Japanese Tea Report – February 2024

Winter is drawing to a close and soon it will be time to prepare for the new season. In the meanwhile we can look back at the previous year. According to the new data by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the total tea production volume was 68,000t, 3% less compared to 2022. In 2023 Shizuoka kept the leadership in both tea production volume and revenue. However, in terms of tea production volume the gap with Kagoshima is narrowing. In 2022 the difference between the two prefectures was 1,900t, in 2023 it was down to 1,100t. In terms of the revenue Kagoshima briefly shot ahead in 2019, but Shizuoka returned to the first place the following year and has kept the lead since.

The situation in the tea industry remains difficult, but there are also some glimmers of hope. While we hear a lot about the aging and shrinking tea farmer population, there are people who want to start tea farming afresh. Recently, Kyoto Tea Research Institute held the graduation ceremony for its Uji Tea Practical School. It is a two-year program that started in 2019 and trains tea farmers to-be. However, the number of students has been small, and this year there was only one graduate – a new tea farmer from Minami Yamashiro Village.

Among other positive news is that a tea shop called Wazukacha Cafe in a mountainous town of Kyoto has recently been doing quite well too. Even with no train station and limited public transport, last year it reached 30,000 visitors and 50mln. yen in sales. Wazuka’s brand as teatopia continues to grow.

Another notable change is that one of the large companies in Japan – Kao, has decided to sell its bottled tea brand Healthya to Kirin. While the announcement was made this month, the sale will be finalized in August. Kirin is eager to acquire Healthya, since with its body fat reducing function, it has been certified as food for specified health uses (FOSHU). FOSHU normally has a lengthy process of clinical trials and government approvals that can take years.

Recent market research has shown that people also want the taste of tea in alcoholic drinks, so a canned tea and shochu cocktail has been announced recently. This new drink is a collaboration between Suntory and Fukujuen, who is providing 100% of the tea leaves. Called Tea Sour it is unsweetened and lightly carbonated with the total alcohol content of 5%.

In Nara, on the other hand, recently the local Yamato tea has been released in high class wine bottles. The selection has 6 kinds of teas including a kabusecha and wakocha from local tea leaves. However, with the price tag of over 10,000yen the new bottles are not cheap.

Tenri City in Nara has also held an unveiling partly for a new brand Satoyama Sannen Bancha. Sannen Bancha is a rare tea made of leaves and branches from abandoned tea fields. Attendees could taste the tea as well as sweets and savory dishes made from it. This project is an attempt to revitalize Fukuruzumi Village that once flourished as a specialty tea producing area.

In Gifu Tokai Gakuin University students have developed a black tea with rose petals called Gifu Hanawa Black Tea. The goal of the project is to popularize tea among the younger generations. It also uses non-standard local materials that may otherwise be discarded helping to reduce food waste.

While most new products are made with tea leaves or brewed tea, sometimes different parts of the tea plant can be used as well. In Gifu a new hand-cream was developed using tea seed oil. Like oil from other camellias, tea seed oil is known to have oleic acid, which has a moisturizing effect. The hand-cream was developed with tea ceremony practitioners in mind, whose hand’s get a lot of attention during the ceremony, but may also get rough from frequently washing utensils and handling charcoal.

Talking about the tea ceremony, on 25th February Kyoto Tenmangu Shrine held the annual Plum Blossom Festival, that included a tea ceremony by Kyoto geiko and maiko. The event is held to commemorate the Kitano Grand Tea Ceremony that was held by Toyomi Hideyoshi. Even if it was a cold and rainy day many participants joined the event.

Shimabara castle in Nagasaki is also holding a series of tea ceremony events this year. These events are to celebrate the 400 year anniversary of the castle. The first was held on 18th February, and 7 more will take place until 19th October. 

A tea ceremony was also recently held in Cologne, Germany. It was to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the sister city relationship between Cologne and Kyoto. The tea ceremony was held over 4 sessions and about 60 people were able to join it.

With spring coming closer we probably will see more exciting tea events soon.


The article is bases on Japanese media articles:



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