Taiwan produces amazing winter harvest high mountain oolongs. Some argue that summer Darjeelings are the best. Australia harvests the best spring teas during our autumn. But in Japan, the true tea season is spring. Even though they harvest tea in all other seasons as well, shincha or new tea is the most prescious and expensive Japanese tea you can find. A few of us from Kanuka team went on a buying trip to Japanese tea farm in Shizuoka in time for the first spring harvest of the year.
Japan accounts for 2% of all the tea consumed in the world and Shizuoka produces almost half of all Japanese teas. The stunningly beautiful mountain sides were shining glossy green with the first season’s vibrant bushes that will later yield tencha & sencha tea. The scenery was unbelievably green and peaceful with seemingly every patch of ground either filled with forest or manicured tea bushes. Do you know why Japanese tea fields look so manicured? We will tell you in a second.
Shizuoka is a home prefecture of the most used and the most important Japanese cultivar – Yabukita, used for making many different types of Japanese teas. Shizuoka is a western region of Japan renowned throughout the world for growing high quality matcha & sencha. Matcha has a growing market in England mostly due to matcha’s favourable press in regard to its highly acclaimed nutrient & antioxidant levels. But matcha in Japan has higher significance.
Japanese people use matcha as the beverage of choice for many different ceremonies and events which take place throughout the year. In addition to drinking matcha for ceremonial purposes, in the tea growing regions of Japan, matcha is added to a vast array of different products from energy drinks, bread, biscuits, cakes, rice, ice cream to cosmetics, soap & face masks. Matcha is an important part of temple life as well.
Matcha is known as tencha prior to being ground into a very fine powder. This is why matcha has higher nutritional values, as you are literally ingesting whole, but ground tea leaves.
Only the first two new tenderest spring leaves at the tip of the tea plant are picked. They contain the highest nutritional value. The top two leaves are only used for ceremonial matcha. More than the first two leaves or leaves from subsequent flushes make up lesser grades. Those grades are used for premium beverages, cooking or in many different products such as cosmetics & ice cream.
Matcha is shaded under cover for approximately the last 3-4 weeks before harvest to encourage the growth of chlorophyll, phytonutrients & epigallocatechin gallate (the powerful antioxidant EGCG). The combination of warmth, shading & intense nutrient levels allows the umami taste that Matcha is renowned for, to develop. Perfectly shaped tea bushes owe their appearance to their mother trees. They are all cuttings from the same plant, thus all having the same genetic material. Most Japanese teas are made from uniformed tea bushes.
The hillsides in Shizuoka are ideal for green tea growth. The dense forest of the region provides natural protection against wind and frost. In more open spaces, tall fans are used to when frost threatens to damage the delicate new leaves.
Leaves can be harvested by machine or hand-picked. Hand-picking is, of course, more expensive and results in lower quantities of tea. After picking, leaves are taken to the factory to be processed. The leaves are fractionally steamed before being air dried four times, and then ground into matcha powder. When its harvest time, it’s usual for the processing factories to be operational for 24 hours a day. From picking the harvested leaf, to being ready for packing can take as little as 6 hours in peak time.
If you ever have a chance for visiting a tea farm in Shizuoka, don’t miss the opportunity. It a great experience to try all fresh amazing new spring teas right on the site.Tags: green tea, gyokuro, Japanese tea, matcha, sencha, Shizuoka, spring tea, tencha