You might have been drinking Japanese tea for at least five years, and is confident in how much you know about it. Let us be honest, there is too much to learn and to remember. Sometimes we forget about what we read a year ago, or the information we received is already outdated. Do not worry, here is your essential top 3 tea origins introduction. Have a 5-minute read and keep yourself updated.
Enni (円爾) (1202-1280) is the originator of Shizuoka tea. He was an ascetic monk and travelled to China for ascetic training. In 1241, he brought tea seeds back to Japan and sowed them in the field in Ashikubo (足久保), Shizuoka.
AfterMeiji Restoration (1853-1867), the Edo government was overthrown and samuraibecame unemployed. They moved to the barren land – Makinohara (牧之原) – and started growing tea. Through their four years of hard work, the land finally became fertile. In the middle of Meiji era (1868-1912), Shizuoka became the largest tea growing prefecture in Japan.
The climate and landscape of Shizuoka favour the condition of growing high-quality tea. There are more than 20 tea growing areas which are either mountains (e.g.本山, Honyama) or flatlands (e.g. Makinohara).
The western part of Shizuoka is mainly flatlands. Since there are no high mountains nearby, tea leaves can absorb abundant sunlight. During winter, it does not have heavy snowfall, so that tea leaves would not be damaged by frost.
The northern part is formed by high mountains. There is mist around the mountains that block the sunlight, and significant temperature difference between day and night. These factors enable the taste elements storing in the leaves for a longer period, and thus makes the tea tastes rich.
Today, Shizuoka is still the largest tea growing prefecture in Japan. It accounts for 40% of the country’s total tea cultivation area. It also produced the largest amount of aracha (荒茶,unrefined tea) in 2018. Its main product is sencha (煎茶), especially Fukamushi sencha (深蒸し, Fukamushi stands for deep-steamed).
The beginning of tea plantation in Kagoshima started from Gen’ō era (1319-1321). An abbot from Uji brought tea seed and planted it in Hanaya-ji (a temple located at the north of Kagoshima). During Bunsei era (1818-1830), officials of Satsuma Domain encouraged people to grow tea, this helped further expand the cultivation area.
Kagoshima is now the second largest tea growing prefecture in Japan with 28100 tons of arachaproduced last year. Its main products are sencha and bancha (番茶).
The weather is warm throughout the year, with a hot and rainy summer, and a humid and mild winter. It could reach up to 90°F during summer. Due to this warm weather, its tea harvest period starts around the beginning or the middle of April, which is earlier than other tea growing areas. Tea leaves in Tanegashima (種子島) could even be harvested around the end of March.
It has the highest machine implementation rate among all tea cultivation areas. Since most of the fields are flatlands, using machines to manage tea farms is very common. This helps control the overall production cost and required less labour comparing to tea farms from other areas.
Same as the story of Shizuoka tea, the originator of Kyoto tea was also a monk came back from China. After receiving the tea seeds from Eisai (栄西) (1141-1215), Myōe (明恵) (1173-1232) sowed it in the field near Kōzan-ji (高山寺). He brought the seed of that tea tree to Uji (宇治) for the others when it was fully grown years later.
In 1738, Soen Nagatani (永谷宗円), a tea farmer based in Uji, invented aoi sencha sei ho (青製煎茶製法). That is the most common sencha production process nowadays. Before this method was invented, Japanese used the Chinese tea processing method – 1. pick the tea leaves, 2. place them on straw mats and use both hands and legs to roll them, 3. dry them under the sunlight. The tea colour produced with this method is almost black.
Nagatani added a stage called “Rolling” into the Chinese method, this step is to roll tea leaves on hoiro (焙炉, a wooden basket with washi paper placing on top, with fire lighted up under the basket to dry the leaves. It is used for drying seaweed, herbs, and tea leaves. The new hoiro uses electricity to replace fire) while drying them at the same time. This helps control the moisture content of the leaves, thus able to produce sencha with bright green colour and a fresh smell. Tea produced with this method was better than the Chinese one, people soon changed using aoi sencha sei ho for tea processing.
Kyoto is the fourth largest tea growing area in Japan with 3070 tons of aracha produced in 2018. Its main products are gyokuro (玉露) and tencha (碾茶). Uji focuses on growing Gyokuro, while Wazuka (和束町) focuses on sencha.
Appreciation for tea farmers’ hard work
Every province has its own unique story, but have one thing in common – the tea empire is built on the huge effort tea farmers put in. Because of them, we can enjoy the heavenly tea that they take pride in. It is important for us to be thankful and continue to support the tea industry.
Did you learn something new from reading this article? Have you ever been to these places and tried their teas? Share your thoughts below!
お茶をめぐる情勢, 農林水産省http://www.maff.go.jp/j/seisan/tokusan/cha/attac h/pdf/ocha-9.pdf