When someone mentions tea, Japan is certainly one of the countries that automatically springs to mind. Tea consumption is alive and well on this nation of islands that sit astride the Ring of Fire (a fault line in the earth’s crust). They endure earthquakes and tsunami-caused flooding but still take time for tea. In fact, last year when they had both, one of the most concerning things for misplaced residents in the affected areas was if they could get their daily tea. Thanks to several tea growers in Japan and elsewhere, they did. And it was tea that suited the unique palates of the tea drinkers there. Time to explore some of these Japanese teas.
Some Tea Growing Regions
Of Japan’s 47 prefectures (equivalent to provinces), only four grow the majority of Japanese green tea (the vast majority with only a little being processed as black or oolong).
- Shizuoka (“Tranquil Hills”) — a region of mountainous terrain with adequate rainfall and thick fog rising to 10,000 feet between Mt. Fuji (on the northern border of the prefecture) and the Pacific coast west of Tokyo; 40-45% of Japan’s commercial tea production each year comes from here; has produced tea for more over 800 years; mostly small, family-run operations.
- Kagoshima — in southern Kyushu, in the far southwest of Japan; 20% of Japan’s commercial tea production each year comes from here.
- Mie — in central Japan.
- Uji — just south of Kyoto, is the most famous tea-growing region in Japan. Most of the finest teas come from this region even though it produces only 4% of Japan’s tea.
However, tea is grown almost everywhere in Japan for both commercial and private consumption with small exceptionally skilled artisan tea farmers dotting the country.
Japanese Teas, Round 1
- Aracha — Raw tea initially steamed or roasted after harvest to reduce moisture content and prevent oxidation. Then it’s sorted into Sencha, Kukicha, etc., and further processed. Sold for consumption also but not readily available outside of Japan.
- Asamushicha — Leaves treated by soft steaming less than 30 seconds.
- Awabancha — Made in Tokushima. During Summer, the tea leaves are picked and boiled then rubbed and placed in a barrel to ferment, next dried under the sun. The tea has a stale aroma.
- Bancha (“common tea”) — Everyday green tea, inexpensive, low quality; uses the largest leaves (coarser heavier grades growing further down on the tea plant bush, often classed as later season sencha since is harvested between Summer and Autumn). Well-defined character, vivid yellow colors, refreshing and deep flavors that go well with food (some describe the taste as mild and mellow with toasty notes). Low in caffeine. Not sweet like true Sencha.
- Dancha (“brick tea”) — Steamed, mold-pressed, then dried.
- Funsaicha — Ordinary non-shaded tea leaves that are pulverized into a yellowish green super-fine powder.
Round 2 has even more great Japanese teas.
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