The Leafies 2022 Special Award: Best in Show – Mr Kajihara, Ocha-no-Kajihara
We recently caught up with last year’s special award winner, Mr Kajihara of Ocha-no-Kajihara, whose Benifuuki 2nd Flush scooped the The Leafies 2022 Special Award for ‘Best in Show’.
The Best in Show represents the ultimate tea award chosen from all the category winners. It is not a comparison of the finest teas but a unanimous vote from the judges on the most outstanding tea of all the winners.
We spoke with Mr Kajhara about the impact of the award, the state of tea production in Japan and his thoughts on why tea competitions such as The Leafies matter so much to small-scale tea farmers.
Mr Kajihara, your Benifuki 2022 2nd Flush tea won the ‘Best in Show’ at The Leafies last year, how has this award impacted your farm and production since?
First of all, thank you very much for choosing my Benifuki 2022 second flush for Best in Show.
It doesn’t have an iimpact on production. I’ve already made this year’s first flush tea, and they are as good as usual. As for our farm, I was interviewed from numerous newspaper companies (including national papers, regional papers, economics paper), tea-specialized magazines, culinary-specialized magazines, and TV too. I didn’t expect we receive such a great response.
Do you feel the award has granted you special recognition in the industry?
Yes, definitely. I do feel so.
Japanese tea gardens did very well at The Leafies awards last year. What are your thoughts on the tea industry in Japan, are things changing? Are there any particular challenges?
The numerous awards and Best in Show that Japanese tea gardens received last year gave a huge confidence not only to us but to the whole Japanese tea industry. Also, I think it showed to the world how high the quality of Japanese tea is.
Since I don’t ship my tea on the market (*refers to auctions etc.) at all, I am not sure about the details of the market. But I know that the market price of green tea has been sluggish for the last decade. There is no end to the number of small-scale farmers who give up their tea businesses. Whereas big-scale tea farmers/factories have been expanding their businesses.
They are working hard on mass-producing tea with a low cost to use as ingredients of “tea beverage” (like bottled tea). The consumption of tea has been decreasing while the amount
of production made by big tea farms and companies has been increasing. Considering market principles, it makes sense that the number of small-scale farmers who give up the business keeps increasing.
Among small-scale farmers, the small-scale farmers who make unique tea and sell directly to customers like us are doing relatively well. Recently, even some big-scale tea farmers have begun to make some specialty tea in addition to their mass-produced tea.
I am sure that the industry is going to be divided further between those who expand the scale further and those who make small, but unique, special and high-quality tea.
Your tea farm has been in your family for several generations, how do you intend to keep up your farm’s legacy?
Our tea farm has around 70-year history. I am the third generation. I work with my son’s family, which is the fourth generation. Keeping up our farm’s legacy is, of course, important, and I believe that making the products that suit the times/the products that the times demands is also important.
In other words, it’s a must to keep developing new product while preserving traditional tea. I believe that this is the key to survive in the industry and to hand down our legacy to the next generations.
Do you think you will be entering into The Leafies awards this year?
Yes, I will.
Any additional thoughts that you would like to share?
It was the first time that The Leafies was held. Even so it was already the most popular tea contest that captured people’s attention in Japan. There were no other contests that gathered as much attention . I hope you will continue this contest for the tea industry. I sincerely look forward to the prosperity of the UK Tea Academy.
Translation provided by Tomoko Sasaki of Affinitea
Find out more about Mr Kajihara’s tea at Ocha-no-Kajihara. Benifuuki 2nd Flush 2022 is now available to purchase in person at Fortnum & Mason’s Rare Tea Counter at its flagship London store, or online at Canton.