Green tea is the main kind of tea in Japan, but the domestic demand for it has been decreasing over the last few decades. Black tea, on the other hand, has been growing in popularity. The number of black tea producers in Japan has more than doubled in the last 10 years and last year there were nearly 900 throughout Japan.
While some teas are gaining popularity some lesser-known regional teas need more attention. One example is Ichizuchi kurocha – a post-fermented tea from Ehime Prefecture. It was at the verge of extinction in 1995, when only one farmer was still making it. Later a preservation society was formed to preserve the tradition of making this peculiar tea. Now the prefecture is moving forward to register it as an important cultural folk property.
Some teas like Ujicha are known a lot more, but they still carry out promotional activities. Since 2010 Kyoto has had a group of young women, called “Ujicha ladies”, who participated in events and other activities to attract more attention to Uji tea. This year, however, it was decided to rename the group to “Ujicha promotion squad” and invite participation regardless of gender.
Even if it is just the beginning of the year and still in the middle of a cold winter, some tea activities have started already. The first tea picking of the year took place at Fukujuen greenhouse in Kizugawa City, Kyoto Prefecture on 5th January. The greenhouse is set up with fluorescent lights, so that tea bushes would not go into dormancy and tea could be picked all year round. December was sunny and growth was good, so during the event it was possible to collect about 2kg of tea leaves.
The first tea hand-rolling also took place in January. It was held in Mino Shirakawa, Gifu Prefecture on 7th January. To be able to hold the event outside the harvesting season, last year 17 members of the group collected 12 kg of tea leaves that were kept frozen until the event.
January is also an important month for Japanese tea ceremony. There is a special ceremony called hatsugama (in english, the first kettle of the year) that is held to celebrate the beginning of the new year. During the pandemic most tea schools had canceled hatsugama, and after a long break many of them including Urasenke, Omotesenke, Muchanokojisenke held it again this year. However, while there used to be a tradition to share one bowl of koicha among several guests, this year each guest received an individual bowl of koicha. Those who attended a tea ceremony in Saidaiji temple in Nara were able to drink matcha from a really large tea bowl (weighing between 3kg – 5kg). Saidaiji temple is especially known for the large tea bowl ceremony.
These days there is also more attention to sustainability and waste reduction. A store in Uji has created unique flower compositions that include dry tea leaves. In tea production, the time of the harvesting is very important, and a delay of even just a few days, can decrease the quality of the tea. Such larger, more mature tea leaves are often separated and sometimes discarded. The preserved flower store in Uji has decided to add tea leaves to their preserved flower composition, so that even if the tea leaves may not be the best for drinking, people can still enjoy their appearance and aroma in these unique compositions.
Another interesting idea is a new tea box in Mie Prefecture, where you pay for tea when you actually drink it. The tea box includes prepackaged leaves of two tea kindss: kabusecha and fukamushicha. It is delivered free of charge, but before drinking the tea you have to scan the QR code and pay using a smartphone. Each packet costs 90yen.
Now a company in Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture has created a small transparent teapot intented for one person to use. The teapot was created through a collaboration between a specialty tea shop Yamato Kuriharaen and a plastic parts company. It was launched on a crowdfunding platform and the interest has already exceeded expectations.
Last product to mention this time is a new ginger ale with awabancha – post-fermented tea from Tokushima. Awabancha is known for a unique pickled flavor and aroma. To create this new product, the combines the flavors of awabancha, cedar and ginger. It makes you curious to try it, doesn’t it?
The article is based on the Japanese media articles:
- Using Discarded Uji Tea to Make Appreciating Plants: The Challenge of Kyoto’s Flower Studio, Kyoto Shimbun 2023.01.04
- The “earliest” tea picking in Japan: Kizugawa’s greenhouse tea garden, Asahi Shimbun 2023.01.05
- Hatsugama Ceremony at Urasenke in Kyoto to celebrate the New Year, Nikkei Shimbun 2023.01.07
- Traditional techniques for Mino Shirakawa tea New Year’s Hatsumomomi Kai (New Year’s first tea ceremony), Yomiuri Shimbun 2023.01.08
- Ise-cha, a tea company, aims to expand consumption through a “leftover medicine” format, Asahi Shimbun 2023.01.10
- Omotesenke’s Hatsugama Tea Ceremony Iemoto entertained, Mainichi Shimbun, 2023.01.12
- Tokushima Brand Promotion Organization, fermented ginger ale with specialty products, Nikkei Shimbun 2023.01.13
- Feeling the “weight” of tradition, enjoy a cup of tea in an oversized teapot at Saidaiji Temple, Nara, Mainichi Shimnun 2023.01.17
- Jikocha producer doubles in size in 10 years Mr. Kajiwara (Kumamoto) wins the highest award at an international tea show, Mainichi Shimnun 2023.01.17
- Prefectural Tea Cooperative Association Seeks “Advertising Corps” to Spread the Appeal of Uji Tea, Mainichi Shimbun 2023.01.23
- Ishizuchi kurocha production technique designated as an important folk cultural property, Yomiuri Shimbun 2023.01.29
*Image source: Chawaka