Uji in Kyoto is the oldest center of tea production in Japan, and today is home to Mitoku’s tea plantation. Tea from Uji is the most celebrated of all Japan’s teas; “Uji tea” is considered a synonym for green tea of the very highest quality. The founder of Mitoku’s tea plantation, Aijiro Nagata, was born and raised up in Uji. He grew up working in the tea business, starting in early childhood. His unwavering passion for tea making is what created the Mitoku Organic Japanese green tea sold today.
He established a tea business with his son and together they set their sights on producing Japanese tea that was organically grown and processed, tea that was so safe that their beloved family could drink it without any worry or fear of harm. First and foremost, the most important factor for tea making is to find outstanding soil. After months of persistent searching in Uji, Kyoto, they discovered the ideal tea fields that would enable them to make high-quality tea while satisfying the conditions needed for organic farming.
First of all, their fields were in the perfect location in terms of the effect of the morning mist. The morning mist provides natural shade from the sun, enabling the tea leaves to produce higher levels of amino acids and chlorophyll as they grow. These are the properties which are responsible for producing the characteristic umami-rich taste and beautiful green color, respectively, of Japanese tea.
Secondly, the fields have steep slopes, which ensure the soil is well-drained and therefore very suitable to tea cultivation. The slopes also aid good air circulation, which helps to prevent pests damaging the leaves.
Thirdly, the location of tea fields, isolated from other non-organic fields, means a reduced possibility of cross contamination from pesticides.
Eventually, the Nagatas succeeded in securing outstanding fields for tea cultivation, blessed with great soil which is ideal for producing organic Japanese tea without fear of poor quality or contamination.
Most tea farmers spray their plants with chemicals fifteen to twenty times a year, but Mitoku’s tea producer has rejected chemical agriculture completely. They do not use animal manures, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides; they replenish the nutrients in their topsoil with vegetable-quality compost only. Nature farming stresses the importance of building soil vitality by maintaining a semi-wild natural environment. Plants are not overly protected or pampered but are allowed to fend for themselves with the help of a strong, balanced topsoil.
They insist that it is not necessary to prune tea bushes uniformly, instead preferring to allow each bush to grow according to its own pattern. Although they harvest a little less tea than similar-sized farms that use chemical methods, their plants have far less mold and blight. Further, their tea plants usually produce tea leaves for twice as long a period of time as plants that have been chemically treated. Chemically treated tea plants generally burn themselves out in about twenty years, but organic plants commonly produce for forty years, some for as long as one hundred.
The Nagatas encountered many difficulties in making nutritious compost that was pesticide-free, and also struggled as the tea plants reacted poorly to organic farming. Despite these setbacks, they persevered because they were encouraged by the strength of those tea plants which did thrive. At last, their first harvest time arrived in May.
While this first crop did not yield a large volume, the tea leaves they were able to harvest had an overwhelming vitality in aroma and taste.
In this way the Nagatas were able to begin organic tea farming, despite it being very rare at the time. Their endeavors were the polar opposite of the growing trend towards industrialized mass production.
Today, Nagata tea—made by the third generation with the very same passion and perseverance shown by founder Aijiro—is highly praised throughout Japan and beyond. The Nagatas continue to supply tea which can be enjoyed without worrying about quality or the presence of pesticides.