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(Permanent Edition) A Thorough Explanation of Japanese Tea!

In a recent survey conducted on our media site regarding Japanese Tea, the results indicated that most respondents "have an awareness of Japanese Tea".
Today, this special edition will thoroughly explain the history of Japanese Tea as well as the most delicious way to make it. Hopefully, those who share this awareness will read this article!

The culture of tea has taken root in Japan
The culture of tea has taken root in Japan

1. Japanese Tea is known as "Green Tea"

All teas originate from the same leaf: the characteristically green tea of Japan, Chinese oolong tea, or the black tea enjoyed around the world. Tea varieties are sorted by tea tree type and cultivation, as well as differences in processing methods.
Among the teas made in Japan, most types are green teas, so that's why "Japanese tea" means "green tea". Furthermore, green tea is divided into different types based on its production methods. For example, you can see how the following types differ: Sencha, Matcha, Gyokuro and Hojicha.

The same green tea has different names based on how it is made
The same green tea has different names based on how it is made

2. The Difference Between Sencha and Matcha

As was previously explained, there are several different types of green tea. Sencha accounts for 2/3 of Japan's tea output while Matcha is familiar to people outside of Japan as a flavoring for sweets and treats. Let's explore their differences.

Sencha

First of all, from its budding to harvest, Sencha is grown in full sunlight. After harvest, it is steamed in strong vapor, then by gradually increasing the heat, the water evaporates and the leaves are sorted as they dry out. Grown in the sunshine, this tea characteristically features a pleasant bitterness and a mild fragrance.
By the way, this tea is finely ground into a powder and processed to be used as the powdered tea that can be found at conveyor-belt "kaiten" sushi shops.

Sencha
Sencha

Matcha

With Matcha, a major difference is that it is covered up in the tea plantation, thus preventing exposure to direct sunlight for a certain period of time. In addition, after steaming the leaves, they are dried without sorting, then carefully ground into a fine powder. By protecting it from direct sunlight for a certain period of time, the bitterness is reduced, thus producing a leaf with a lot of "umami" flavor. Since it producing Matcha requires extra care, such as removing unnecessary parts like the stems, it is more expensive than other green teas.

Matcha
Matcha

3. The History of Japanese Tea

The history of tea in Japan started about 1,200 years ago. We have picked up the main points here, which are summarized below.

The Heian Era (794-1185)

This is believed to be the start of tea in Japan, as the seeds were brought over from China by Buddhist monks such as Kukai and Saicho. At that time, tea was very precious, so only a few people could drink it.

The Kamakura Era (1185-1333)

From about this time, the culture of drinking tea spread to samurai. Tea cultivation started in Kyoto, where it continues to this day. With such a long history, Kyoto (namely, Uji, which is part of Kyoto) has become famous for its tea production.

The Muromachi Era (1336-1573)

In the Muromachi Era, there were contests to see who could successfully distinguish the tastes of teas. Later, tea parties became popular. There were no contests at these events, but people could enjoy the elegance of drinking tea out of gorgeously designed imported tea cups.

Azuchi-Momyama Era (1573-1603)

In this era, there were no competitions for gorgeous implements and flashy contrivances. Rather, a higher state of mind was pursued through the enjoyment of "Wabicha", in which the mind was silenced by making tea. This practice is connected to the modern age through the tea ceremony called "Chado", or the Way of Tea.

The Edo Era (1603-1868)

By this time, tea was enjoyed not only by samurai and royalty, but also by ordinary people. In particular, in Kyoto's Uji-Tahara Town, a production method was developed to enhance tea flavor and aroma. The excellent tea produced by the Uji method made it even more popular.

The Meiji Era (1868-1912)

During this period in Japan, there was a reformation in government, with power transferred from shoguns to the Emperor. After this revolution, the last shogun, Yoshinobu Tokugawa, moved to Shizuoka, where rough land was plowed to make a tea plantation. That land was passed on to the local farmers, and Shizuoka Prefecture became one of a limited number of places in Japan that produce tea.

Nowadays

Ito-en, a major beverage manufacturer in Japan, was the first in the world to develop a canned tea. From that time, tea could easily be enjoyed anywhere. Japanese people took to the custom of drinking tea to such an extent that it became known as the national drink of Japan.

The above is a simple history of tea in Japan. Your country may also have such a proud history of tea.

4. How to Enjoy Delicious Tea

Tea is a drink in which the taste and aroma change according to how it's prepared. With a focus on matcha, we will explain how to prepare delicious tea and as well as the manners to follow for enjoying it.

4-1. Enjoy Matcha "Authentically" by Following "Chado"

First, we will introduce the traditional and authentic way to make matcha as well as the manners associated with Chado, or the Way of Tea.

Items to Prepare

  • Matcha and a Tea Whisk
  • A Tea Scoop (a teaspoon can be substituted)
  • A can for shaking the tea, or a Tea Strainer (these are not necessary, but they can prevent the powders from clumping if used)
  • Matcha-Chawan, a bowl used for matcha (a cafe au lait bowl may be substituted)
  • "Yu-zamashi " (a separate tea cup for cooling the hot water)
Implements used to make Matcha
Implements used to make Matcha

From the left:
・Hishaku : This scoop is used to scoop up hot water and pour it into the tea bowl
・Matcha-Chawan: This bowl is used for drinking Matcha (powdered green tea)
・Natsu-me or Usuki: These containers are used to store Matcha
・Chasen: Made of bamboo, this whisk is used to whip up the Matcha tea

The proper amounts for one cup of Matcha

  • The amount of Matcha: about 2 scoops, or 1 scant teaspoon (about 2.0 grams)
  • The amount of hot water: about 60 milliliters

The temperature of the hot water

Use hot water that has been boiled. Once poured into the bowl, let it cool a little bit before using it to make tea.

How to make the tea

Step 1: Place matcha in the bowl

By heating the bowl ahead of time, it is possible to make the tea even more delicious.
In addition, clumping can be prevented by shaking the matcha through a strainer.

Placing the matcha inside a tea bowl
Placing the matcha inside a tea bowl

Step 2: Pour hot water that is set at the proper temperature

Using a water scoop, pour the hot water into the tea bowl. The appropriate amount is about 1/4 to 1/5 the volume of the bowl.

Pouring the hot water
Pouring the hot water

Step 3: Making the tea

Stand the whisk straight up in the tea bowl. Start mixing the tea with small revolutions of the whisk around the bowl, gradually gaining speed until the whisk moves back and forth with a flick of the wrist. When a light froth has formed, lift the whisk from the center of the bowl, and the tea will rise beautifully in the middle.

Making the Matcha
Making the Matcha

Step 4: How to drink the tea

  1. Start with the phrase, "O-temae chodai itashimasu", which roughy translates as, "I humbly receive your honorable offering".
  2. Holding the tea bowl in your right hand, place it in the palm of your left.
  3. Receive it with gratitude (a slight bow will express this).
  4. Bring the tea bowl toward the chest with your right hand.
  5. Rotate the tea bowl twice with with the right hand, then drink the tea.
  6. (The tea bowl has been placed so the pattern appears on the front, so try not to place your lips on it. Even when there is no pattern on the bowl, it is good manners to avoid drinking from the front.)
  7. After drinking the tea, use your thumb and forefinger to lightly wipe the place where you drank.
  8. Rotate the tea bowl twice in the opposite direction and return it to the front.

4-2. Enjoy Matcha "Easily" with a Teapot

Even without performing an authentic tea ceremony like the one described above, a teapot may be used to enjoy tea more easily.

Items to Prepare

  • A tea cup
  • A tea pot

The appropriate amount for one cup

1 gram (a scant teaspoon)

The temperature and amount of hot water

Boiled water 100 milliliters

How to make the tea

Place a scant teaspoon of matcha into the teapot and pour the boiled water over it.
After rotating the teapot horizontally, pour the tea into a teacup.

Matcha made in a teapot
Matcha made in a teapot

4-3. Enjoy Matcha "Very Easily" with Instant Tea

A simpler way to enjoy tea than the Chado tea ceremony has been introduced above, but this writer feels that even using a teapot can be a bit bothersome. Now I'd like to explain how to enjoy tea by using an instant powdered tea product. When we look at instant food, it might leave the impression that the taste or aroma will be lacking. However, there is a product made and sold by Ito-En, the beverage manufacturer mentioned at the end of this article's section on The History of Japanese Tea. Their "O-I O-cha Loose Sencha with Matcha" is a little different. By being very particular in their selection of ingredients and production methodology, Ito-En created a tea that retains the original taste and aroma of real green tea.

Amount: 40 grams / Designated unit price: ¥500 (tax excluded)/ Sold at: Supermarkets, convenience stores
Amount: 40 grams / Designated unit price: ¥500 (tax excluded)/ Sold at: Supermarkets, convenience stores

It's very simple to prepare with the following two steps.

  • Step 1: Put about 1 teaspoon (0.8 grams) of "O-I O-cha Loose Sencha with Matcha" into a tea bowl.
  • Step 2: Pour hot or cold water into the bowl (even cold water easily dissolves in this wonderfully developed product!)

Just by doing the above, you may be surprised by the taste, color and aroma that can be savored, all with an authentic green tea flavor.

使用「お~いお茶(OIOCHA) 清爽抹茶綠茶」可以輕鬆品味日本茶
Green tea can be savored very easily with "O-I O-cha Loose Sencha with Matcha"

5. An Introduction to Japan's Tea-Producing Regions

Finally, I'd like to introduce some famous tea-producing areas around Japan. The main tea-producing regions are pictured in the map below.

Famous Tea-Producing Regions
Famous Tea-Producing Regions

Among these regions, there are three that produce teas which I'd especially like to introduce to people overseas.

Uji-cha (Region of Production: Kyoto Prefecture)

In the suburbs of Uji city in Kyoto Prefecture, the whole area of Yamashiro and Wazuka town is famous for producing high-quality teas. Featuring an elegant fragrance and rich "umami" flavor, it shallow steaming is the main process. In addition to Matcha, it is known for producing other varieties of tea, such as Gyokuro and crushed tea (the basis for Matcha).

Yame-cha (Region of Production: Fukuoka Prefecture)

This area is well-known as a producer of Gyokuro tea. With plural cultivation, this tea features a fresh green color and a flavorful "umami". Mainly processed by medium to deep steaming, this tea is produced in the towns of Hoshino-mura and Kurogi-cho in Yame city.

Shizuoka-cha (Region of Production: Shizuoka Prefecture)

This region boasts the the largest tea production in all of Japan. Next to Uji-cha, it is the best-known tea of Japan. In the mountain valleys of Kawane, Tenryu and Yamamoto, the climate is favorable for producing the high-quality tea that Shizuoka is famous for.
In particular, Shizuoka Prefecture has the largest tea production of all tea-producing regions in Japan. There are many famous tea-producing areas in Shizuoka Prefecture, and each one features its own special characteristics.

No matter where you go in Shizuoka Prefecture, you will see a tea-producing area.
No matter where you go in Shizuoka Prefecture, you will see a tea-producing area.

By the way, Shizuoka's tea is supported by tea masters called "Cha-shi". From ancient times, tea production has relied on the work of "hand-sorting". Their skills and techniques at sorting can determine the price of tea by matching the conditions and characteristics of the leaves that were harvested to the type of tea they want to make. Thanks to the hand-sorting skills that have been polished over the years, the efforts of Cha-shi have continued to create a tea of high quality.

A worker picking tea leaves
A worker picking tea leaves

The above information is not well known, even among Japanese people. Now that you know a little about Japanese tea, you can show off to your friends or family, so be sure to bookmark this article!