I’ve tried thousands of different teas in my life and have gotten to the point where nothing I try is really new. Sure, I might find a variety of tea grown in a region or a greenhouse or using a gardening technique that is new to me, but it’s still just the same old tea plant grown in the same old way apart from the one thing that’s different and, while it may taste slightly different than other varieties, it still tastes like tea. This all changed on a recent trip to Japan, though.
On this trip, I spent some time in Ibaraki Prefecture, a mountainous area of central Japan. While there, I got to try a tea that was completely different from anything I tried before. Its taste wasn’t different. In fact, if I had tried it in a blind taste test comparing this tea to any other average tea, I wouldn’t have even known there was a difference.
And that’s just what it was. It was average. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t anything special either. Just your basic average green tea.
So why was this tea completely new to me? It was because of the way it was grown. Of all the thousands of teas I’ve tried in my life, they all had one thing in common: they were grown outdoors or in greenhouse where they are still exposed to natural sunlight. This new variety, however, was grown in an indoor garden. Not a greenhouse, mind you, but an indoor grow house, lit up entirely by artificial grow lights.
It was a local farmer, who wanted to grow tea, but couldn’t on his farm because of the climate in the area. It simply isn’t conducive to growing tea. That’s when he decided to move his grow operation indoors. He’d read about people growing all kinds of other plants indoors and he figured: why not tea as well?
He had a spare bedroom in his house and while it had a small window, it wasn’t enough to provide the tea plants with all the PAR and lumen they needed to grow. He ended up just boarding up the window and going completely with artificial lighting anyway.
He got a bunch of boxes and filled them with soil and planted tea shoots in them. Then he had to find the appropriate lighting. Like many growers, he started out with an HID (that stands for high intensity discharge) lighting system.
HID lights have been used for decades to grow plants indoors and they are very effective. If you use a combination of metal halide (MH) bulbs and high pressure sodium (HPS) bulbs, you can take plants through the whole grow cycle. The MH bulbs are high in blue-spectrum light and work well for the vegging stage of growth, while the HPS bulbs are high in red-spectrum light and are perfect for flowering.
The main drawback of such a system is a higher electricity cost. It uses a lot of power to run. Additionally, the system creates a lot of heat and you need to use more power to keep your grow room cool.
Tea generally prefers to grow in slightly cooler, but still humid climates. It can grow in very hot climates too, though. As such, the cooling requirements for tea aren’t quite as strict as they would be for other plants, but you still have to spend a lot of money.
They do make reflectors that contain the light inside a ventilated glass tube, which keeps most of the heat from escaping. This air cooled hood reflector kit the Japanese farmer used was one such fixture. It’s a lot cheaper to operated than standard fixtures, but the power costs are still pretty high.
Then there are the bulbs. HID bulbs simply don’t last that long. On average they last about 10,000 hours. This means you have to replace them quite often, which also gets costly. Furthermore, MH bulbs contain mercury, which causes harm to the environment when it comes time to dispose of spent bulbs.
Because of all these drawbacks, this farmer decided to turn to a new technology. He decided to use LED grow lights. He had no experience with them, but he did a lot of reading and liked what he saw. They run much cooler, they cost much less to operate in terms of electricity, and if you buy a good one, it will give you the perfect spectrum for growing plants. It will give your plants so much more nutritious light than an HID system does. The main drawback is price. A good LED grow light is very expensive. And if you buy a bad one it will actually cost you more, because you will lose a lot due to bad harvests.
Our farmer ended up going with a light made by Kind LED. They one of the top LED grow light manufacturers and the lights have been proven to grow plants effectively. After a few grows, he started seeing great results with these lights. He was getting wonderful tea bushes and beautiful leaves and as I can attest, the resulting tea tasted pretty good. Now, he still has a ways to go before this tea becomes world-famous, but what he has done is a start.
He is shown that you can grow tea anywhere these days, not just in the famous tea growing areas. For now, he is only growing this tea as a hobby but I imagine someday he will be looking to sell his tea commercially. So keep your eyes open and maybe someday you can buy a batch of this amazing new tea. A tea grown indoors. A tea that could eventually revolutionize the industry.