You can enjoy tea at any time of the year. However, do you know that there is a difference in the tea harvest time depending upon the tea cultivar and the growing area?
In this article, I’m going to introduce the tea harvest time.
When is the tea harvest time?
Tea harvest time is from late March to early October.
However, the time of picking tea leaves differs little by little depending upon the cultivar of tea, latitude, altitude, and hours of sunlight.
If all tea leaves are picked at the same time, farmers will not be able to keep up with their work, and there is a risk that the tea leaves will grow too much and lose their flavor, or the leaves will harden and become unmarketable.
By shifting the time of picking, the burden of farm work is dispersed, and tea leaves can be picked in the best condition for drinking.
Therefore, it is very important that the harvest time is dispersed.
What are “early ripening tea” and “late ripening tea”?
There are more than 100 tea cultivars, and the harvest time varies depending upon the cultivar.
Among them, there are “early ripening tea” and “late ripening tea ”.
Early ripening tea is a cultivar that picking time is early, and tea cultivars classified in this category are called early ripening cultivar.
Late ripening tea, on the other hand, is a cultivar that the harvest time is relatively late. Cultivars classified in this category are called late ripening cultivar.
Farmers can extend the harvest time by around 10 days by cultivating a combination of early ripening, medium ripening (a cultivar that is used as a standard for picking such as Yabukita) and late ripening cultivars.
That makes it possible to pick all the tea leaves at the best time.
Are there many “ early ripening tea” in Kagoshima?
Taking advantage of the mild climate, tea is picked at the end of March in Kagoshima. It is well known as “Hashiri-Shincha (Early-First picked tea)”, the fastest tea on the market.
In Kagoshima, it is customary to produce cultivars of early ripening tea and send them to the market as soon as possible. This is why many of the early ripening “Yutakamidori” are grown.
Representative cultivars of early ripening tea
There are many cultivars of early ripening tea, such as Sayamakaori, Tsuyuhikari, and Kuritawase, but the representative cultivars are Midoriyutaka and Saemidori.
It ripens 0-2 days earlier than Yabukita. Characterized by its rich aroma, it is grown mainly in Shizuoka, Saitama and Mie Prefectures. Contains a lot of catechin, so it has a relatively bitter taste.
It ripens 2 days earlier than Yabukita. The tea leaves are bright green and beautiful. It is grown especially in Shizuoka. It features a refreshing taste that brings out the flavor and sweetness in the astringency.
This is a cultivar called “very early ripening” and, its picking season is particularly early among the cultivars of early ripening tea. It is grown in warm regions such as Tanegashima (an island of Kagoshima). It has sharp bitter and fresh sweet tastes.
Yutakamidori is fertile and has a high yield. It is the second largest cultivar in Japan. It is especially grown in Kagoshima because it is sensitive to cold. The unique cultivation and processing method produces a rich and sweet taste with less bitterness.
This is a premium cultivar that combines “Yabukita” which is easy to grow and has a well-balanced flavor, and “Asatsuyu” which is also called natural Gyokuro and has a strong sweetness and flavor. It has elegant taste with well-balanced taste of “Yabukita” and sweetness and umami of “Asatsuyu”.
Representative cultivars of late ripening tea
Cultivars of late tea ripening include Kanayamidori, Harumidori, and Okuhikari, but the representative cultivars are Okumidori and Benifuki.
It ripens 4 days later than Yabukita and is mainly grown in Kagoshima and Shizuoka. It has a characteristic milky aroma.
A cultivar born from Kanayamidori that ripens six days later than Yabukita. It is a high-class tea with extremely high quality as Sencha (steeped green tea).
This is a rare cultivar that can be grown in cold regions such as mountainous regions. Its scent is strong and the taste is clear.
It has the third largest cropping area in Japan, mainly in Kagoshima, Mie, Kyoto and Shizuoka. Okudmiori has a natural sweet and mild taste. Its aftertaste is refreshing.
It also has a good fragrance, so it is recommended for people who want to enjoy the aroma of tea.
It is the cultivar registered in 1993, which is short in history compared to other cultivars, but it is famous not only for green tea but also for Japanese black tea. It contains a lot of methylated catechin, so it has become a hot topic as a green tea with an anti-allergic effect.
In this article, I’m going to introduce “Saemidori”, a cross cultivar of “Yabukita” and “Asatsuyu”.
Characteristics of “Saemidori”
The characteristic of Saemidori is its excellent quality.
Cross cultivar of “Yabukita” and “Asatsuyu”
Yabukita is easy to grow, excellent in both yield and quality. Asatsuyu is called “natural Gyokuro” because it is sweet and has a good flavor although the yield is small.
Saemidori is a cross cultivar of these two excellent cultivars.
It is the highest quality cultivar and is sometimes used for Gyokuro. In addition, Saemidori can be said a masterpiece because it has as much yield as Yabukita.
Although the cultivation area is the third largest in Japan, it still accounts for about 2% of the total. Saemidori is a cultivar that has great expectations for the future.
Resistant to cold but vulnerable to frost
Saemidori is strong against cold but weak against frost damages, and it is not so strong against diseases.
Saemidori prefers warm regions, so it was grown mainly in Kagoshima and southern Kyushu at the time when it appeared, but recently it is also grown in Shizuoka and some other region.
Early ripening cultivar
The plucking time of Saemidori is about 5 days earlier than Yabukita, and Shincha (First picked tea) is often picked from late April to early May.
However, Saemidori which is grown in warm southern areas such as Kagoshima, is sometimes picked in late March. If you want to buy its Shincha(first picked tea), you should start checking tea shops from the end of March.
Taste of Saemidori
Saemidori is well inherited the good balance of taste of Yabukita and the taste of Asatsuyu with strong sweetness and umami.
Its fragrance and taste are relatively refreshing. Its taste is less astringent and strong with sweetness and umami. The elegant taste of Saemidori can be a real luxury for those who drink it.
In addition, Saemidori is a beautiful green with a bluish tinge, so it is also recommended to serve important guests.
Depending upon the tea harvest time, tea leaves are called Ichibancha or Shincha (first picked tea), Nibancha (second picked tea), Sanbancha (third picked tea) and Yonbancha or autumn/winter picked tea (fourth picked tea).
Generally, the earlier the tea is picked, the higher the quality and the more delicious the tea is.
In this article, I’m going to introduce the characteristics of tea picked in each season.
*The taste and season are slightly different depending upon the cultivar and environment, so I will explain the typical taste and season.
What is "Shincha"?
Shincha (first picked tea) and Ichibancha are the same tea though they are called differently.
Generally, Shincha is picked on Hachiju-Hachiya (the 88th day), counting from Risshun (the first day of spring). It is the tea of the best quality and is traded at the highest price.
You can enjoy its fresh fragrance and taste like fresh green leaves.
Shincha is also popular as a gift because it is a lucky charm that is said “Drinking new tea will keep you healthy for a year”.
What are “Ichibancha” and "Nibancha” ?
It depends upon the growing area and cultivar, but Japanese tea leaves are basically picked 4 times in a year.
- Ichibancha (first picked tea) - from late April to the end of May
- Nibancha (second picked tea) - from mid June to early July
- Sanbancha (third picked tea) - from late July to early August
- Yonbancha or Autumn/winter Bancha (fourth picked tea) - from late September to Early October
The tea picked at a different time from those 4 times is called Bancha.
Characteristics of "Ichibancha"
As I mentioned earlier, Ichibancha (Shincha) is the highest quality tea in a year and it is traded at the highest price.
Ichibancha contains less catechin which causes astringency, and a lot of amino acid which causes sweetness and umami, so it has less astringency, and you can clearly feel the sweetness and umami of tea.
In addition, you can enjoy fresh and refreshing fragrance like sprouts.
The reason why Ichibancha is said to be the most delicious is related to the growing speed.
Other teas grow and are picked about a month after they sprout, but Ichibancha slowly grows by storing plenty of nutrients for about six months after the last plucking in the previous year. Because of that, it is packed with umami and fragrance.
By the way, as for the distinction between “Ichibancha” and “Shincha”, “Ichibancha” is used to distinguish tea picked in other seasons such as Nibancha (second picked tea) and Sanbancha (third picked tea) as described in this article, and “Shincha” is often used to mean tea picked for the first time of the year.
Characteristics of "Nibancha"
Nibancha is picked about 40 days after Ichibancha is picked.
It grows during long hours of sunlight, so it contains a lot of catechin produced by the action of light. For this reason,some people find Nibancha more bitter than Ichibancha, but it is said that Nibancha is good for antibacterial and prevention of lifestyle-related disease.
Characteristics of "Sanbancha" and "Yonbancha"
The taste and nutrition of Sanbancha and Yonbancha are lower compared to Ichibancha because it is picked without taking long time to grow.
Like Nibancha, Sanbancha and Yonbancha grow during long hours of sunlight, so they contain a lot of catechin and have a bitter taste.
Some farms leave Sanbancha grown and pick it at the time of Yonbancha or pick Sanbancha and do not pick Yonbancha.
After Sanbancha, it is often used as raw materials for processing such as PET bottle processing and Hojicha (roasted green tea).
Characteristics of autumn-winter Bancha
Autumn-winter Bancha is grown carefully without picking Sanbancha and picked from autumn to winter.
This tea has a refreshing taste and contains less caffeine, so it is recommended for those who do not want to take caffeine often.
Characteristics of Bancha
Bancha is coarse tea made from old or hard leaves picked at a late time, and it means the tea of inferior quality.
Bancha includes leaves that have grown too long and become hard, leaves that have been picked later than the normal harvest time and left over, leaves that have been picked in the next harvest time, leaves that have been selected because they were too big in the finishing process of Sencha (steeped green tea), and stems and leaves that have been cut for training.
Bancha is a green tea that is often used as a raw material because it is refreshing, has little bitterness, and has a high degree of transparency in its leached color. It is also often used as a raw material in PET bottles.
There are more than 100 tea cultivars in Japan alone, and there are an enormous number of cultivars in the world.
However, there are only two groups of tea plants that are the origin of so many tea cultivars on the earth.
Assam group and China group
All tea cultivars including black tea, oolong tea and green tea, are roughly divided into two groups: Assam group (large leaf tea) and China group (small leaf tea).
Branched from these two groups, various kinds of tea cultivars have been produced.
By the way, almost all of Japanese tea belongs to China group.
Characteristics of Assam group
Assam group is mainly used for black tea because it is rich in tannin, has a rich aroma, and it is easily oxidized.
It is grown mainly in Sri Lanka and India because it is sensitive to cold and it likes hot and humid climate.
Assam group has no particular plucking tie and it is picked 40 ~ 50 times a year.
By the way, the best tea leaves can be picked from March to June and from September to November, which is called the quality season. In particular, tea leaves picked in March and April is called first flush, and you can enjoy a particularly rich taste and aroma.
Characteristics of China group
China group is often used for green tea because it has less tannin, has a delicate taste and aroma, and is difficult to oxidize.
It is not only resistant to cold and grown in cold and dry places, but also adaptable and grown in hot and humid places. It is grown in Japan, China and Taiwan.
From the beginning of spring to the beginning of autumn, China group is picked about four times a year. In Japan, the first tea picked that year is called “Ichibancha or Shincha (first picked tea)” and the tea picked at that time is the highest quality and is traded at a high price.
History of Assam group
Assam group was a wild tea tree found in Assam, India. However, there were various difficulties before it became widespread throughout the world.
In the 1780s, imported tea trees of China group were already planted in India.
The people in India were looking for wild tea trees in their own country, not from China, but it was hard to find.
In 1823, British botanist Robert Bruce visited in Assam, India, and discovered a tea tree he had never seen. This was the discovery of Assam group (later).
However, the Indian botanist's verdict was “This is not a tea tree, but a camellia tree.”.
It was not recognized as a tea tree at that time. Robert Bruce died in despair.
It was finally recognized as a tea tree thanks to the efforts of Robert’s younger brother Charles, who took over his will. It was the birth of Assam group.
Under the direction of Charles, the first Indian green tea made from Assam group was produced in 1838. In the following year, it was auctioned off in London at a high price.
This had raised expectations and interests in the tea business, but it had been difficult.
The land of Assam had been inhabited by dangerous wild animals and poisonous snakes, so it had been hard to develop.
Meanwhile, infectious diseases such as malaria and cholera spread and many workers died.
Tea leaves of Assam group was managed to produce, but it was too hard to secure a transportation route for exportation.
However, Assam group was a hope for the people of that time, so they had never given up.
As a result, tea production took off around 1850, 27 years after the first discovery, and the cultivation of Assam group tea trees began in Southeast Asia and Africa.
After that, black tea was born, and it has spread all over the world, mainly in the UK, until now.
History of China group
The origin of tea is China. The history of tea is started before Christ. The tea has existed since ancient times and it appears in ancient mythology.
There are various theories about the origin of tea, but the theory that the first tea tree was found in the southwest area of Yunnan is widely accepted.
Around this time, tea leaves were recognized as a medicine and began to be consumed as a luxury around 59 B.C.
Around 760, the world's oldest tea book, Chakyo (The Classic of Tea) was completed, and the way of drinking and brewing tea became close to the current style.
Chinese tea arrived in Japan in 805. The history of Japanese tea has started from here.
A long time later, around 1610, Chinese tea was imported to Europe for the first time.
Chinese tea was brought to Taiwan even later, around 1810.
Assam group was discovered more than 10 years later.
The history of Assam group is much shorter than that of the China group, and it is a very new variety that was discovered less than 200 years ago.
In this article, I’m going to introduce “Yutakamidori”, the second largest cultivar in Japan.
Characteristics of “Yutakamidori”
Yutakamidori has the following characteristics.
Resistant to diseases but vulnerable to cold
Although Yutakamidori is resistant to mold diseases such as anthracnose, it is susceptible to frost damages and vulnerable to cold climate, so it is grown mainly in the warm Kyushu region.
It has a high fertility and a high yield, so it is a tea cultivar that is profitable for farmers in the warm and frost-resistant areas.
The production area is mainly Kagoshima Prefecture.
Although Yutakamidori accounts for only 5% of the total production in Japan, it accounts for 30% in Kagoshima Prefecture and is a very popular cultivar.
They are often cultivated in southern countries because they are sensitive to cold, and they are often cultivated in Miyazaki Prefecture other than Kagoshima.
Kagoshima is now known for its delicious tea, but there was a time when it had a bad reputation as “The tea in Kagoshima is cheap and not so good.” It is said that Yutakamidori overturned that image and brought Kagoshima to the famous tea production area.
Early harvest time
Yutakamidori is an early ripening cultivar with an early harvest time and picked more than 5 days earlier than Yabukita. Generally, new tea is picked on Hachiju-Hachiya (the 88th day), counting from Risshun (the first day of spring). Yutakamidori is called Hashiri-Shincha (Early-First picked tea) because it is picked on the 77th day after Risshun. Yutakamidori is distributed throughout Japan at the end of April, a little earlier than other teas.
Taste of “Yutakamidori”
The southern part of the country, including Kagoshima, where Yutakamidori is grown, tea leaves get more bitter and astringent due to the long hours of sunlight. In order to prevent this, the tea field is covered with a black cover from a week before harvest to block out the sunlight. This method reduces bitterness and astringency.
In addition, by lengthening the time of “steaming” which is the production process of Sencha (Steeped green tea), it becomes strong and mild taste.
Yutakamidori is a cultivar with attractive balance of astringency and sweetness, rich and deep tastes, and beautiful light blue color.
Even if you've never heard of the name “Yabukita” you probably drink it without realizing it. That is Yabukita, the most produced cultivar of green tea in Japan.
In this article, I’m going to introduce Yabukita cultivar.
"Yabukita" is the standard for green tea
There are more than 100 Japanese tea cultivars, but nearly 80% of the green tea produced in Japan is Yabukita. In some areas, it's as high as 90%.
Of course, even if it's the same cultivar, the taste will change a little depending on the land where it's grown and how it's processed, so it doesn’t mean “the same cultivar = exactly the same taste”.
Characteristics of Yabukita
The reason why Yabukita has been cultivated all over Japan is the outstanding characteristics of Yabukita.
Yabukita is famous for its excellent quality. In particular, the quality of Sencha (steeped green tea) is highly regarded as “extremely good”.
It has a well-balanced taste of astringency, umami, sweetness and richness, and is loved by everyone
Easy to grow
Yabukita is not only of good quality but also easy to grow because it is a wide regional adaptable cultivar. It can be grown anywhere in Japan.
In addition, Yabukita is strong against cold and resistant to frost damages, so that the color of its leaves can be kept clean even in cold places and it is hard to wither.
Nowadays, it is common to grow tea with cuttings, but people used to plant seeds to grow tea trees.
By growing the tea from seeds, the quality of the tea varies depending on how it is grown. When tea farmers have been struggling with this problem, Yabukita, a cultivar of a stable supply of high-quality tea appeared.
It is said that tea is harvested in 5 to 8 years and replanted about once every 30 years.
Therefore, selecting tea cultivars is an important task that determines the fate of tea fields. Yabukita became popular because they can produce high-quality tea stably.
Have a high yield
Yabukita is originally a variety with a high yield, and since it sprouts (the emergence of new buds from a tea leaf. Farmers pick the first tea in about a month after it has sprouted.) at a time when it is less susceptible to frost damage, it can achieve a higher yield than other cultivars.
The biggest characteristic of Yabukita is that it has high quality, high yield, and is grown easily .
It is the reason why Yabukita spread all over Japan.
History of Yabukita
The history of Yabukita started when it was discovered in Shizuoka in 1908.
Yabukita and Yabuminami
SUGIYAMA Hikosaburo, who was a tea researcher at that time, developed a bamboo grove in Shizuoka, and created a tea field where he conducted various researches on tea. Once, two excellent tea trees were selected in the tea field.
Of the two trees selected, the tea tree planted on the north side of the bamboo grove was named “Yabukita” and the tea tree planted on the south side of that was named “Yabu minami”.
As a result of continuous observation and experiments, Yabukita turned out to be better than Yabuminami, so Yabukita was finally chosen. After that, the current Yabukita was made by repeated breeding.
The rapidly expanding in Showa period
Yabukita was not evaluated immediately.
After the War, more than 10 years after SUGIYAMA Hikosaburo’s death, Yabukita gained a high reputation and was designated as a recommended cultivar of Shizuoka Prefecture. It was also selected a registered cultivar of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. So Yabukita was rapidly spreading throughout Japan.
In 1972, “Yabukita” occupies 88% of tea fields in Japan.
Designated as a natural monument of Shizuoka.
Yabukita's mother tree, which was discovered more than 100 years ago and made the history of green tea, actually still exists today and has fresh, green leaves.
Yabukita's mother tree is designated as a natural monument of Shizuoka Prefecture. Although the tree is now over 110 years old, locals and tea-loving tourists still gather to see it.