An interview with Tohei Maejima –
3rd generation Gyokuro Master from the Shizuoka Region.
Mr. Maejima is a world champion Gyokuro Master 3 years in a row. We arrived at his tea garden just as he was finishing covering up one of his fields with the traditional rice stalk shading. This field will be shaded approximately 1 month. He picks the rice stalk and hand ties the shade cloth, it can not be purchased. That is why many of the fields are covered with the black plastic shade cloth. Mr. Maejima chooses the traditional way because it allows some light to get through as well as ventilation. The plastic covering will steam the plants on hot days. He says the price of Gyokuro does not change very much from either method but that the Gyokuro produced the traditional way will maintain its umami (essence of flavor) as it ages.
Mr Maejima opens one of the flaps
to show us some of his technique. He uses some of the tofu material discarded during the tofu making process as fertilizer. This is mixed in with a thick layer of organic compost matter. The tea plant is very healthy with many budding off-shoots. These will be hand picked at harvest time. He points out the height that this field was trimed in June of last year and have grown while other fields were harvested 3 to 5 times.
He talked about his philosophy of making Gyokuro which is rooted in his father’s advice “make Gyokuro for the enjoyment of others, don’t be too concerned with money, take pride in the tea”. You can see the evidence of his success as you enter his home and see all the awards and photos of his visitors.