Mr. Sakamoto is a legendary green tea producer. He's specially known for his gyokuro from Shibushi, a small town in southern Japan. After traveling around Japan for the past few years and sampling dozens of different gyokuro teas, we have found that the ones produced by Mr. Sakamoto are the most flavorful. In addition to being delicious, these teas are also organically grown, without harming the natural ecosystem.
Sakamoto Green Tea: the Origin Story
Before we talk about Sakamoto green tea, we first have to talk about Mr. Sakamoto himself. When we met with Mr. Sakamoto, we got a chance to sit down with him and hear his story. He grew up on this tea field with his brother and the two of them helped the family grow and produce green tea. It was here that he first began to hone his skills as a tea farmer, but he noticed something happening on the field.
Mr. Sakamoto explained that members from his family were struck with certain illness, and in some cases cancer. He believed that the chemicals they used on the tea field were partly to blame. He created this painting as a tribute to his niece, who he lost to a battle with cancer. The painting depicts her as a strong warrior, ready to do battle. Sakamoto was determined to make sure her fight was not in vain, and when it was his turn to take over the family business, he decided to go completely organic.
This presented a series of challenges for Mr. Sakamoto to overcome. Sakamoto green tea mostly focuses on the production of the best gyokuro in the World, which has becomes famous for its strong sweet and savory flavor. This flavor is developed during the long shading process, which takes place 3 weeks before the tea harvesting.
When the gyokuro plant is exposed to sunlight, it begins to convert theanine into catechins. Catechins are the bitter components within the tea leaf, so if a farmer needs to produce a smoother and sweeter tea, he will cover the tea plants in shade, protecting them from the sun. This minimizes the production of catechins and maximizes the sweet and savory theanine.
With gyokuro, it is incredibly difficult to keep the tea plant alive and healthy without sunlight. A lot of farmers solve this problem by applying chemical fertilizers to the plants, but because Sakamoto tea is completely organic, he has to use other methods.
Sakamoto tea fertilizer
The Sakamoto tea fertilizer is the genius solution to the problem of keeping the tea plants alive. There is an abundance of sedimentary rock in Mr. Sakamoto's region, and one day he came up with an idea. Because sedimentary rock is a collection of nutrients built up over millions of years, in theory it could be used to provide nutrients back to the soil. The mulched sediments needed another ingredient to activate it, and for this Mr. Sakamoto leaned on the traditional Japanese method of bokashi fertilization. This uses leftover organic waste such as rice husks.
After trying a few different methods, Mr. Sakamoto finally found a tea fertilizer that worked. He noticed that this fertilizer not only made the tea plants stronger and healthier, but the tea itself takes on an extremely rich flavor. In order to test the tea plants, he will take a clipping from his tea field and compare it with a clipping from a non-organic tea field. After spending just a few weeks out of the soil, the non-organic tea plant will begin to wilt and die, and the organic tea plant will still retain its leaves and color.
The success of the Sakamoto tea fertilizer
The Sakamoto tea fertilizer has become so successful that other farmers will purchase it for use in their own fields. Mr. Sakamoto not only notices a difference in the health of the tea plants, but the entire tea field as well. He demonstrates this by sticking a bamboo pole 5 feet into the ground without meeting much resistance. When he stopped applying chemicals to the tea field, the earthworms and small insects were able to thrive and move around the soil which loosened it up. This creates a healthier, more diverse ecosystem, but also allows the roots of the tea plant to penetrate deeper into the soil and absorb more nutrients.
When you compare this to tea fields that use pesticides and chemicals, you will notice hard, black earth with nothing growing other than tea. We believe that a tea field should not only support great tea, but also a diverse array of local flora and fauna.
Production of Sakamoto green tea
As we mentioned before, the specialty of Sakamoto green tea is gyokuro. After the 3 week shading process, the work has only just begun. The top 3 leaves of the tea plant are now selected, as these are the highest in nutrients and the sweetest in flavor. These leaves are gathered and taken through a cleaning and steaming process.
As soon as the tea leaves are harvested, they will begin to oxidize and eventually turn into a black tea. When heat is applied, the enzymes that cause oxidation are deactivated and the oxidation process is stopped, allowing the leaves to retain their green tea color and fresh vegetable taste characteristics. With Chinese green teas, it is common to heat the leaves in a large pan, whereas with Japanese green teas the steaming method is more common.
How Gyokuro tea is Produced
Once the leaves are steamed, they are taken through a controlled drying process at a low heat. If the heat is too hot, the leaves will bake and the flavor will change. The humidity within the leaves needs to be taken down from 70% to about 4-7%. These dry leaves store much better and they soak up more water, allowing them to infuse properly. Right before the leaves are finished drying, while they are still pliable, they are rolled to produce their final shape. Most Japanese green teas have a needle shape to them, but this shape is especially apparent with gyokuro. This is because gyokuro goes through an additional rolling process with a machine specifically designed to give it these tight needle shaped leaves.
These leaves need a full 2 minutes to expand and fully release their flavor into the water. They release a strong, dense infusion that is unique to Gyokuro. The flavor is described as being savory with hints of seaweed, almost like a hearty miso soup. This flavor is unique in the world of tea, and it comes from the high concentration of amino acids in the leaves.
Mr. Sakamoto green tea list
Now that we have discussed how mr sakamoto green tea is grown, let’s talk about the different types! We’re going to start by covering the classic sakamoto tea, and then we’ll venture into some of the newer ones!
Gyokuro Cha Musume
The gyokuro cha musume is the most popular gyokuro from Mr. Sakamoto. This tea is made from the common Yabukita cultivar, which produces a strong umami flavor and a little bit of this vegetable flavor. This tea takes on a straight to the point umami flavor, so if you are looking for a tea that has some strength to it, this is the one for you.
Gyokuro Sasa Hime
The second most popular sakamoto tea is the Gyokuro Sasa Hime. By now, you might be familiar with how different tea cultivars and how they contribute different flavors to the tea. The Sasa hime is made by blending 3 different tea cultivars together to take the best aspects of each. As a result, this tea becomes more complex, with a strong umami from the yabukita, a delicate sweetness from the saemidori and a round fruitiness from the okumidori.
Gyokuro Cha Meijin
The gyokuro cha meijin is the third most popular Sakamoto green tea. This is known as “the masters tea” and it is made entirely from the Saemidori cultivar. The saemidori has the reputation of having one of the sweetest and most delicate flavors, and it is typically reserved for premium gyokuro and matcha tea. The saemidori has a warm sweetness to it, with notes of caramel and brown sugar.
The Gyokuro karigane is a great Sakamoto green tea if you are looking to try something a bit different. This tea is made with a combination of the leaves and stems of the tea plant. While a normal gyokuro would have a strong savory flavor and a high caffeine content, the addition of the stems reduces the caffeine content of the tea, and makes the flavor milder. This tea also works great as a cold brew in the summertime!
The gyokuro kukicha is the final classic Sakamoto green tea. This tea is made with more stems than Karigane, which gives the tea a milder and drier flavor. Although it doesn’t have as much sweetness as a gyokuro or karigane, the kukicha makes up for it with its strong minerality and floral tasting notes. This is a great low caffeine tea to enjoy, particularly in the afternoon.
New teas Mr. Sakamoto is producing
Although Mr. Sakamoto has some great classic teas, one of the reasons we like working with him is because he is never afraid to try new things. During our last visit, he had recently installed 3 new matcha mills. Because matcha and gyokuro both have similar production processes, he began experimenting with his own blend of matcha. After sampling the teas over the past few years, we are excited to announce that he has cracked the code, and the matcha from Mr. Sakamoto is now among some of the best we’ve had around Japan.
Sakamoto Matcha Sae
The Sakamoto Matcha Sae is the highest grade matcha from Mr. Sakamoto, made entirely from the Saemidori cultivar. It has an incredibly green color to it and a very light and sweet taste.
Sakamoto Matcha Hime
The Sakamoto Matcha Hime is the second highest grade matcha produce by Mr. Sakamoto. Like the Sasa Hime, this matcha is made from a blend of the Saemidori, Yabukita and Okumidori. While not as sweet as the Sae, this tea is more nuanced, with a milky finish and it has a very vibrant green color.
The Gyokuro Wakamusha is a relatively new Sakamoto tea that is becoming quite popular. While the Saemidori has more of this warm sweetness, the Wakamusha has more of a cooling sweetness, with notes of cantaloupe and honeydew. This tea is made entirely from the Okumidori cultivar, which is known for producing smooth and well-balanced tea with a nice fruitiness to them.
New teas Mr. Sakamoto is working on
In addition to producing teas, Mr. Sakamoto has another role to fill as well. He is currently the president of the Kagoshima organic tea growers association. With this role, Mr. Sakamoto not only helps to supervise other organic tea growers around Kagoshima, but he also helps the government with tea research.
New Cultivar of Sakamoto Green Tea
During our last visit to Mr. Sakamoto, he had a field of small tea plants that he was taking care of. This is a brand new cultivar he is experimenting on, and once the tea plant reaches maturity, he will turn it into a brand new type of tea and report his findings to the government of Kagoshima. Hopefully one day, he will be credited with the creation of an entirely new variety of green tea!
I hope you all enjoyed this article. If you haven’t already, we would really appreciate it if you could try some Sakamoto green tea for yourself and let us know what you think. When you order tea from Nio, you are not only supporting us, but you are also helping us to support the dozens of talented farmers that we work with like Mr. Sakamoto. We hope that by spreading his message, and sharing his tea we can allow him to continue all his hard work, while also sharing delicious green tea with people all around the world.
Thank you for writing such a thorough and interesting article. I loved learning about Mr Sakamoto and the Sakamoto teas I’ve been enjoying. I just have one question: when you write “He created this painting as a tribute to his niece,” did you mean to share an image of the painting? I’d love to see it!