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.
Tea is divided into “unoxidized tea,” “semi-oxidized tea,” “oxidized tea,” and “fermented tea” according to the degree of oxidation/fermentation.
Green tea, which Japanese people drink, is “unoxidized tea.” It can be produced by “the steaming method,” which uses steam, or by “the roasting method,” which uses a pan. Today’s mainstream is the steaming method.
Kamairicha, a tea produced by the pan-roasting method, has very little production volume in Japan. The rare tea is called “illusory tea.”
What is Kamairicha?
Kamairicha is a tea that is produced, as its name literally suggests in Japanese, by roasting in the pan. While over 95% of Japanese tea is produced by the steaming method, Kamairicha, which requires long time and high technique, accounts for less than 1%. It is indeed illusory tea.
It is said that Kamairicha originated in the mid-15th century and came down from China to Kyushu. Tea of that time required great care before drinking; steaming, hardening, and powdering to drink or simmering, drying, and boiling to drink.
However, the tea produced by roasting leading to today’s pan-roasted tea just required pouring hot water to drink. The easy-to-prepare tea quickly spread and established its popularity. Kamairicha is rare in Japan, but most of the tea produced in China is this kind.
Features of Kamairicha
While steamed tea leaves are slender, pan-roasted ones become round and are called “Tamaryokucha (round green tea)”. Kamairicha is featured by an aroma called “kamaka (literally pan aroma in Japanese).” A pleasant aroma that arises from pan-roasting stays on the leaf. A green tea’s distinctive light flavor is less bitter and astringent.
Features of Kamairicha ingredients
Unoxidized tea has not undergone the oxidation process, so its ingredients and nutrients remain almost untouched. The tea leaf keeps a great deal of original nutrients almost as they are.
In addition to vitamin C and amino acids, the leaf contains full of nutrientive ingredients such as tannin for antioxidant effect, beta-carotene for immune enhancement and cancer prevention, etc.
Features of Kamairicha manufacturing process
Kamairicha undergoes “roasting” instead of “steaming” unlike usual green tea. Fresh tea leaves are roasted in the pan for deactivation. Pan-roasting is done by an expert because it requires considerable experience and high skills.
Production areas of Kamairicha
Kamairicha is produced mostly in Kyushu. Even famous tea-growing areas such as Shizuoka and Kyoto rarely produce it. As present, Saga Prefecture, Kumamoto Prefecture, Nagasaki Prefecture, and Miyazaki Prefecture produce it in mountain areas with abundant nature. Why does Kyushu produce a lot of it? They say it is because Kamairicha first arrived in Kyushu when it came from China.
How to drink Kamairicha
You can drink it as you drink green tea or Sencha (steeped green tea). Brew it in hot water of about 80 degrees C. Otherwise, cold brew Kamairicha also tastes good.
Matcha is used for a drink and also for a snack. It is so popular not only in Japan but also abroad. This article guides you through the wide use of Matcha, from tea ceremony to dessert, and its material Tencha.
What are Matcha and Tencha?
Even if you know Matcha, you may not know about Tencha. Tencha is a tea to make Matcha and not usually sold in the market. As with Gyokuro, Tencha undergoes cover culture for about 20 days, which lends a green-laver-like distinctive aroma and a mild, rich flavor to the tea. It is often confused with another Tencha of Chinese tea, but they are completely different teas.
Matcha is a finely ground Tencha. It is also used for tea ceremony. It is in 1783 when Sencha (steeped green tea), which is commonly consumed by Japanese people, was invented. Before then, tea exclusively referred to Matcha. In addition to the original use of drinking, there is an increased demand for other uses such as making snacks nowadays. Tencha does not need to be covered to make the Matcha for food processing.
Features of Matcha and Tencha
Matcha is the finely ground particles of Tencha and so susceptible to humidity, temperature, and light that it needs to be treated gently. Its drinking manners are different from other green teas. There are very few opportunities to see Tencha because it seldom comes on the market, but it looks very much like green laver. Its original cultivation method requires cover culture as a rule, but the covering process can be skipped to make the material of snacks.
Features of Matcha ingredients and Tencha ingredients
The ingredients of Matcha are mostly similar to Gyokuro. However, by swallowing the whole leaves that are finely ground, you can consume even the ingredients that usually remain in the leaves and are hard to take in when you brew the leaves of normal tea such as Sencha. It is called “Superfood” both domestically and internationally nowadays because you can take in a great deal of fat-soluble vitamins, catechins, and other ingredients that are good for health and beauty.
Features of Matcha process and Tencha process
Tencha is produced through cover culture as a rule. The tea farm is covered to avoid sunlight before about 20 days prior to plucking so that the leaves grow gradually. In this way, with less bitter and astringent flavors, the tea gains a lot of sweetness and umami. The manufacturing method does not have the process of rolling (i.e. kneading leaves). It just dries the leaves. Sencha’s cultivation process can be applied to Tencha if it is to be processed into snacks.
Productions areas of Matcha and Tencha
Matcha and Tencha are produced across the country. Let us focus on famous areas here.
Kyoto boasts the largest production volume of Tencha. Above all, Hamacha from Kozuya, Joyo City won the first prize of the Tencha section at the National Fair of Tea, 2017. Its landscape of tea farms is declared as a Japanese Heritage site. It is said that the cultivation method of Tencha, “cover culture,” was developed in Kyoto.
Especially Nishio City in Ehime Prefecture has a suitable environment for Tencha cultivation with a rich soil mixed with sand, good humidity, etc. They have been growing Tencha for a long time. In Nishio City, many farmers take time and effort to hand-pluck fresh buds. Tea farms of approximately 150 hectares are growing high-quality Tencha.
How to drink Matcha and Tencha
To drink Matcha, the tea is made with a tea whisk. A freshly-made tea is the best. Drink it up while it is warm.
Even if you don’t know much about tea, “Gyokuro” perhaps sounds like a high-class tea. Let us get to know more about Gyokuro, such a high-end tea also called “the king of tea.”
What is Gyokuro?
Gyokuro is a top-quality Sencha (steeped green tea). Its manufacturing process is the same as Sencha, but they differ in cultivation methods. Gyokuro is featured by the process in which the growing leaves are kept away from sunlight for about 20 days before plucking. In this way, Gyokuro gains full of umami. While the annual tea leaf production volume in Japan amounts to 86,300 tons, the production volume of Gyokuro is only 240 tons, or one four-hundredth of the nation’s output. Some of the highest-grade ones are plucked only once in a year and appreciated as an extremely rare tea.
History of Gyokuro
Gyokuro is a tea invented originally to develop a “high-grade Sencha” based on research. In 1835, the 6th head of the famous tea merchant “Yamamotoyama” applied the cover culture method to Sencha. There are several views on the story afterward, but it is said that the tea was named “Gyokuro (jewel dew in Japanese)” because its young buds were appraised for “a flavor like Kanro (dew from heaven in Japanese).”
Features of Gyokuro
Produced through time and effort, Gyokuro’s flavor and price are far above the others. A high-end Gyokuro, if it is hand-pluck Ichibancha (first picked tea), can be priced 20 times more than Sencha. The tea leaves produced through the special cultivation method called cover culture make a beautiful, deep-green liquid color. They yield rich sweetness and umami and tasty, mild flavor, and also entertain you with a distinctive aroma called “ooika (covered aroma in Japanese).”
Features of Gyokuro ingredients
Besides vitamins, caffeine, and catechin contained in Sencha, Gyokuro has a great deal of theanine, a kind of amino acids. Theanine serves as umami and also acts on nerve functions and psychology to provide various effects such as relaxation, sleep improvement, and even dementia prevention.
Features of Gyokuro process
The manufacturing process of Gyokuro is the same as Sencha, but they differ in cultivation methods. Gyokuro undergoes a 20-day cover culture to avoid sunlight three weeks prior to plucking. The purpose is to keep the leaves from gaining astringency with sunlight and let them store full of umami. Plucking is often done by hand. The cultivation of Gyokuro takes more time and effort than the other teas.
Production areas of Gyokuro
Gyokuro is produced across the country. Uji in Kyoto and Yame in Fukuoka are well-known producers.
Uji in Kyoto Prefecture
Kyoto has the largest production volume of Gyokuro and also of Tencha, the material of Matcha. Especially Uji, as a famous tea-growing area, has many domestic and international visitors seeking tea. It is said that Gyokuro’s unique cultivation method “cover culture” was developed in Uji. Many brands of Gyokuro are there. “Uji Gyokuro” is a synonym for high-grade tea. The time-and-effort-taking Gyokuro from hand-pluck ichibancha (first picked tea) is recognized as the top-quality tea across the world.
Yame in Fukuoka Prefecture
Fukuoka Prefecture has the second largest Gyokuro production. Fukuoka Prefecture started making Gyokuro in 1879. Fog arises easily in Yame, moderately shielding the growing tea leaves from sunlight so that they can contain a greater deal of amino acids. For this reason, Gyokuro in Yame has been appreciated as “Natural Gyokuro.” Its quality is one of the highest in Japan. Yame Gyokuro won the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Prize for 10 years in a row and has swept the first 26 places in the Gyokuro section at the National Fair of Tea. It has been receiving a high reputation.
How to drink Gyokuro
The best temperature to brew Sencha is about 80 degrees C, but Gyokuro should be brewed at around 60 degrees C. As with Sencha, you can enjoy only the umami of Gyokuro by brewing at low temperature. In the case of high-grade Gyokuro, you can take a sip in the mouth and slowly enjoy, or savor its flavor and aroma.
Sencha is the most common tea consumed in Japan and accounts for 80% of Japanese tea production. All Japanese people should be drinking Sencha and Fukamushi-sencha even unconsciously. How much do you know about them?
What are Sencha and Fukamushi-sencha?
Sencha originally referred to “a tea to drink by infusing.” However, today, it refers to a tea produced by blocking the oxidation of the fresh leaves with heat, kneading the leaves to dry, and giving them a needle-shape. In general, Sencha is steamed for 30–40 seconds. If it is steamed double, for 60–80 seconds, the tea is called “Fukamushi-sencha.”
Sencha was born more than 300 years ago during the Edo Period. Tea culture spread among ordinary people then. They started infusing tea leaves to drink tea. At that time, any tea to drink by infusing was collectively called Sencha. Its color was blackish and its flavor was not good.
In 1738, Soen Nagatani, who was later called the originator of Japanese green tea, invented “the steaming method” as a new manufacturing way, making use of existing tea manufacturing methods. It changed the liquid color from brown to green and improved the flavor. Tea produced in this method became popular across the country and led to today’s Sencha.
Features of Sencha and Fukamushi-sencha
Fully-sunbathed tea leaves are used for Sencha so that the astringent ingredient catechin and the bitter ingredient caffeine increase to provide astringent and bitter flavors. However, the tea contains full of umami of the ingredient theanine, you can enjoy balanced flavors of astringency, bitterness, and umami. The liquid color is deep green. An invigorating, refreshing sent arises due to the use of fresh buds
Fukamushi-sencha has a weak aroma due to the prolonged steaming process, which gives less astringency than a normal Sencha. As a result, the tea provides a mild flavor with more sweetness and richness. The liquid color is deep green. In addition, Fukamushi-sencha’s fine leaves are suited for cold-brew tea, and also easy to brew, leaving fewer ingredients in the leaf.
Features of Sencha ingredients and Fukamushi-sencha ingredients
Unoxidized tea skips the oxidation process so that its ingredients and nutrients change little. The leaf keeps a great deal of the original nutrients almost as they are. It is full of vitamin C, amino acids, tannin for antioxidant effect, beta-carotene for immune enhancement and cancer prevention, and many other nutrient components.
Features of Sencha process and Fukamushi-sencha process
The plucked leaves are steamed, and repeatedly kneaded in various ways, and dried. The leaves should be steamed first to block the activity of oxidative enzymes so that they do not get oxidized. This process is called “deactivation.” Then, the leaves are fired (or roasted) and sorted alternatively. Lastly, they undergo blending to equalize the quality to become a product.
Production area of Sencha
Sencha, the most produced tea in Japan, has its production areas across the country, especially in Shizuoka Prefecture, Saitama Prefecture, Mie Prefecture, Kyoto Prefecture, Fukuoka Prefecture, and Kagoshima Prefectures.
How to drink Sencha
Sencha is sold with tea bags and easily prepared. However, the tea brewed from the leaves tastes especially good.
Approximately 6 g of tea leaf serves 2 people. Hot water can be used, but bitterness and astringency are also extracted at high temperature. For high-quality Sencha, it is recommended to use water of about 70 degrees C to extract only umami in the leaves for a nice flavor. For Fukamushi-sencha, please drink to the last drop because even the leaves remaining at the bottom of a cup contain full of umami and nutrients.
You may not be familiar with the term “unoxidized tea”.
In this article, I’m going to explain about unoxidized tea.
What is unoxidized tea?
Unoxidized tea is a tea variety made from tea leaves with little oxidation, and the most of Japanese tea (green tea) is unoxidized tea.
By the way, the well-oxidized tea leaves are black tea, and the half-oxidized tea leaves are oolong tea.
It is an interesting point of tea leaves that even tea leaves picked from the same tea tree can be made into tea with completely different taste and aroma depending upon the oxidation condition.
Characteristics of taste, aroma and color
It depends upon the variety and the cultivar of tea, but basically unoxidized tea has a delicate taste and aroma, and it becomes very beautiful green when brewed.
As there are many varieties and cultivars of Japanese tea, it is difficult to generalize, but when you imagine "Taste, aroma and color of Japanese tea" you might realize those of unoxidized tea.
Characteristics of ingredients
Unoxidized tea does not have an oxidation process, so the ingredients and nutrients do not change easily, and it contains the rich nutrients that tea leaves originally have as they are.
It is packed with a lot of nutrients such as vitamin C, amino acids, tannins that are expected to have an antioxidant effect, beta carotene that is said to be effective for immune enhancement and cancer prevention.
Characteristics of the unoxidized tea production process
It takes time and effort to produce unoxidized tea.
First, as a preliminary preparation, picked raw tea leaves are steamed, then rubbed repeatedly in various ways and dried.
After that, the process of heating (something like roasting) and sorting is repeated, and finally blending is done to make the quality uniform.
By the way, by steaming first, the function of the oxidase is stopped and oxidation is prevented. This is called “inactivation”.
Varieties of unoxidized tea
There are many varieties of unoxidized tea. You can find some of them below.
Sencha (Steeped green tea)
About 70% of tea consumed in Japan is Sencha. It is steamed and rubbed right after picking Shincha (First picked tea).
Fukamushi-Sencha (Deep steamed steeped green tea)
Fukamushi-Sencha is made by steaming it 2 ~ 3 times longer than Sencha. The longer the steaming time, the less fragrant, but the taste is sweeter.
Matcha and Tencha
Matcha is made from “Tencha”. Tencha is the only tea made without rubbing.
Kamairicha is made by roasting in an iron pot instead of steaming with a method introduced from China. By roasting it, you can smell the aroma that other teas don't have.
Hojicha (Roasted green tea)
Hojicha(roasted green tea) is made by roasting Bancha or Stem tea over high heat until it becomes brown. It is characterized by its savory flavor and aroma.
Kabusecha is a tea produced through “covered cultivation,” by which growing fresh shoots are covered to avoid sunlight. Its Japanese name can be literally translated into “covered/crowned tea.”
The flavor and aroma of tea vary by types, cultivation methods, manufacturing processes, etc. This article introduces “Kabusecha,” which is often confused with Gyokuro.
What is Kabusecha?
Kabusecha is a tea produced through “cover culture,” by which growing fresh shoots are covered to avoid sunlight. Its Japanese name can be literally translated into “covered/crowned tea.” Kabusecha tends to be mistaken for Gyokuro, which is also produced through cover culture, but Kabusecha is not Gyokuro.
A big difference between Gyokuro and Kabusecha is how long they are covered. While Gyokuro is covered for about 20 days, Kabusecha is covered for a week or so. Kabusecha is often considered “in the middle between Sencha (steeped green tea) and Gyokuro.”
Features of Kabusecha
Kabusecha is a tea that has both Sencha’s advantages and Gyokuro’s advantages. It cannot beat Gyokuro in umami and richness. However, with its slight bitterness, Kabusecha’s sweetness and umami are felt better than Sencha. It provides a mild flavor and rich aroma. Its liquid color is brighter than Sencha. Thanks to its lower price compared with Gyokuro, Kabusecha allows you to enjoy a flavor of high-graded tea casually.
In addition, the flavor of Kabusecha changes according to the temperature of water and the way of steaming. When it is brewed thoroughly at low temperature, the tea provides a strong sweetness and umami like Gyokuro. When it is brewed quickly in hot water, the flavor becomes refreshing like Sencha. Thus, you can enjoy adjusting the tea flavor according to your mood on the day.
Definition of Kabusecha
Kabusecha is a tea that has undergone cover culture, in which the leaves are covered with straw, mushiro (Japanese straw mats), cheesecloth, or others to block sunlight before picking.Compared with Gyokuro, Kabusecha’s cover culture is simple. It takes one week or so and blocks only about 50% of the sunlight.
Features of Kabusecha ingredients
In addition to vitamins, catechins, caffeine, potassium, and other ingredients contained in normal tea, Kabusecha is rich in amino acids, which become umami, although the amount of them is less than Gyokuro.
Features of Kabusecha process
The manufacturing process of Kabusecha is basically the same as Sencha. What differs is its cultivation process. As mentioned above, Kabusecha is grown in the cultivation method called cover culture.
Production areas of Kabusecha
Kabusecha is produced in many tea-growing areas across Japan including Fukuoka Prefecture, Kagoshima Prefecture, Nara Prefecture, Kyoto Prefecture, and Shizuoka Prefecture. Especially Mie Prefecture’s production volume accounts for more than one third of the nation’s entire output.
The tea from Mie Prefecture is called Ise Tea. The Kabusecha completed in Yokkaichi City and Kameyama City is particularly high-graded because they stop picking at the second picked tea season.
How to prepare Kabusecha
While the best temperature to brew Sencha is about 80 degrees C, about 60 degrees C is the best for Gyokuro. Please change brewing temperature according to your preferred drinking way. Low brewing temperature distinguishes the flavors of sweetness and umami. High brewing temperature balances out bitter and astringent flavors.
Hojicha makes a brown liquid color and aromatic flavor when it is brewed, which may make you think Hojicha is a different type of tea from green tea, but it is a type of green tea. These days it is popular among the younger generation, being often used for snacks and other drinks such as Hojicha latte, Hojicha chocolate, Hojicha ice cream, etc. This article introduces it in detail.
What is Hojicha?
Hojicha is common to us and frequently drunk. However, it tends to be recognized vaguely, oftentimes misunderstood as a different type of tea from green tea, or even as Bancha (a tea picked in late seasons). Hojicha is a type of green tea. It is produced by roasting Sencha (steeped green tea) or Bancha. In general, the fresh shoots of first picked tea are rarely used. It is the leaves and stem parts of third picked tea or even later one that are preferred. As a result, Hojicha is comparatively cheap and familiar to us.
Many parts of the history of Hojicha are unclear without official documents. Some say people started roasting the unsold tea in an attempt to preserve it under a great depression in the early Showa Period, when tea was not selling well. Others say Hojicha existed already in the Meiji Period.
Features of Hojicha
Hojicha is featured by its brown liquid color and the aromatic fragrance and flavor that arises when roasting leaves. The easy-to-drink tea provides a fresh flavor with no bitterness and astringency.
Features of Hojicha ingredients
Hojicha contains various ingredients including vitamins with beauty effects and tannins with antioxidant effects. It is also drunk as a diet beverage. Among them, “pyrazine,” the ingredient formed by heating amino acids, is the one that makes the Hojicha’s distinctive pleasant aroma.
Features of Hojicha process
Hojicha is produced from fresh tea leaves, which undergo steaming, kneading and drying, and roasting. Actually, you can make Hojicha easily at home. You just have to roast your tea leaves in the frying pan. It takes 15 minutes or so to complete. Making delicious Hojicha also fills your room with a pleasant tea aroma.
How to prepare Hojicha
The key is to brew the leaves at high temperature to bring out an aromatic fragrance. You can control the strength of flavor by adjusting brewing time.
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.
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.