Tohei Maejima is a tea planter specializing in Gyokuro, the lovely shade grown green tea known for its sweet, rich flavor.
I’m not sure of Tohei’s age—he had that timeless look of someone who loves life–but he has been growing and making tea for over 60 years. He has a small tea farm in Okabe, Shizuoka Prefecture, but unlike most Japanese tea farmers, Tohei plants, cultivates, picks, processes and finishes his own tea. He gave us a tour of his tea-making workshop and carefully explained each piece of equipment. His tea is all hand-picked, but he uses modern machinery for most of his processing.
Tohei’s tea is sought all over the world and typically it is sold before his one annual harvest.
Tohei talked with us out on his viewing platform and gave us a summary of his guiding principles:
- Make customers very happy with tasty tea
- Make safe tea (to drink)
- Take good care of tea bushes
Tohei’s wife made us each a cup of Gyokuro while he talked. At one point Tohei left to go into the tea bushes and came out with a bundle of young branches. He proceeded to talk some more, but also to remove the lower leaves from the 12 inch branches and fashion them into “chopsticks”. We each received a pair of chopsticks and then were urged to use these to eat our tea leaves. Of course, they were delicious!
He entertained us in his home with more tea tasting, and as a special treat, we got to listen to a recorded song about him and his tea—written and sung by an avid tea fan.