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Japanese tea in a brief historical glance

Tea has been drunk in Japan since the ninth century. An old Japanese document states that a priest named Saicho in the year 805 brings the first tea to Japan from China.

In China, tea has been known for thousands of years and during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) many Japanese travelers went to China for art, culture and especially to learn about Buddhism, which was in full bloom at that time. During their travels, the Japanese also become acquainted with tea, which was an important cultural and social element during this period, where producing, preparing and drinking tea could be a complex and sophisticated affair. The most widespread form of tea in the Tang Dynasty was “tea cake”. These cakes were made by turning lightly steamed tea leaves into a paste which was then pressed and then baked. When preparing tea, you broke pieces of the “cake” which was then ground to a powder and then mixed with hot water, various spices, herbs and salt. During the latter half of the Tang Dynasty period, tea was quite widespread and consumed daily.

Tea was in Japan, for long periods, reserved for the monks, the upper class, the samurai and the “elite”. Tea was used as a stimulant during meditation in the Zen Buddhist temples (matcha tea sharpens concentration) and this is still the case in the temples to this day. Tea was also served in the finer homes, and the samurai used the tea as a purgative (for example, hangover) after wild parties that overflowed with sake.

Japanese tea for all kinds of occasions

Tea has a significant place in Japan to this day. Tea is now for everyone and can be purchased in many quality levels.

Tea has become a philosophy (Cha-do = Tea way), part of the finest and most sophisticated part of Japanese culture (the Japanese tea ceremony) and even the former Kyoto Imperial Palace, Katsura Rikyu, became in 1620-1663 erected with a focus on tea culture as each palace is built around a tea (fire) place.

Today there are hundreds of tea schools in Japan and millions of people work with tea in Japan. Green tea is enjoyed daily by most Japanese and green tea is included in food, cakes and desserts. Green tea can also be enjoyed and experienced at an elevated level, in the form of the Japanese Tea Ceremony (established in the 16th century by the Zen monk Sen no Rikyou 1522-1591) which is an art form that the Japanese still consider to be one of the most outstanding within a field where art and spirituality meet in a demanding discipline that takes many years to learn and understand.

Today, many Japanese people, especially women, meet at modern teahouses found throughout the Japanese metropolitan cities.

Green tea production today

Today, there are several areas in Japan that are optimal for tea production. The largest area is called Shizouka and is located in central Japan between Tokyo and Kyoto. Here are many tea producers of all sizes and a tea auction, from which a large part of the internal trade in Japan takes place. The Shizouka tea auction also deals with the international market. One of the oldest and best-known areas is Uji, located outside Kyoto. This is also where it is believed that the first tea seeds were sown by the monk Eisai brought from China in the year 1191. The Japanese tea we sell in Sing Tea House comes from the southern island of Kuyshu, where Hoshino Seichaen is located in a mountainous area by the town of Yame.

Hoshino Seichaen is a family-run business founded in 1946 and today run by the Yamaguchi brothers, who over the past 10 years have trained the next generation to take over in the near future. Hoshino Seicha is a well-known and highly recognized tea manufacturing company in Japan. They are often honored in Japan for the high quality, and last year they were awarded a gold medal for one of their gyokuro teas. It is something of a feat in Japan where there are many thousands of tea makers.

Production methods of Japanese tea

In Japan, green tea is mainly cultivated. Over the past 15 years, however, several manufacturers have made a smaller production of oxidized tea (black tea). The black tea is, on par with the green tea, of very high quality. The name for black tea in Japanese is Koucha.

The special characteristic of Japanese green tea is its high quality. The Japanese are often characterized by being a people with an very high detailed approach to many things. This also applies to their approach to tea production. They have developed some production methods that far exceed the technique and processing usually associated with tea production.

In Japan, the leaves are steamed and dried over several stages, after which the leaves are eventually rolled to give a “needle-shaped” appearance. For the finer teas (gyokuro tea and matcha tea), the tea bushes are covered with bamboo mats so that the bushes are not exposed to direct sunlight. This shade, increases content of vitamins, minerals and amino acids in the tea, which gives the tea a more intense, fresh and sweet taste. The high quality teas are picked only once a year, which is in May, this pick is called ichi ban cha. When the leaves are picked (by hand for the particularly high grades), the leaves are transported in a refrigerator to a nearby production site and within 1 hour, the leaves are processed and placed in cold stores so that they do not lose the freshness and vitality.

Quality green Japanese tea is determined by the deep green color of the dry needle-shaped leaves. Japanese green tea can have a variety of flavours from mineral to “juicy” grassy flavors. A common characteristic is the fresh taste, which in some teas can taste more of seaweed and in others like spinach / peas / vegetables. The really fine gyokuro teas have a high amino acid content which gives the teen rich umami taste, which tastes of vegetables / seaweed / fish / chicken / salt / sweet.

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