While we have greatly come to enjoy green tea since moving to Japan, we realized we didn’t really know anything about it.  So in an effort to educate ourselves, we visited a green tea plantation in Shizuoka prefecture, an area that produces 40% of Japan’s green tea.  Unfortunately, the tour did not teach us much about green tea, but we did get to pick our own tea leaves!

(If it wasn’t raining, we were supposed to wear these to pick the green tea. But it was raining…)

It was a rainy and yucky day, but despite the weather, the fields of green tea were still beautiful.  I didn’t even realize green tea grew on regular looking bushes (that were perfectly crafted into rounded rows, of course). The first leaves of the spring are the most expensive, supposedly providing for the finest of green tea, and we were lucky enough to visit during the first harvest.  Apparently, green tea connoisseurs will pay almost $100 a cup to enjoy the first leaves of the season, artfully hand ground into a fine tea.  I guess green tea is a bit like fine wine, though I’m not sure I will ever be a connoisseur.

After the factory tour, our guide instructed us on how to properly pick tea leaves.  We learned to pick the top four leaves, and the guides spent a significant amount of time explaining this to us.  I think there must have been something lost in translation, because he seemed to be doing a lot of talking, and all I got out of it was we were supposed to be picking the top four leaves.  Finally we headed outside and began to pick.  The rain discouraged us from picking a lot, and I wish we had picked a bit more than we did.  It wasn’t nearly as exciting as picking other things, because unlike picking fruit, you weren’t enticed to eat the sweet delicacies as you picked.  Although they did encourage us to eat a leaf off of the bush and James did.  He said it tasted just like a regular leaf.  I believed him and declined the opportunity to eat a green tea leaf right off of the bush.

After ten minutes in the rain, we headed back inside with our little bags of green tea leaves to learn about the process of turning those leaves into green tea.  We were given an awesome cup of green tea and a sheet of paper with directions on how to make it at home.  That was the extent of our education on green tea making, but we did go home and give it a try.

We bought sushi roll mats, and equipped with our directions, we began steaming the leaves.  After a good steaming, we ground/kneaded them in the sushi rolls for a few minutes until they started crumbling.  Between each kneading (three total) we put the leaves back on the stove to dry them out.  This took about 30 minutes per cup of tea, but I think it was worth it.

Steam, knead, dry, knead, dry, knead, dry….TEA!  We burned our first batch, but the second batch turned out great!  There is something special about drinking an amazing cup of green tea with the satisfaction of knowing that you picked the leaves and made the tea yourself.