Yakushima is a small island off of Kagoshima, in southern Japan. It is a World Heritage Site, and well known as home to ancient forest that sustains some of the oldest known Sugi trees in the world, and yet Yakushima remains somewhat of an elusive destination on account of being so remote.
I journeyed to the island in the beginning of January 2023 and stayed for 5 days. By chance, I discovered a small tea farm tucked deep in the mountains of Yakushima, and I am delighted to share with you in this tasting of three special black teas from this magical place on Yakushima.
1. "Earl Grey"
This is a special and highly localized take on “Earl Grey,” perhaps the most widely recognized tea in the Western world.
Yakushima Island is famous for the range of fascinating varieties of oranges and pomelos that grow there. The tea used to make it is Benifuuki black tea, and it is scented with essential oil naturally extracted from bergamot that is grown in the subtropical climate on Yakushima.
2. Bennifuuki Red
Bennifuuki is a traditional varietal of black tea that originated in Kagoshima, in Southern Japan. This Benifuuki is particularly special.
The tea farm is fully organic and does not use any pesticides or weeding agents in its farming practices. Therefore, insect bites on the tea leaves are inevitable, and the oxidation from insect-bitten leaves accentuate its honeyed and floral notes.
3. Zairai Red
Zairai tea trees have been cultivated in the Osumi Islands of Japan, (the archipelago of which Yakushima is a part), since ancient times. Most of the Zairai tea trees that remain in Japan are older, some of them surpassing one hundred years of age.
They are increasingly rare, primarily because Zairai trees yield only half of the tea that other varietals of tea trees produce.