As you may know, great quality teas come from great tea fertilizer. After traveling around Japan for the past few years and meeting with dozens of farmers, we have learned a thing or two about tea fertilizer. 🍃🍵
In this article, we are going to be talking a bit about tea fertilizer, and how different farmers use different techniques to create the perfect tea fertilizer for their field. Let’s get started!
What is a tea fertilizer?
One way farmers ensure their plants can absorb enough nutrients is by using tea fertilizers. Organic farmers often use recycled plant matter as an alternative to chemical tea fertilizer.
This natural, organic tea fertilizer not only improves the strength of the tea plant, but also it recycles nutrients from the ecosystem and ensures less material is wasted.
How tea fertilizer Works?
Before we talk about the different types of tea fertilizers, let’s briefly discuss how they work and what they are used for. All plants need certain amounts of nutrients in order to carry out basic function and growth. These nutrients must be delivered to the plant in different quantities. Too few nutrients creates deficiency and too much nutrients can lead to toxicity. The right balance of nutrients can be achieved through tea fertilizer.
Tea fertilizer is a supplement containing nutrients that are essential for basic metabolic processes within tea plants. Tea fertilizer can either be applied to the soil or it can be applied to the leaves of the plant. The nutrients can then be taken into the plant through their roots or leaves and continue all of the necessary processes that go on within the cells of the tea plant.
Why We Work with Farmers that Use Organic Tea Fertilizer:
During our travels throughout Japan, we have visited both organic and non-organic tea fields. We have found that the tea fields that use pesticides and chemical tea fertilizers often damage the surrounding ecosystem. The tea field is full of hard, black earth, with nothing growing on it other than the tea plants themselves.
When farmers grow tea with organic tea fertilizer we find that the tea field can be home to a diverse array of plant and animal life. There are small herbs and flowers growing between the rows of the tea plants, plenty of insects, birds and even larger animals coming to graze on the plants within the field. The soil is also much lighter and softer, meaning that the roots of the tea plant are able to penetrate deeper and absorb more nutrients. We like to think that by working with farmers that use organic tea fertilizer, we are helping to make the tea industry more sustainable.
Japanese farmers and their fertilizers:
Shizuoka Tea Fertilizer
Shizuoka is the prefecture of Japan right next to Tokyo, and is home to some of the largest tea plantations in all of Japan. In addition to being home to larger tea fields, it is also home to some smaller tea fields as well. Today we are going to be checking in on a husband and wife who own a small tea field on their property, and use organic tea fertilizer to tend to the field in a more natural, sustainable way.
This couple switched to organic farming 25 years ago when their first child was born. They were concerned the pesticides they put on the tea field could be harmful to the health of their kids, so they decided to switch to safer, organic tea fertilizers.
Rather than introducing new elements into the tea field, the farmers simply use the plants that grow on the field naturally and use those to fertilize the tea plant. Here you can see all the different plants that were mulched and placed between the rows of the tea field. This keeps the plants strong and healthy, without introducing new material to the ecosystem.
Mr. Issin Tea Fertilizer
Next up, we would be headed to Takachiho, a small village in the mountainous Miyazaki prefecture. This area is famous for its production of a rare pan-fired green tea called 'Kamairicha'. This tea is made up in the mountains of Takachiho, by Mr. Issin and his family. Mr. Issin is very careful about the ingredients he uses in his tea fertilizer. He makes a compost out of discarded rice hulls, and other leftover food scraps. This not only minimizes food waste on the farm, but also returns nutrients to the soil to make sure it is not depleted. He makes sure that all of the ingredients in his tea fertilizer are pesticide free and non-GMO.
With all this attention to detail, Mr. Issin is able to craft beautiful roasted green teas. Unlike most Japanese green teas, this tea is pan fired, giving it some warmer notes of hazelnut and caramel. He also produces a fully roasted tea called Hojicha. This tea is as dark as coffee, and produces an incredibly powerful taste.
Mr. Sakamoto Tea Fertilizer
We continue our journey to the small town of Shibushi, to meet a talented farmer named Mr. Sakamoto. Mr. Sakamoto has been working in the tea industry since he was a little boy, and when it was his turn to take over the family farm, he decided to turn it completely organic. This was not quite as easy as it sounds, as Mr. Sakamoto specialized in the production of Gyokuro, the highest quality leaf tea in Japan. This tea is cut off from sunlight for 3 weeks prior to the harvest, in order to develop more chlorophyll and theanine. This gives the tea a sweeter and more savory flavor, but it takes a lot of skill to keep the plant healthy during this long shading process. For this reason, most farmers use chemicals and pesticides to support the growth of the plant and as a result, it is quite rare to find good quality organic Gyokuro.
Mr. Sakamoto came up with an innovative solution. He found out a way to create a tea fertilizer out of sedimentary rock, which is essentially just a buildup of plant and animal material over millions of years. This is nutrient rich, but it needs to be activated. Sakamoto then adds another ingredient, a special type of 'Bokashi' tea fertilizer made from soybeans. This creates a supercharged tea fertilizer that keeps the plants strong and healthy, even throughout the long shading process. He demonstrates the strength of the organic tea plants by comparing organic vs. non organic tea plants. The organic plant stays strong and healthy even after it is picked, while the non-organic plant begins to lose its leaves even after being out of the ground for only a week.
Mr. Sakamoto will often judge the quality of a tea just by examining the leaf. He says that tea leaves that grow without the use of organic tea fertilizer are missing out on key nutrients, which makes the leaves weaker. He even likes to hold the tea leaves up to the light to see if they are translucent. This means that the tea leaf has a lower cellular density. The results speak for themselves, as Mr. Sakamoto’s tea hs made him a legend in this area. He now is in charge of the Kagoshima organic tea growing association, and leads initiatives to explore new varieties of tea plants and new production methods every year. Farmers even purchase Mr. Sakamoto's tea fertilizer for use in their own fields.
Zenkouen Tea Fertilizer
When we visited the farmer Zenkouen, we learned about a wide range of ingredients that can be used in the production of green tea. After touring the fields, we took a brief visit inside his shed to see the different types of materials he was using for his tea fertilizer. Although he did not make his own tea fertilizer completely from scratch, he did combine multiple ingredients into his own blend.
Tea plants need a variety of different micro and macronutrients, and these can be found across different materials. For example, phosphorous, calcium, potassium and magnesium are all macronutrients plants require. For calcium specifically, he uses ground up egg shells and seashells, but he will also blend this together with charcoal and konbu (seaweed). Just like people need to eat a balance of nutrients, so to do the tea plants need to get a balance of nutrients from the soil. The best way to do this is for the farmer to take good care of the soil and use great organic tea fertilizer.
Even though the methods are different, the mission is the same. The farmers want to create good quality tea, while only introducing natural elements to their tea field. By doing this, they can promote a balance between their tea field and the natural world. When you try our teas, you are not only supporting us, you are also supporting the dozens of farmers we work with. We hope that by sharing this tea with the whole world, we can create a greater appreciation for all the hard work done by these farmers and contribute to a healthier, more sustainable tea industry.