The Nishi family is celebrated throughout Japan for their exquisite quality teas and recognized for their dedication to organic cultivation techniques and masterful cultivar selection. Rishi has partnered with the Nishi family since 2005 and has celebrated sustainable tea farming and established some of the first organic tea farms in southern Japan. The Nishi Family are truly the pioneers of organic tea farming in Japan and one of the most successful high-quality organic tea producers in the world.
The Nishi Family has built up one of the largest networks of organic farming in Kyushu Island with many gardens atop Mt. Kirishima, an active volcano near Kagoshima. The gardens are secluded behind deep forests, which create buffer zones to protect the grounds. Dense strands of Japanese cedar and pine trees nestle their gardens, where they also grow top-quality shiitake mushrooms, in addition to tea.
Toshimi San, the eldest son of the Nishi family, leads production and all aspects of farming. He is supported by his two younger brothers, his mom—the whole family has a hand in tea production. Toshimi San is a 3rd generation tea farmer and maker—the son of Japan’s organic tea farming pioneer who died tragically and unexpectedly in a farming accident. Toshimi San and his brothers came together with the strength and experience their father imparted into the family and continue to create some of the best organic teas one can find.
There are more than 15 different cultivars grown by the Nishi Family—not including a few other cultivars, which are specific to tencha used in the organic matcha industry. Rishi and the Nishi Family have a true collaborative spirit that spans many projects seen in select offerings in our portfolio. We see this collaboration in our Kirishima Blend, a single-origin matcha that highlights the regional character in Kirishima Mountain. Kirishima Blend is a collaboration project between Rishi buyers, the Nishi Family tea farm, and our tencha milling partners in Shizuoka.
Every year, we taste a range of individual cultivar production lots of tencha in leaf form and test-mill batches into matcha. We taste to understand the unique performance of each cultivar, which varies from season to season. We then assemble and taste trials of cultivar blends to create the perfect cho wa of amaku, koku, awaku, and shibuku, which translates as harmony and balance of umami, density, briskness, and bitterness. The cultivar components of Kirishima Blend shift from season to season, according to our collaborative effort to create the most balanced and vivid expression of this southern Japanese appellation of origin.
Nishi grows tea bushes under shading for a special edition of a single cultivar organic matcha for Rishi. Some of this tea is utilized in Organic Teahouse Matcha and Organic Barista Matcha. The technique used for this process is referred to as Hoop Shading, defined as, “shading indirectly using a specific framework.” The frame is built over tea fields and covered with black plastic material. This process makes the tea a vibrant, verdant green. The method of beginning with a single layer of shade for the first few days and then adding on a second for the following 10 days improves the process even further. This type of shading can give more than 99% coverage to block sunlight. Although hoop shading requires more work, it increases airflow to the tea plants eliminates the risk of scratching the tea leaves as with direct covering.
Toshimi San is a true master of compost development and soil management. In the forest, the Nishi family cultivates shitakes on logs specifically organized to cultivate these mushrooms. Every few years, the logs are rotated out, chopped into smaller pieces, and added to the compost. This enriches the bacteriological activity and primes the compost to fertilize the tea gardens. When creating piles, they must sit for three years to ferment before being used on the fields. Sometimes the beneficial bacteria in the soil of that garden is so ripe and active that you can see the soil surface bubble.
Our founder, Joshua is quite honored to spend time with Toshimi San. The teas are incredible and the Nishi farm has so many cultivars from which to select. Each cultivar grown by the Nishi Family has its own timing for peak quality harvesting—some teas flush early and others come later. Toshimi Nishi San can apply various levels of withering and steaming and can adjust the final aroma with different degrees of roasting that Joshua requests. The key point is knowing how and when to order the teas from our partners because there is no set menu or guide, so we are fortunate to be at origin with our good friends, the Nishi Family.
At Rishi, we are enthusiastic to launch the new collaborative projects with the Nishi Family Farm.