How do you picture an area famous for its tea production? Today, tea production is in full swing across Japan, but here I’ll be introducing Uji, Kyoto, where production of tea in Japan first began, and other areas famous for producing tea. We’ll take a look at the unique characteristics, and the differences between tea from these regions.
The Brithplace of Rokucha in Japan, Uji Tawara
It’s said that tea first originated in inland China (around the Yunnan province), before spreading around the world. Tea came to Japan from China, and by the Heian era, tea was already being processed in a similar manner to Matcha and drunk. However, tea at the time was still a luxury item, and only a select few in the upper echelons of society could drink it.
Sencha of the sort drunk today only came about in the Edo era. This is when Nagatani Souen developed a new method of processing tea. His method involved steaming the leaves, and then massaging them while drying. This development marked the advent of Rokucha, or green tea, named for the color of the tea water. Because Nagatani Souen was born, and developed this new method of processing tea in the Uji Tawara region of Kyoto, the area became known as the birthplace of Japanese Rokucha. Today Ujicha is known as one of the three famous teas of Japan, alongside Shizuokacha and Sayamacha. As a leading area of tea production in Japan, the Uji brand is so strong that even today the name Uji is synonymous with tea.
Other Famous Brands of Tea
Sayamacha is produced in the area between western Saitama prefecture, and the Nishi Tama area of Tokyo. “Sayama Biire” (Sayama Roasting) is a method of roasting the tea leaves which has continued since the Edo era, which produces the distinctive aroma and rich taste of the tea.
Sayamacha is mainly produced around Sayama, Saitama, and in 2016 the where 884 hectares utilized for farming the tea, with a raw harvest of 652 tons. While production is small in scale, the name power of the brand is strong, and it tends to be an expensive tea.
Shizuokacha is tea produced in Shizuoka, and it is mainly produced in the Makinohara Daichi area and the surrounding area. Farmland area and production amounts both comprise about 40% of the total for Japan, with 17,400 hectares farms, and 30,700 tons of raw tea produced, both of which are the largest for any tea in Japan. Many people probably strongly associate Shizuoka with tea. The cooperative in charge of Shizuokacha sets strict rules for labelling, and only teas which are 100% made with tea raised in Shizuoka can be named Shizuokacha, while teas with over 50% Shizuoka-raised tea labelled “Shizuoka Blend,” and teas which don’t meet these standards can’t be labelled as Shizuokacha. Shizuokacha is a fukamushicha, or a tea steamed for longer than other teas, which gives it its distinctive rich flavor. The main tea plant used is Yabukita, and the area focuses on producing tea which has a flavor well-balanced between light and astringent.
Isecha is a tea produced in Mie prefecture, and in 2016 there were 3,000 hectares of land being used to farm, and 6,370 tons of raw tea produced, both of which are the 3rd highest of any region in Japan. Isecha has a long history, and there are records which show that it was already being produced in the Heian era. This region is especially well suited for growing tea, and the tea here is known for its strong flavor, and thick leaves. The northern region mainly produces Kabusecha (where the plant is shaded before the harvest) and the Southern region produces Fukamushicha (where the tea is especially well steamed).
Yamecha is a brand made with tea produced within Fukuoka prefecture, and it is mainly produced around Yame City, Chikugo City, and Hirokawa in the Yame area. In 2016 there were 1,550 hectares of land being farmed in Fukuoka for the tea, with 1,870 tons of tea produced.
The area has a large temperature difference between night and day, a tendency to produce fog, and a unique geography which blocks the sun, and is ideal for producing Gyokuro, which is why it is such a large production center for Gyokuro. While it isn’t as well known as Shizuokacha, Yamecha is becoming better known as producing premium teas and Gyokuro.
The main type of plant being raised is the Yabukita, alongsie other types such as Kanayamidori, Okumidori, and Saemidori.
Miyazakicha is a brand of tea produced in the Miyazaki prefecture, which is produced mostly in Hyuga city, Miyakonojo city, and the town of Kawaminami. In 2016, there were 1,420 hectares of land used for farming the tea, with a raw production amount of 3,760 tons, making it the 4th largest producing are brand in Japan. While many brands are leaving the tea market in Japan, this brand is relatively new, and is still expanding its market. Miyazakicha is mainly made with Yabukita tea plants, but recently Kirari 31, a type of fast-producing plant especially resistant to the cold, has been introduced, and is attracting quite a bit of attention for it’s flexibility for use in everything from Sencha to Gyokuro.
Kagoshimacha is a tea produced in Kagoshima, and in 2016 there were 8,520 hectares of land being used to farm the tea, with 24,600 tons of raw tea produced, making this the second highest producing area of Japan, second only to Shizuoka. The main tea plant used is Yabukita, followed by the nicely scented Yutaka Midori, Sae Midori, and Asatsuyu. Originally Kagoshima was mainly just a producer of tea, with the processing of the tea taking place outside of the prefecture, but recently Chirancha has been marketed as a brand, which has led to greater recognition for Kagoshimacha as a whole.
As you can see, there are quite a few different places where tea is produced in Japan, with the taste and scent of the tea differing with the climate and geography of each region. If you take this information into account while trying tea from different brands across Japan, I think you’ll be able to enjoy the differences between them, and be able to look for your own favorite.