Organic Green Tea - In Search of the Holy Grail


Our team takes pride and pleasure in having created an amazing collection of premium quality Japanese green teas. But many customers, new or returning, individuals or professionals, have one question in mind: do you have organic matcha? Do you plan to expand your selection of organic green tea?

First of all, yes, we do plan to propose more organic green teas, including matcha, in the coming months. This is a priority for us. But the truth is, authentic organic green tea from Japan is a bit of a white wolf: everybody’s talking about it, everybody wants it, but it’s rare and challenging to find.

Why is that? A few words about what ‘organic’ means. A certified organic farmer must follow strict rules regarding the use of chemicals and fertilisers when growing their crops (tea trees in our case). Stringent testing are conducted after every harvest to confirm the levels of residual chemicals on the leaves and in the final, processed tea.

Tea fields in Chiran, many different farmers work just close to each other

Organic tea farming costs a lot. Switching to organic farming even more: farmers need to uproot their tea trees and it takes up to three years only to be able to harvest again leaves. After that, it will take several years of adjustments to get the desired quality and taste again, if you are experienced. During all this time you may sell some older harvests, but it will hard to keep the farm afloat.

Then what you do is not enough: you have to worry about what your neighbours do, too. Cross-contamination is a real risk that becomes a painful reality now and then, in particular in a country where fields are small and land is scarce. Testing means that suddenly, your first, bountiful harvest of 2018 can fail to pass and you can’t label it as organic despite all your efforts.

To avoid this risk, fields need to be isolated, maybe even out of reach. This is what our producer Irie san in Yame did: he went up the mountain, far from everyone, because he didn’t want one single drop of chemical products on and inside his leaves.

Organic Green Tea field in Yame, Japan
Irie san's fields...nobody is around. But he had to actually build the road by HIMSELF to access the area.

In other words, not everyone is ready or willing to do organic tea farming. In an industry that is already struggling due to changing demographics, with ageing owners, only those who switched to organic 30-35 years ago (like Irie san in Yame or Orita san in Chiran), or the younger generation (like Miyazaki Sabo in Miyazaki) see the interest and potential. They understand the rising demand coming from overseas, the health benefits, but also the export hurdles when Japanese and foreign regulations don’t match.

There is also another, more philosophical reason behind this lag: like wine makers in France, Japanese tea farmers will tell you that organic green tea simply tastes different than teas they have spent generations finely tuning. Experts and professionals have certain expectations in relation to taste that might not be met. And while hard work and talent accumulated over decades can eventually fix this, it also makes farmers balk. Especially those specialised in gyokuro — we challenge you to find authentic organic hon dento gyokuro from Kyushu.

This deep-set reluctance, in particular from gyokuro growers, explains how hard it is to find authentic organic matcha. The leaves are grown like for gyokuro (shaded against sunlight). It is much harder to make them grow with neither the help of the sun nor chemicals. Not impossible, but more difficult and costly. Therefore, if you come across cheap organic matcha in your local store, you need to doubt the label. Even in Japan, it is a rare and expensive product.

Here at IKKYU, we source products that are traceable and properly certified. Aware of the need and interest for organic matcha, we are working on securing a reliable source of authentic, high-grade organic matcha. It will be our pleasure to introduce it to all our customers worldwide in a near future.

The road built by Irie san to access his fields (looking downwards).


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