Did you know that there are black tea in northern tip of Okinawa island that reminds “Oriental beauty” which is Oolong tea in Taiwan?
Okinawa has been poor in tea since the Ryukyu era(14th to 19th century). Even though the demand for tea in Okinawa has been high because of its sultry climate, the Okinawa tea production volume has not been low. Necessarily, Okinawa has relied on the import of tea from mainland Japan and Taiwan, worsening the trade balance. Over a few hundreds of years, many policies were implemented to increase the domestic production quantity. but they did not work well. Unfortunately, Okinawa tea would not be match with Okinawan tastes. Then, a stable business base could not be established. In the long and harsh history of Okinawa tea, the Oku community had created a period of brilliant light.
Handling tea cultivation as business in Oku community began in 1929 with the launch of a seed nursery.
After 3 years from the war II ended, in 1948, a voluntary organization “Oku Tea Industry Association” was formed with 74 people. A zinc roofing simple tea new factory was established by collecting waste materials of US military and progressed to revitalization.The operation spirit was based on the mutual cooperation(called Yuimaru), in which each member was organically connected. Efficiently,the quality was improved, and the production volume was increased. They also sent trainees to the mainland, incorporating state-of-the-art technology and preferences at the time.
When Okinawa returned to Japan in 1972, the domestic tea protection policy of the Ryukyu government was lost. and Oku farmers had to struggle for the cheaper tea from the mainland. The Oku Tea Industry Association had achieved remarkable success as a result of united efforts to improve quality and production mass. Moreover,stabilized distribution channels to the mainland, and reduce its distribution unit prices. In recognition of that achievement, Oku Association received the Asahi Agriculture Prize in 1975, which was selected the most excellent organizations among new agricultural businesses from all over the country every year, and the Okinawa Times Industry Prize in 1976.
In the Heisei era, recent a few 10 years, the aging of union members put a burden on heavy tea picker machine handled by two old farmers, and gradually shifted to “Shiquwarsa (citrus)”, which can use lightweight agricultural equipment, and Oku tea volume has reduced gradually the area of tea plantations. Another reason of the decrease could be low preference of Okinawan for domestic tea, which would made the island tea market fix predominantly mainland market distribution systems.
In Reiwa(2019～), the Oku teas are still produced. Green tea and black tea are sold in the first place after entering the shop.
Green tea is nice balanced and delicious My favorite black tea is similar to “Oriental Beauty” oolong tea and has a sweetness like honey and can be enjoyed without adding anything.
Dear readers,when going to northern Okinawa, please stop by Oku District, about 8 km from Cape Hedo, and stop by Oku shared shop to get the tea. Imagine a tea plantation grown in a subtropical forest, so you can relax.
Awamori is a distilled spirit indigenous to Okinawa, that is not sake, almost same with Shochu. Awamori is made by the fermentation of indica rice without any other grain with black koji(malt), which is the same koji of Shouchu. You can learn the history and fermentation and distill process of the liquor in the free tour. You can also taste some kinds of Awamori in the factory.
Yanbaru Shuzousho, which I visited this time, is located on the Takazato River in Ogimi Village, and is the northernmost distillery specializing in Awamori founded by local people 70 years ago. Awamori product process use the same method of southern area of Okinawa, but the water is different. In the southern part, the hard water purified by infiltration of Ryukyu limestone is used, whereas in Yanbaru Shuzousho, medium hard water infiltrated through forests and soil that does not contain much limestone is pumped up. It is used as a water to thin the fermented rice, cooling water for distillation, and to reduce alcohol.
Tour reception and sales office
Entrance of the distillery, I was guided by Mr. Ikehara, President.
Thai rice is the only cereal that is washed, soaked and drained.
After draining, the 700kg rice is steamed.
Black malt spores are sprinkled evenly on steamed rice. Since the black malt is a strong bacterium, it does not attract other bacteria. then the rice is not spoiled.It is also a very useful bacterium used in a black vinegar made in Kagoshima Prefecture.
The black malt on the factory roof beams gives a sense of the building’s history.
Rice koji made from black koji and steamed rice is mixed with Yanbal water to form “moromi” and fermented slowly under room temperature. A month later, “moromi” had a slightly sweet awamori scent.
The water used for Awamori is sterilized with ultraviolet light. Low temperature pasteurization is widely used so that the taste of freshly squeezed milk is not impaired by heat. Pasteurization is widely used so that the taste of freshly squeezed milk is not impaired by heat. Efforts to preserve the deliciousness of natural water are wonderful.
The fermented moromi is heated, distilled, and blown into a cooling tank through the square pipe in the picture.The water flowing through the cooling tank is also Yanbal water.Because it is distilled at normal pressure, the scent of moromi and various components are contained more than shochu. That will be the source of the taste of Awamori.
The freshly distilled Awamori is aged in storage tanks for over a year and slowly grows mellow.
It was one of the best shochu and Awamori I ever drank. Yanbaru Distillery is a small business size that is mostly consumed locally. As demand declined due to depopulation. When going to Yanbal, please stop by the Yanbaru Distillery and try delicious Awamori