Tag Archives: sustainability

Chagusaba: Sustainable Tea Production

Tea Garden in Chagusaba Region of Shizuoka Japan

Tea in Shizuoka, by Jose Comessu – CC-BY-3.0

Like many in the tea industry we are always interested in environmental trends or practices which impact the production of the camellia sinensis (tea) plant. While there is significant concern about global warming in many parts of the tea growing world, Japan included, the Japanese have become known for the practice of Chagusaba. This sustainable farming method protects the topsoil  and even enhances it while protecting tea plants from cold weather extremes. It also improves the overall taste and quality of Japanese green tea. This method, native to the Kakegawa region of the Shizuoka Prefecture, about 90 minutes by train from Tokyo has been in existence since the 1600’s and provides balance between the land and the farmers who produce some of the finest green tea in the world.

The Broad Strokes of Chagusaba Tea Production

Chagusaba is a farming method which originated in Shizuoka Prefecture nearby Mt. Fuji, whereby farmers grow native grasses for use in mulching between tea bushes. Specifically, these tall grasses, like the silver pampas grass, are grown alongside tea gardens. During the late fall and winter the grass is cut, dried, and spread between the rows of the tea bushes. The addition of this dried grass provides insulation for the root systems of the plants allowing protection and earlier growth in spring. As the season progresses the grass keeps the weeds down and slowly decomposes, adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil, improving its quality over time. Where fertilizer is used, the grass helps keep fertilizer in place and lessons the ability of rains to erode the topsoil. For all the added work work, tea farmers believe that the Chagusaba practice produces better color, taste, and aroma for their tea.

Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)

Chagusaba farming practices make use of cut and dried pampas grass.

Silver Pampas Grass used in Chagusaba Farming, By 松岡明芳 – CC-BY-3.0

Japan has seen a significant reduction in its native grasslands over the past 100+ years. It’s estimated that today’s grasslands are 1/30th of what they once were. While the chagusaba practice enhances the soil and helps produce superior green tea for the Shizuoka region, the practice provides substantial added value to the environment. It encourages biodiversity by providing nourishment to the soil and supports growth of many other smaller plants. If not for chagusaba these smaller plants would be crowded out by larger plants that would otherwise take over if not for the annual harvesting of grasses. The environment created in chagusaba supports a significant number of rare plants including the “7 herbs of autumn” and numerous animals that live and find food from among the grasslands. Many of these plants are also important to Buddhist traditions and ceremonies. When the Shizuoka region proposed being designated as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System it stressed the impact of the farming practice on the environment, the economy, and the cultural practices of the region (Kawakatsu). In May 2013 The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization officially designated the Chagusaba farming practice of Kakegawa in Shizuoka Prefecture as a GIAHS site.

As sustainable farming practices become increasingly desired both by farmers and by consumers we are interested in seeing where this practice, and those like it, may be copied and adapted in other parts of world. Closer to home the Chesapeake Bay has struggled for years with excessive nitrogen runoff from poor fertilization practices, excessive or inappropriate use of fertilizer on lawns, and overflow from waste water treatment facilities. Many great organizations are working to improve the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay starting hundreds of miles away in the headwaters which lead to the bay. Upstream the emphasis is on forest restoration with native trees and plants. Closer to the bay work is also being done to create buffers to absorb runoff and change destructive human behaviors. We would love to see increased sustainable farming practices take hold along with homeowner education and improved infrastructure to speed this restoration along. We would love to see increased forest buffers and native plants along the edge of the Chesapeake but we also we wonder if there may also be room for adapted chagusaba practices to aid in improved soil fertility and acting as both a buffer to the Chesapeake.

Sources Cited
Traditional Tea-Grass Integrated System: Shizuoka’s Chagusaba, A globally significant agricultural system and landscape, by Dr. Heita Kawakatsu, May 29, 2013, http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/giahs_assets/Information_Resources_Annexes/Japan_Forum/Traditional_tea_Chagusaba_of_Shizuoka.pdf

GIAHS Propsal, Traditional Tea-Grass Integrated System in Shizuoka, http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/giahs_assets/Sites_annexes/GIAHS-Shizuoka_proposal.pdf

Five Reasons to Keep the Paper Tea Bag

I will admit up front I love the variety of loose tea so I rarely use a tea bag anymore. However, the tried and true paper tea bag is far from extinct and still deserves a place in your tea drinking routine. Thus, we felt it would be fun to compile our list of the top five reasons not turn our noses up at paper tea bags just yet:

Silken Doesn’t Mean Silk

Tea bag.

Modern Tea Bag

Most, but not all, of the pretty “silken” tea bags are made of food grade plastic, nylon or polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Food grade plastic does have a melting point well above 212 degrees Fahrenheit (the temperature of boiling water).  However, these plastics do start to break down at 169 degrees Fahrenheit, so it is possible for them to start leaching their polymers into the hot water (Orci, 2013). We forget that plastics have not been around for very long in the food arena – 1980s is when they really took off. There are plenty of studies looking at all types of plastics to figure out what they do and do not put into food. In the meantime, paper has been used for centuries to filter water and is known to be safe.

Paper is not a Tea Flavor

The “paper” flavor that some claim is imparted on the tea leaves really comes from user error.  Like loose tea, tea in bags goes stale.  In fact, it actually goes stale faster because the tea pieces are smaller.  So don’t buy boxes of 100 plus tea bags unless you plan on at least using one tea bag a day.  Buy them in smaller quantities and use quickly. For storage, it helps if you get them out of the paper box and put them in a canister or Tupperware.  It will slow the process of moisture and unwanted smells making their way into the tea bags.  Also, don’t leave your tea bag in your cup.  Given the small particles, your black tea will brew in 2-3 minutes instead of the 5 minutes needed for larger loose leaf tea.  You are less likely to taste paper if it isn’t floating in your cup while you sip.

Composting Tea Bags

You can compost your paper tea bags and they will actually dissolve.  The mesh tea bags made of plastic will take close to 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill, even if they are a corn based plastic instead of the traditional petroleum plastic (Atteberry).  My tea leaves are always headed out to the compost bin, so it is nice to just toss the bag in as well.  Also paper tea bags have come a long way with many companies using unbleached paper coming from sustainably harvested wood pulp.

TeaBrew paper filter package.

TeaBrew Sustainable Paper Filters

Make Your Own Tea Bags

Make your own tea bags with loose tea leaves and single serve paper tea filters. These are great, allowing me to get my tea fix while running late. I can just scoop my loose tea into the filter, pour in hot water and take it with me to steep in the car. I just pull out the tea filter and discard like tea bag.

Have Tea, Will Travel

There is no doubt to this traveler that tea bags are the most convenient way to travel with tea. I can put a few into a small ziplock and they fit right in my purse. However, I will totally admit to packing my infuser or paper single serve sacks, a spoon, and a ziplock of my favorite loose tea into my suit case for longer trips.

Whatever your tea source, it might be a great idea to have some paper tea filters on hand. You can even prepare them ahead of time using your best loose leaf tea. Simply add the tea, fold them over, and store in a ziplock or recycle an old tea tin to have your tea at the ready.

Works Cited
Orci, T. (2013, April 8). Are Tea Bags Turning Us into Plastic. Retrieved from The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/04/are-tea-bags-turning-us-into-plastic

Atteberry, Jonathan. Are food-based plastics a good idea? Retreived from http://science.howstuffworks.com/food-based-plastics.htm