PRODUCER SPOTLIGHT: Yamamasa Koyamaen - The Ancient Artistry of Premium Uji Matcha
Producing matcha since 1861, Yamamasa Koyamaen is one of the premier matcha growers in Japan. Founded as a tea farm in the Edo period about 400 years ago, Yamamasa Koyamaen continues to be recognized as one of the most famous and trustworthy brands of green tea across Japan.
The Artistry of Stone-Milled Matcha
Yamamasa Koyamaen does not think of their tea manufacturing plant as a factory, but rather as a studio, honoring the craftsmanship of the artisans who care for their tea leaves from start to finish. Like an artist mixing pigments, their artisans evaluate the scent, tint, flavor, and touch of the leaves to blend the raw leaves into the ideal tea.
Producing matcha requires a great deal of patience, diligence, craft, and care. The method for growing the tea bushes and how and when to shade the bushes are central to ensuring the production of top quality matcha.
The artistry involved in making matcha does not stop at harvesting the leaves. The seemingly simple step of milling the leaves into a fine powder also requires a special level of craftsmanship and skill.
Yamamasa Koyamaen's tea artisans continue to use an 800-year-old method of grinding the leaves using large stones disks. The stones themselves have become a rare commodity in Japan. Only a few craftsmen with the skills needed to create these valuable stones are still alive today in Japan.
With traditional stone-grinding, the milling needs to be highly controlled. Rotate too quickly, and the leaves will oxidize and burn. Rotate too slowly, and the leaves may not grind at all or may grind unevenly. Turn the mills clockwise (the teeth of the mills are designed to work only when rotated counter-clockwise) and the stones will catch on each other and stop grinding. Only a slow, steady, precise - counter-clockwise! - grind results in the exquisite fine powder and rich aromatic profile that sets premium matcha apart from the rest.
Uji - The Sacred Heart of Japanese Green Tea
Yamamasa Koyamaen is located in Uji, a town just outside of Kyoto. Of all the matcha grown and cultivated in Japan, Uji matcha has the reputation of being among the finest. In fact, Uji is considered to be among the top three tea producing areas in Japan.
While Shizuoka and Kagoshima are also famous for green tea, Uji boasts one of the longest histories of tea cultivation in Japan. The first teas to be grown in Japan over 800 years ago were grown in Uji. Fine green tea types, including sencha, gyokuro, and matcha, all originated from Uji.
Aside from its long history, Uji enjoys a unique climatic and geographic advantage. The area’s rolling hills, foggy mists, cool damp weather yet hot and humid summer make for the ideal location for growing tea. Like Bordeaux wine made from grapes grown in a particular region in France, “Uji green tea” must be grown in this specific region, due to the unique blend of environmental conditions that help create the tea’s distinctive flavor. Some believe that the home of Uji tea deserves the same honor as France’s Saint-Emilion, known for its Bordeaux wine, and designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Efforts have started to inscribe Uji tea into the list of intangible cultural heritage sites.
Preserving – Yet Propelling – the Tea Industry Forward
For the people of Uji, tea is their pride, their livelihood, their love, and their life. Generations of the Koyama family have devoted their lives to protecting the traditions of green tea cultivation, while also seeking to continuously improve their products and help the tea industry to flourish.
In the early 1900’s, the company built the tea industry’s first ever matcha plant that was outfitted with air conditioning units and refrigerators reserved exclusively for tea. Yamamasa Koyamaen also started selling the first matcha in cans, which extends freshness and led the way for the popularization of canned tea.
Masajiro Koyama, third generation descendent of the founder of Yamamasa Koyamaen, worked with another farmer in Uji to cultivate new elite varieties of tea, including Asahi, Samidori, and Komage. The varieties received special recognition by Kyoto Prefecture.
In 1998, then former President of Yamamasa Koyamaen, Yoichi Koyama, was awarded the Autumn Yellow Ribbon by Emperor Akihito, in recognition of the company’s significant contributions to the development of the tea industry.
In keeping with their commitment to preserving the past while looking to the future, Yamamasa Koyamaen produces their fine matcha sweets. Although matcha is traditionally used in tea ceremony, artisans at Yamamasa Koyamaen have found ways to incorporate matcha’s complex flavor into sweets as well. A generous portion of Yamamasa Koyamaen’s premium matcha is included in each sweet to showcase the brilliant color, flavor and aromatic sweetness that only top quality matcha can provide.
Learn more about Yamamasa Koyamaen at https://www.yamamasa-koyamaen.co.jp/en/index.html.