The Nishi family is celebrated throughout Japan for their exquisite quality teas and recognized for their dedication to organic tea farming. Rishi has partnered with the Nishi family since 2005. The Nishi Family are truly the pioneers of organic tea cultivation in Japan and are 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 farms in Kyushu Island with many gardens atop Mt. Kirishima, an active volcano near Kagoshima. The gardens are secluded behind deep forests Japanese cedar and pine, which provide buffer zones that protect the tea gardens from industrial pollution. The Nishi family also harvests top-quality, woods grown shiitake mushrooms, in the forests between the tea gardens during the off season. When we stay with the Nishi Family during the tea seasons, we can see and taste how connected this family is with the land.
Toshimi San, the eldest son of the Nishi family, leads production and all aspects of the tea farming. He is supported by his two younger brothers and his mom. His whole family has a hand in tea production. Toshimi San is a 3rd generation tea farmer and ingenious organic tea 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 and several other cultivars, which are specific to tencha used in the organic matcha industry. Rishi and the Nishi Family have a truly collaborative spirit fostered over nearly 2 decades of tasting and sharing tea ideas together. We see this collaboration in our in our Kirishima Blend, a single-origin matcha that highlights the regional character in Kirishima Mountain. Kirishima Blend is a collaboration project stated in 2005 between the founder of Rishi Tea & Botanicals and the Nishi Family tea farm. Our partnership and friendship with the Nishi Family gives us special access to the best micro-lots of matcha and tencha that their gardens produce each season.
Every year, we taste the range of individual cultivar lots of tencha in the leaf form. We also test-mill batches of individual lots to assess their position in our blends or single cultivar offerings of 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 harmony and balance of umami, density, briskness, bittersweetness and aroma point. The cultivar components of our Kirishima Blend change from season to season, based on the subtle taste profile changes we sense in each cultivar every year. Tea is dynamic so we must be flexible to taste and blend each year to make the Kirishima Blend the best-in-class representation of Matcha from Kirishima Mountain. We follow a similar pattern for our organic sencha blends and single cultivar offerings. Each year we taste a lot and indicate the final roasting and level if Hika or what teas to blend and not to blend. Each year is an exciting time to taste and explore the teas that nature provides.
Toshimi San is a true master of compost development and soil management. Organic farming is all about soil management with 100% natural inputs and techniques. Organic is much more than doing nothing to the land or non-interventionist farming. Green tea and deep green, umami teas need nitrogen and rich, nutritious soil. 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 along with horse dung, mountain soil, sun-dried thatch and ground up bamboo. 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 are so ripe and active that you can see the soil surface bubble with bacteriological activity foam.
Our founder, Joshua is quite honored to spend time with Toshimi San nearly every year. The teas we get from Nishi San are incredible, and the Nishi farm has so many cultivars from which to select. Each cultivar grown by the Nishi Family has its own schedule 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 to get great tea.