Even today a lot of tea in Japan is sold in tea auctions. The first opening of the auction is always a big event. It gathers people from all walks of the tea industry. Tea buyers – usually big tea wholesalers, are the key participants of course. But you can also meet tea farmers, agricultural cooperative staff (who are the organizers of the auction), as well as media representatives.
It all starts in the morning, when the available tea is displayed in the evaluation plates. Potential buyers can walk around and check the samples of dry tea leaves as well as the brew of the teas available that day. Once they have made their choice they will send their bid via electronic machines. And their job is over – the highest bidder will get to buy the tea.
Then everyone is invited to the celebratory lunch, prepared by the auction staff. In the Japanese traditions a toast is a must, but because the auction is usually held in the middle of the day, everyone toasts with a cup of tea.
While everyone is enjoying lunch, the auction staff will determine the winners of the bid and allocate the tea accordingly. Finally, the day has finished and the happy buyers can take back the tea.
In 2019 the Kyoto auction was opened on 26th April (a little later than last year, due to cooler weather in spring and slower tea growth). There were 124 bags of tea available in auction somewhere between 5kg-15kg each. Tea was submitted to the auction from a few different regions of Kyoto, like Minami Yamashiro Mura, Ujitawara, Uji, but the majority fo tea was from Wazuka town.
Most of the tea in the auction was machine-harvested and -processed, but the auction had two entries of hand-made tea. Not surprising the hand-made teas received the highest price, and the one from Wazuka town was sold at 150,000yen/kg (roughly about 1,340usd/kg). It became one of the most expensive teas in Japan.