March 10, 2023
Unexpected Teas from Yakushima, Japan
Yakushima 屋久岛 is a small island off of Kagoshima, in southern Japan. It is a World Heritage Site, and well known as home to an ancient forest that sustains one of the oldest known living trees in the world, and yet Yakushima remains somewhat of an elusive destination on account of being so remote.
The ferry ride to Yakushima from Kagoshima is 3 hours long. I journeyed to the island in the beginning of January 2023 and stayed for 5 days.
The first 3 days of my visit were spent hiking the mountains, exploring the ancient forests and the tropical flora, and driving along the island’s gorgeous coastline.
I was in complete awe of the beauty of Yakushima; the diversity of the vegetation and plants, mixed with the dynamics of a landscape punctuated by lush and wave-like mountains that flatten out into expansive beaches, quieted me. And on top of all that, there were the cutest monkeys, grooming each other in groups along the roads.
Before going there I had no idea that Yakushima had tea farms and grew tea. But when I arrived I saw that there were a few tea shops selling local teas. My first encounter with Yakushima’s tea was at a cafe by the ocean. I had just finished a hike to Janokuchi Waterfall, and enjoyed handmade soba noodle teishouku for lunch.
I drove along the coast to a small cafe on the water and saw that they offered tea from Yakushima, an “Earl Grey.” Needless to say, I was intrigued. I have never ordered an Earl Grey tea, but I had seen that the cafe had packets of the tea for sale, and the few words that I could read on the packaging were “Yakushima Deep Mountain Farm,” and “Natural cultivation,” so I was determined to try it.
The Earl Grey turned out to be a delightful surprise. It was gentle, rounded, and layered with well balanced and very pretty citrus notes. Compelled by this experience, I spent the next hour attempting to find this small tea farm.
As the labels professed, it was tucked deep in the mountains – the winding roads I took to get there were very narrow, and there were several points on this journey when I thought about turning back. But the beauty of the high mountains and the bright, contrasting clouds against the sky kept me driving further and further. I finally reached what I recognized as small plots of tea. There were only a handful of them, all facing the ocean, with tall sugi and bamboo trees to their backs. I was struck by the small scale of this tea farm, and how serene it felt to be there, overlooking the ocean, with the chirping of birds traveling along such a fresh and clarifying breeze. I knew I had come to the right place, and I now understood why the tea farm was called “Deep Mountain.”