Hoiro Age (ほいろ上げ): A Tea Farmer Celebration
Spring is a special season for Japanese tea farmers. They’re busy getting ready for shincha, the first harvest of the year, which makes their lives extremely busy day and night. The tea industry becomes energetic and lively in spring, and tea trading ramps up as they harvest the new tea. It’s an exciting season for tea! However, tea farmers are 100% committed to tea making for the 2 to 3 weeks of the first harvest. It’s easy to imagine how exhausted farmers are after working so hard during the shincha season.
When it’s over, however, there’s a traditional celebration among farmers called “hoiro age (ほいろ上げ).” Hoiro is the name of a table traditionally used in tea making. Today’s tea production no longer uses hoiro thanks to advances in tea-making technology. Here at Sugimoto, we only use hoiro (pictured below) when we make Temomi Shincha, the 100% hand made tea we offer.
Hoiro Age literally means “tea table closing,” a symbolic representation of the end of spring tea-making season. Each farmer co-op has a special gathering to celebrate a successful harvest. They invite tea makers, traders and sometimes even government officials to these events, which celebrate the entire tea-making industry in Japan. It’s also where farmers discuss the year’s shincha and share their opinions. Over drinks, farmers discuss the good and the bad of the season and enjoy the ability to drink with friends and family after the busiest season of the year.
There used to be bigger and more official hoiro age celebrations for farmers. Many farmers used famous local restaurants to hold hoiro age, and the local economy also celebrated because of the economic boost the tea industry supplied. Today’s tea industry is suffering from a recession, however, so hoiro age has become smaller and more private. Tea farmers still enjoy the gathering as a celebration of their efforts and the things they’ve accomplished even now, though. This small, fun tea tradition is one we, at Sugimoto, want to preserve.
The favorite drink at hoiro age gatherings is, of course, ocha wari. This popular drink you might remember from our blog series about Shimada, Sugimoto’s hometown is half green tea (usually sencha) mixed equally with shochu, a type of Japanese liquor. Ocha wari isn’t common across Japan, but it’s very popular in Shizuoka where most of our tea fields are located. Unsurprisingly, it is most popular among tea farmers who love to mix their favorite shochu with their own green tea. At hoiro age, farmers will make the ocha wari with that year’s shincha for a special treat.