Who is Mr. Sakamoto?
We have some exciting news here at Sei Mee Tea, and of course, it has to do with our lovely Japanese Teas…
This month we are bringing on four distinctive new teas from the Sakamoto Tea Farm that we visited this spring during our trip to Japan.
We are so excited to be bringing on this top-quality Gyokuro tea and Matcha. These teas were grown with much love and intent by Shuichiro Sakamoto, a 3rd generation tea grower in the prefecture of Kagoshima on Kyushu Island, the most southern of the main islands of Japan.
Mr. Sakamoto has been touting that only a “tea leaf full of life” can make healthful tea. How can you tell the difference between lifeless tea and tea that provides you the energy of life? Read on to find the answer.
What is Gyokuro? How beneficial is it for you?
Sakamoto’s signature products are shade-grown teas, Gyokuro, and Matcha. Gyokuro is regarded as the highest quality loose leaf green tea, and most challenging to make organically.
Gyokuro, translating to “Jade Dew,” is known to be one of the highest grades of green tea grown in Japan. Dating back to 1835, “Gyokuro” was first invented by a man named Yamamoto Kahei (6th) in Kyoto, Japan. Gyokuro stands apart from other Japanese green teas because of the combination of two remarkable techniques; “shading process” and “Sencha method.” Shading process during the last days of its growth cycle is to increase Umami (ooh-mah-mee), savory flavor, in the leaf. “Sencha method” brings two benefits to the tea leaf: 1) steaming process to treat oxidation enzyme so that the leaf stays as green and fresh as possible, and 2) rolling while drying in order to break down the cells so more fragrance and flavor are extracted when the leaf is brewed.
Compared to other brewed green tea, Gyokuro is high in L-theanine and makes a good balance of calm alertness. The very best Gyokuro, such as “Tea Master Gyokuro” from Sakamoto Farm as shown below, offers you a pleasant complexity in flavor: vegetal, savory, sweet, and fruity. You will enjoy quality Gyokuro when you would like to enjoy pleasant, sustainable energy with the sophisticated taste of high-grade green tea.
This is how “Samurai Tea Master” was born!
Here’s the quick history of Sakamoto Tea Farm: Mr. Sakamoto took over the family business in the mid-1980s. At that time, his farm was growing “conventional teas,” which means non-organic teas. Tea, especially green tea, is known as “healthy.” He thought all the teas are healthy until he lost his mother and niece due to cancer, one after another.
He said, “I was shocked–I thought I was growing healthy tea. But I lost two loved ones. While I was mourning, I made a pledge to myself to make truly healthy tea from then on.”
And he converted his tea farm into total organic so his teas would be tasty and healthful. In order to achieve this goal, he took a huge risk–cutting the size of his tea farm in half so he could put more time and effort into his farm.
Pledge to make tea full of life and flavor
Making quality tea organically doesn’t happen overnight. The decision that he reduced the size of the farm was made some 30 years ago. He has been perfecting his method since. Despite the fact that non-organic tea is still common on the market after 30 years, Mr. Sakamoto is diligently advocating the importance of quality over quantity
The biggest challenge of growing organic tea is the “rich flavor.” It may sound odd, but “conventional tea” or “non-organic tea” often tastes better than organically grown tea. Why? Because non-organic tea uses synthetic fertilizers that enhance the flavor.
Mr. Sakamoto’s solution to this problem was changing the soil completely.
His diligent commitment over the 30 years may sound tiring, but he says every effort brings him joy. Everyone has their own definition of a “Tea Master” but here at Sei Mee Tea, we feel that Mr. Sakamoto is a brave Tea Master, growing his teas with the same intent and passion that we pride ourselves in and want to share with our customers.
Key to growing the very best tea #1: Soil
Good nutritious soil is the base of a healthy plant. It sounds obvious, but not all the tea farmers have skills, knowledge, and willingness to invest time and energy to manage healthy soil organically.
At Sakamoto’s farm, they pride themselves in their own “bokashi” fertilizer, which roughly translates to “fermented organic matter”. This bokashi uses organic food composts including rice bran and indigenous microorganisms, which is one of the key ingredients in his nutrient-rich Gyokuro. This bokashi is the only fertilizer used on his plants and is free of chemicals and pesticides found in many other tea farmers’ soils. Mr. Sakamoto found unhealthy, weak plants attract more pests than healthy, strong plants do. In addition to his bokashi, he also grinds up carefully selected, mineral-rich rocks to mix in with his soil, adding essential minerals as well as assisting in the flow of water, microorganisms, and nutrients in his soil.
Mr. Sakamoto’s soil process creates a very soft yet nutrient-dense environment for the roots to prosper. He will proudly demonstrate the softness of his soil by sticking a 6-foot piece of bamboo into his soil with no trouble at all!
Key to growing the very best tea #2: Shading Technique
Over the years of experiments, Sakamoto has mastered the most advanced shading techniques to achieve the complex, rich umami in tea leaves. Traditionally, Gyokuro is shaded for the last 20 days of its growing period before being harvested. At Sakamoto’s farm, they use a three-tier shading method, where they start with one layer of shade during the first week and increase a layer each week. By the third week, the tea is completely closed off from all sunlight which is where the magic of Sakamoto Gyokuro really takes place! The purpose of this shading process is to keep the L-theanine intact.
To break this down a little more for you…
L-theanine is produced underground in the root system. It then moves up into the leaves. Once L-theanine begins interacting with sunlight, the photosynthesis that occurs converts the L-theanine into catechins. Catechins are well-known antioxidants that are found densely in matcha (and we love it!) but that is not what we are looking for in Gyokuro. L-theanine is responsible for the umami or savory flavor for which Gyokuro is known for. L-theanine is also well known for its assistance in dealing with ailments such as anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders among many others.
During this shading time, chlorophyll is also increased, giving Gyokuro that bright jade color both in plant and tea form!
Key to growing the very best tea #3: Harvest only once each year
The third aspect of Mr. Sakamoto’s growing techniques that brings you powerful tea is the fact that they only harvest once per year. Because the shading process of Gyokuro puts a bit of stress on the plants, Mr. Sakamoto emphasizes the importance of only harvesting once per year to ensure less stress on the plants which in turn, keeps the nutrient levels high each year when he does harvest.
Power of Sakamoto Tea
Mr. Sakamoto has found tea leaf properly cared and nurtured is not only flavorful but also full of life.
Here is a photo of Mr. Sakamoto’s Gyokuro next to another farm’s Gyokuro. These plants were harvested two weeks before this picture was taken and as you can see Mr. Sakamoto’s tea leaves are still vibrant and very much so alive, which is what we want when drinking this tea for the purpose of its amazing, healing nutrients. The other farm’s tea leaves died off within days of being cut down! I don’t know about you but I prefer to consume plants that are full of life, and vitality. Not dead energy! I feel that this picture says it all in demonstrating the top quality well-loved and cared for tea that Mr. Sakamoto is providing for us!
Mr. Sakamoto’s sincere effort to offer healthy nutrient-rich tea is getting discovered by tea professionals. Be one of the first in the U.S. to try his magnificent teas!
Below you will find the descriptions of our four new teas from his farm and a special coupon code for 20% on these new products!
Experience the power of health and flavor from Sakamoto tea farm in four ways:
The ultimate experience of Green Tea when you want the very best
This Gyokuro loose leaf tea is Mr. Sakamoto’s signature product. This tea is a full-bodied tea with a lovely umami lingering aftertaste.
Satisfying Umami from Gyokuro for a lower price–this is your “everyday Gyokuro”
Karigane tea is made with stems from Gyokuro tea. It is known as a “Hidden treasure of the Japanese tea culture.” This tea is naturally sweet and buttery with a bright green dew. Due to the lower caffeine level in stems, Karigane offers blissful richness, natural sweetness, and calm alertness.
The superior and rare cultivar, Saemidori, in powder form to savor flavor and health
This Matcha, SAÉ is made by slow grinding the leaves of Mr. Sakamoto’s Gyokuro tea. As the name SAÉ suggests, this matcha uses “Saemidori (sah-eh-mee-do-ree)” cultivar. Saemidori cultivar is regarded as “premium” because of the brighter green color and its smooth umami flavor. This tea has smooth and creamy umami, providing ultimate excellence.
Sakamoto’s Gyokuro in powder form (to get the whole nutrition)
Organic Matcha, CHA KA (cha-ka), which means “tea flower” in Japanese, is made from organic Gyokuro by Mr. Sakamoto. His tireless devotion manifests itself throughout the process from making soil to grinding leaf slowly by the traditional method.
With each cup you drink, you are filled with the passion, life, and integrity that Mr. Sakamoto has instilled into his soil, plants, and farming techniques!
“The professional (tea grower)” is those who make delicious tea organically, with no help from chemical fertilizers. To achieve this goal, I go back to the basics tirelessly.” by Shuichiro Sakamoto, Samurai Tea Master
An Introduction to Bokashi Fertilizers and Soil Amendments. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.echocommunity.org/en/resources/37c02403-87b6-4c69-b0bd-0878694a93f3