Ujicha is well known as a leading brand of tea in Japan. Here we will explain the history of how Ujicha came to be. Ujicha is the origin point for Japanese tea, and the production methods used for Ujicha are also critical to producing other teas such as Sencha and Gyokuro. Ujicha is where Japanese tea began, and it’s also the place where the production methods used for Japanese teas today were first born. Here we will be presenting this history to you.
The Origins of Ujicha
Tea was first produced in the area of Uji during the Kamakura period. The Zen Buddhist priest Eisai brought back green tea seeds with him from China when he came back from studying there, and he sent those seeds to the holy priest Myoe at the Togano Kosanji Temple in Kyoto. These seeds were then farmed by the holy priest Myoe, who went on to open a tea farms near Kyoto. Among these farms, the geography and climate of areas around Uji made the are especially hospitable for farming the tea, and led to the expansion of tea farming in the area. In the Muromachi era, several special tea farms were created at the order of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, which led to the further expansion of tea farming.
Over its long history, tea drinking has been about more then just consuming tea. It began being used as a social tool for receiving guests, and tea ceremonies referred to as chanoyu became more common place. At the same time, the Ujicha brand name became so established that it was said “for tea, Uji,” and even the family of the shogun, and the imperial family began to use Ujicha in their tea ceremonies, as Ujicha became known as a luxury item.
The History of Japanese Green Tea Beginning with Kyoto’s Ujicha
Green tea was drunk in Japan beginning in the Kamakura era, but unlike the modern method of drinking it like Sencha, the leaves were normally ground into a fine powder, mixed with hot water, and drunk, similar to how Matcha is consumed. Speaking of Matcha, it was known as a luxury item which appeared at tea ceremonies alongside Japanese-style sweets, but the tea was raised in Oishita Chaen, gardens covered from sunlight, and the method for processing the leaves was also completely different. At the time, tea leaves were boiled and then dried before being ground into powder, and the taste wasn’t as good as it is today.
There are two major points which changed the course of history for Japanese green tea. The first of these was the arrival of Sencha, and the second was the arrival of Gyokuro. Both of these originated in the Uji region of Kyoto, which is why Uji is known not just as one of the leading areas of production for Japanese green tea, but also as the place where the history of Japanese green tea was formed.
The Arrival of Sencha
Sencha is produced through a method where tea leaves are picked, steamed, and then dried while being massaged, and the method is based on the Aosei Sencha Production Method which was developed by Nagatani Soen, who lived in the Yuyadani region of Uji Tawara. Massaging the leaves before drying them greatly increases their taste, frangrance, and color, and with this new way of enjoying tea, so different from previous methods of consuming Matcha, Sencha quickly spread through the country. 1738 was in the era of the shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune, and at the time the style of drinking green tea as Sencha had spread to Edo as well. This is known as the time when it became possible for even the common people to drink delicious tea.
The Arrival of Gyokuro
Gyokuro is produced through the “Oishita Saibai” method, where the leaves are shaded from the sunlight directly before they are harvested, which increases the amino acids such as Theanine, which are responsible for the depth of flavor in the tea leaves, while also limiting the production of Catechin, which causes bitterness. Compared with normal tea, this tea has strong depth and sweetness, and it has a unique fragrance, but the amount of labor required to farm it means that it is a luxury item.
The production method for Gyokuro was also developed in Kyoto. Not stopping to rest on their laurels, the tea producers who had experienced such success with Sencha continued to develop new products, and the tea they were able to produce through their efforts was Gyokuro.
In this sense, Ujicha was not just a successfully produced tea, it also helped to shape the history of green tea itself. It could be quite nice to enjoy a cup of Ujicha while learning more about the history of Japanese green tea.