That’s where I met tea master Shuichiro Sakamoto, whose family has grown tea for more than 80 years. He grew up in this tea garden but became passionate about the health of his family and gardens 30 years ago following the deaths of his mother and sister from cancer. Master Sakamoto became convinced that healthy soil leads to healthy plants and better green tea. He set about to re-craft his gardens.
Sakamoto drastically re-engineered his gardens by bringing in excavators to dig up the existing soil. He blended in minerals and organic matter to enrich the earth, making it loamy and filled with the nutrients his tea plants needed. Workers keep weeds to a minimum by spreading dried grasses between the bushes, a popular organic technique found throughout Japan. Herbicides and pesticides are not needed here.
By early April, Sakamoto Garden’s top-grade gyokuro bushes are encased with a black mesh canopy that blocks 95 percent of the sun’s rays and slows the rate of leaf growth to a crawl. Depriving the tea plants of light for three weeks increases chlorophyll content. With diminished photosynthesis, nutrients drawn from the soil are not processed by the plant’s typical systems, thus modifying the leaves’ molecular structure.