Ocha, a green tea, is one of the company's specialties. According to Mr. Sato, ocha is hard to make well from leaf because the taste changes quickly if temperature or water quantity shift. Powder, however, is convenient, compact and stable, which ensures flavor consistency.
Exactly how Sato Foods captures natural flavors in powdered form is closely guarded technology. Eight spray towers stand at the company's two plants in the area, and descriptions of the process are expressed in broad terms. For example, liquid materials are sprayed from the top of the towers at carefully controlled temperatures, and airflow turns the fine mist to powder in just a fraction of a second.
Sato Foods' No. 2 factory, completed in 2000, was built solely for the production of powdered teas, in particular ocha.
Unlike most Japanese manufacturers, Sato Foods uses its own engineers when constructing new facilities. “This means that we don't just set a budget and schedule, and then turn everything over to the contractors,” says Akifumi Yoshimatsu, managing director. “Instead, we very carefully select what equipment we want used, and how things are to be built. We wanted world-class quality in everything, and this is one reason why we insisted on Alfa Laval valves, heat exchangers and clarifiers.”
The Alfa Laval equipment includes plate heat exchangers and a clarifier supplied through Tetra Pak that precisely control temperature and other factors for repeatable quality.
Temperature is key to achieve optimum tea flavor. Sato foods uses Alfa Laval's M series plate heat exchangers for very fine control of product temperature before drying, and with the plant producing 1,000 tons of dried tea annually, the heat exchangers provide efficiency as well.
Before the concentration stage, a VNPX clarifier removes solids from the liquid, a critical step in ensuring that exactly the right small amount of solids is kept in the product to create the impression of fresh homemade tea.
Finally, to move the liquids through the various processes on the way to their transformation in the highly confidential drying towers, Sato Foods uses Alfa Laval SRC remote-controlled valves and other sanitary valves.
For more information on Alfa Laval, go to www.alfalaval.com.