers.
Some growers produce black tea and oolong tea, while others produce wilted tea, which is not part of the normal sencha process, to bring out the aroma of the tea.
The quintessence of Sayama tea, Sayama fire-roasting
The word “Sayama hi-ire(fire roasting)” is often heard in reference to Sayama tea. This refers to the traditional fire-roasting technique handed down in Sayama tea, and the flavor and aroma of Sayama tea were created by this technique.
In the days when there were no fire-roasting machines, fire-roasting was done by hand using a tool called a “hoiro”. Normally, the tea is heaped up in the roasting furnace and then turned upside down to dry, but this has the disadvantage that the thick leaves of Sayama tea are difficult to dry. Therefore, the tea is heated by rubbing it against the roasting furnace, which scratches the surface of the tea, so that the moisture can be easily extracted.
The tea produced in this way has a whitish surface and is well drained of water, so its quality does not change even after long-term transportation, and it was highly evaluated overseas.
Nowadays, when fire-roasting machines are commonly used, it is said that “hi-ire” means “strong hi-ire,” and the meaning of the term has changed with the times.
History of green tea production in Saitama Prefecture
It is said that the green tea production in Saitama prefecture started in the Kamakura period.
It was triggered by the tea tree planted by the Priest Myoe in Kawagoe.
During the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties, the green tea from Saitama was popularly known as ‘Kawagoe Tea’ and from around this time, it was known as the tea production area of the eastern provinces.
It was in the late Edo period that tea cultivation started in earnest in Saitama. YOSHIKAWA Yoshizumi and MURANO Morimasa of Miyadera in Iruma City have succeeded in mass-producing of steamed green tea, adopting methods from Uji, Kyoto. Gradually, tea cultivation became popular as a specialty of Saitama prefecture, and areas where tea was cultivated also expanded.
During the Meiji period, Kawagoe tea was integrated into the ‘Sayama tea’ brand for export, and has become a representative crop of Saitama.
Tea-growing areas in Saitama Prefecture
The green tea growing area of Saitama is scattered all over the prefecture, but the main one is around Iruma City where the Sayama tea is cultivated.
“Sayama tea” is made mainly in Sayama City, Iruma City and Tokorozawa City in western part of Saitama Prefecture.
Although it is called Sayama tea, its cultivation is more popular in Iruma than in Sayama, because Iruma has a lot of rain and is well drained, making it suitable for green tea cultivation.
There is a Sayama tea picking song that is said ‘Shizuoka has the finest color, Uji is the finest fragrance, and the tea with the best taste is Sayama’ which is highly evaluated for its deep flavor.
Sayama tea has a unique finishing technique called ‘Sayama Biire’(roasting method). It is a traditional method to heat strongly in the process of finishing green tea. This makes the tea rich and flavorful.