Ujicha is one of the leading brands of tea in Japan, and ialong with Shizuokacha and Sayamacha it is one of the three great teas of Japan.
So what kind of tea is Ujicha, and what makes it unique? I’ll be introducing the definition of what constitutes Ujicha, the amount produced, and the reason why this tea is so beloved.
The Definition of Ujicha
Ujicha indicates tea which has been produced and processed around the Uji Tawara region of Kyoto, but not just anything can be labelled Ujicha. Every year the rules for the labelling of foods become stricter, and in 2004 the public interest incorporated association for the Kyoto Tea Businesses Meeting decided on a definition for Ujicha.
The definition is:
“Based upon the sum total of the history, culture, geography, and weather which have contributed to the development of Ujicha, the leaves for Ujicha shall be from Kyoto, Nara, Saga, or Mie, and Ujicha shall be processed within Kyoto by a Kyoto business. Additionally, product produced within Kyoto shall be prioritized.”
This means that “Ujicha” is a tea processed for production in Kyoto by a Kyoto craftsperson, and that the leaves used are mainly grown in Kyoto, as well as leaves from the three surrounding prefectures which directly inherited the method of production. If you were to use a compass to draw a circle with its center on the region from which Japanese Rokucha originates, Uji Tawara, it would encompass four prefectures: Nara, Saga, and Mie, as well as Kyoto. This shows how open and sharing Nagatani Souen, the inventor of Sencha, was about sharing his manufacturing methods, and how the effects of this continue today.
The Amount of Tea Produced in Kyoto
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries' report, the "2016 Land Area for Tea Picking, Amount of Raw Leaves Picked, and Production Output of Unprocessed Tea," there were 3,190 tons of unprocessed tea leaves produced in Kyoto, the 5th largest harvest in the nation. Incidentally, Shizuoka prefecture, which is well known for its tea, produced the most, at 30,700 tons, and it was followed by Kagoshima prefecture, where 24,600 tons were produced, and Mie prefecture, with 6,370 tons.
However, among the many teas produced in Japan, 1,780 tons of premium teas like Gyokuro and Matcha, where the plant is shaded, were produced in Kyoto, more than anywhere else in Japan. This represents half of all teas produced in Kyoto. This is why Kyoto teas are thought of as premium tea, and why the Kyoto brand is well received both in Japan, and around the world.
Why is it that Ujicha has long been beloved as one of Japan’s three famous teas?
The History of Kyoto as the Birthplace of Japanese Rokucha
Around the beginning of the Kamakura era, the Zen Buddhist monk Eisai of the Kenninji temple brought back tea seeds with him from his studies in China, which he cultivated in the Togano region of Kyoto, following which the monk Myoe-shonin brought this tea, and these methods of production to Uji.
The uniquely Japanese method of tea production was further refined in the Edo era by Nagatani Souen, who lived in Uji Tawara. With the method of production he developed, the quality of the tea improved, which is how the Uji Tawara region of Kyoto went down in history as the place where Japanese Rokucha first originated.
Customs with Their Roots in the Culture of Kyoto
The culture surrounding hospitality and tea grew among the upper classes of society and in the Kamakura era, teahouses became more common in Zen Buddhist temples. Tea became more widely used as a social tool. The tea of Uji was produced near the center of Kyoto, which meant it was also supported by the emperor, and by the current shogun. During the age of the civil wars, tea culture spread even further with tea ceremonies. From this historical background as well, you can see that Ujicha has always been at the center of tea culture in Japan.
Climates Ideal for Raising Tea Plants
The average yearly rainfall ideal for raising tea is over 1,300 mm, and the average yearly temperature is 14 to 16 degrees; both of which match perfectly with the conditions in Kyoto and around Uji Tawara. On top of this, it’s said that for especially high quality teas, the larger the temperature difference between night and day, the better the fragrance will become, which is why the Uji Tawara area has long flourished as a place where high quality tea is produced, and its name is well known.
Ujicha isn’t known solely for being a famous name, it also has a historical background, a climate and geography ideal for raising tea, and other factors which have contributed to creating it’s current status. When you drink Ujicha, I hope you’ll remember the tea’s history and the environment where it’s produced, and that you’ll be able to enjoy it even more.