The Mukoujima family has been passing down their holistic farming philosophy for three generations. Since he was a small child, Kazuto Mukoujima has been helping on the farm and today he continues his father's legacy as the head farmer: steadfastly committed to the vitality and happiness of each tea leaf.
Happy Mukoujima Farm is located at the base of Mt. Ishidani in Shizouka, Japan. Grown in the cool, misty shadow of the mountain range, the farmland benefits from its rich, volcanic soil. The range also acts as a physical barrier, protecting the soil from any agricultural chemical runoff of nearby farms.
"By being in the mountains, there is a large temperature difference between day and night which helps produce high-quality tea." -Mukoujima-san
Organic but like 10x
Founded in 1982, Farmer Mukoujima-san likes to say that his family has been farming organically since before it was cool.
“The best we can do for the earth is to do nothing,” says farmer Mukoujima-san. “If we didn’t harvest or make tea, the plants would grow and give back to the earth - absorbing and releasing nutrients back into the soil. As soon as the plant is harvested and goes into production, we place an enormous burden on the planet. I am not destroying the planet for the perfect cup of tea.” To mitigate their farm’s impact, Mukoujima-san takes the organic +++ approach.
“Today tea farmers and tea drinkers are looking for the perfect cup of tea - the greenest, the brightest - this is not natural”, says Mukoujima-san. Continuously striving to find balance for tea, people, and nature, Happy Mukoujima Farm opts for the most natural agricultural relationship possible and forgoes using common fertilizers—even if the practice is acceptable amongst the organic farming community.
Simply keeping the tea plant away from harmful (and helpful) man-made chemicals is not enough for Farmer Mukoujima-san and the Mukoujima family legacy. The tea trees on this farm have big, strong trunks and deep root systems brimming with vitality because of a natural farming tradition known as “Ippon-jitate”. This practice generously spaces tea trees apart so that they can grow into strong, powerful tea trees.
Ceremonial or culinary grade?
We live in a time where we are disconnected from where/ how our favorite foods are grown and made. This removal from the real world of natural foods results in unrealistic consumer behaviors and expectations - like wanting the greenest, sweetest tea year-round - without any changes. The fact is, nature cannot consistently do anything twice and the quality and flavor of your tea (and food) should absolutely vary from year to year. When it comes to the best matcha, Farmer Mukoujima-san believes that the only constant is change, and that natural products should vary in color and flavor year over year.
When asked about grading and ceremonial versus culinary, Farmer Mokoujima-San states that, “Even domestically in Japan, there is no consensus on how to grade matcha. Some say that the difference between ceremonial and culinary grade matcha is the way in which it is milled. Ceremonial grade matcha must be stone-milled by hand, a process that yields approximately 50 grams of matcha after one hour of constant, manual milling. But nearly everyone agrees that high-quality matcha is indicated by a spring harvest after six weeks of shading when the tea buds are subtle and fresh.
Other schools of thought insist that high-quality, ceremonial matcha must be harvested by hand, another area where Mukoujima-san differs. Instead, the farm utilizes technology and machine learning to harvest tea buds and sort tea for production.
If you had to put this matcha in a class we’d say it is culinary-grade because it is jet-milled and produced on a moderately large scale. However, the leaves of Happy Matcha are spring harvested from the most cared after, powerful trees. The flavor makes the lips smile, the color is vibrant, and the aroma is wonderful. We’ll let you decide how the grade is, for yourself.
How Happy Matcha is made
Matcha is made from the same plant that all your favorite teas are related to, camellia sinensis, but there are a few steps in the farming and processing of this tea that make it so very unique.
According to Farmer Mukoujima-san, the most important step in growing tea and making matcha happens on the farm—six weeks before harvest when the tea trees are covered. In this step, tarps and a shading apparatus literally cover the tea trees and block them from all daylight. This action sparks the fight or flight response in the tea trees and causes them to produce a ton more chlorophyll and amino acids. The increase in chlorophyll is what lends to matcha’s vibrant, almost toxic hue while the increased amino acid content attributes to the tea’s rich umami flavor and mouthfeel.
After shading is complete the youngest buds are harvested and immediately steamed to preserve color and nutrients, and to prevent the leaves from turning brown (enzymatic action). After steaming, the leaves are dried and prepped for the painstakingly laborious step of de-stemming and deveining every single little tea leaf. This de-stemming and deveining process converts the tea leaf to what is known as “tencha”. Now, after all these steps, the tencha must sit and cure for as long as six months before being milled and packaged as matcha.
Why is single-farm matcha important?
Single-farm matcha is rare because its meticulous production is hard for most small family farms to scale. Most matcha on the market today is made by aggregating tea leaves from a variety of farms for milling at a large factory. This way of making matcha creates a traceability issue and makes it hard to verify that the supply chain meets our standards for doing business. Plus, we like to be friends with people we do business with. Values are super important to us, and value alignment is definitely something that we have with Mukoujima Farm.
How to use Happy Matcha Sticks
These matcha sticks contain 1.7g of matcha, enough for a 16oz water bottle or slightly warm 12oz mug. When you’re making matcha it’s important to keep a few things in mind.
Water temperature can make or break your matcha experience. High water temps burn the matcha and result in an unpleasant, bitter experience.
Whisk or agitate the tea briskly until all the powder has been absorbed. This is how you get that foaming top (so yummy!).
16oz water bottle: These sticks are designed to be emptied into your 16oz water bottle and shaken vigorously for a few secs before enjoying. Shake, shake, shake - that’s it.
12oz warm cup: To make warm matcha, we like to set the kettle super low, 165 degrees at the highest. Anything higher could burn the matcha resulting in an unpleasant bitter drink (for reference, boiling is 212 degrees). Once you have the perfect water temp, add a couple splashes of water to your matcha cup and whisk vigorously until you have a beautiful, muddy green paste. Then top your cup off with warm water and you’re good to go.
What is matcha good for?
The benefits of this stuff is off the charts. We contribute the good-for-you-ness to two polyphenols in matcha: L-theanine and EGCG. This is a direct result of the farming practices of Happy Mukouejiamaen and being certified organic.
L-theanine boosts your mood, helps you focus (1)(2), soothes the stimulating effect of caffeine, and lowers blood pressure (3). The shading of the tea leaves weeks before harvest increases L-theanine.
The class of antioxidants in matcha are called catechins, or EGCG. These have a huge number of benefits. These include cancer-fighting effects on the body (4), slowing down of aging (5), promoting weight loss (6), fighting cardiovascular disease (7)(8), and help with maintaining bone health (9). (woah!)
Scientists from the University of Colorado compared the concentration of EGCG in an infusion of high-quality Japanese matcha and that in Starbuck’s green tea. In those findings it showed the concentration of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) in matcha was 137 times higher. Even high quality green tea contains three times less EGCG catechins than matcha (10).