Mohei Tea

17-03-2024

Traveling Through Tea

Exploring Japan's Tea Region Together

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Introduction

Embark on an enchanting exploration of Japan's rich tapestry of tea traditions, where diverse landscapes converge to craft teas of unparalleled depth and character. As we prepare to traverse the length of this storied land, we'll uncover the unique essence of five distinct Japanese regions, each contributing its own verse to the poetic legacy of Japanese tea. 

Get ready to steep yourself in the stories, flavors, and traditions that make Japan's tea culture a revered and multifaceted aspect of its national heritage. From the renowned matcha of Uji to the vibrant sencha of Shizuoka, our journey promises a taste of the extraordinary diversity and craftsmanship that define Japan's enduring relationship with tea.

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Table Of Content

  • Uji Region: The Heartland of Matcha
  • Shizuoka Region: The Capital of Tea
  • Yame Region: The Gyokuro Sanctuary
  • Kagoshima Region: The Tea Powerhouse
  • Nishio Region: The Hidden Matcha Gem

Uji Region:
The Heartland of Matcha

Located at the core of Kyoto Prefecture, Uji stands as the foundation of the Japanese tea industry, celebrated for crafting the finest matcha tea. Its historical and cultural impact on the tea domain is unmatched, elevating Uji from merely a place of production to an emblem of heritage, expertise, and supreme quality in tea farming.

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The history of Uji tea dates back to the Kamakura period (1185-1333) when Zen Master Eisai introduced tea seeds from China to Japan. The area from the Uji River to Minamiyamashiro Village, with its nutrient-rich soil along the river and fog-covered hills, was an ideal location for tea cultivation, and its cultivation spread.

By the 15th century, Uji tea was known as "honcha," a name synonymous with excellent tea. This was due in part to agricultural technology based in the metropolis of Kyoto, and in part to the presence of cultural icons such as Sen no Rikyu, who perfected the tea ceremony. As time went by, Yamashiro-cha came to be known as "Uji-cha," and its fame continues to this day. Uji's matcha production can be attributed to meticulous cultivation techniques that reflect centuries of refinement.

Undercover cultivation, a cultivation method developed in Uji, involves placing the tea shoots in the shade for approximately 20 to 30 days prior to harvest to darken the chlorophyll pigment and store the amino acids that give matcha its particularly rich flavor. The plucked tea leaves (raw leaves) are steamed and dried, and are called tencha. Tencha is then ground on a millstone into the fine green powder known worldwide as matcha.

In addition to this time-consuming process, Uji is the location of a concentration of teas from the Kinki region. Tea artisans, who have long been connoisseurs of a wide variety of teas, use a unique blending technique called Gogumi to create teas with colors and flavors that cannot be produced in Uji. This secret technique gives Uji tea its unrivaled rich flavor, beautiful color, and mellow aroma, and has won the hearts of tea lovers around the world.

Matcha and Chasen (traditional whisk)

What sets Uji matcha apart is its unparalleled quality. Its combination of sweet, umami flavor, creamy texture, and vibrant color is loved by tea connoisseurs and casual matcha connoisseurs alike. The distinctive flavor of Uji Matcha reaches an even higher level when tea masters brew the tea created by the diverse terroirs of the Uji region and the skills of individual tea growers. In modern times, Uji matcha is not only the drink of choice for those seeking a moment of Zen, but also a versatile culinary ingredient in ice cream, chocolate flavoring, and more.

Shizuoka Region:
The Capital of Tea

Shizuoka Prefecture, with the majestic Mt. Fuji and the Akaishi Mountains to the north and Suruga Bay to the south at a depth of over 1,000 meters, is often referred to as the center of Japanese tea, especially sencha (green tea). The vast, verdant tea plantations stretch approximately 150 km from east to west across the prefecture, with an elevation difference of more than 1,000 m.

Shizuoka Prefecture is further subdivided into about 20 tea-producing regions, producing a wide variety of teas. The region produces nearly 40% of Japan's tea, making it one of the largest tea-producing regions in Japan. The connection between Shizuoka and tea is deep-rooted, combining natural advantages, historical development, and a firm commitment to quality.

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Tea has been cultivated in Japan since as far back as the Nara period (710-794). In Shizuoka, tea cultivation began in the Muromachi period (1333-1568), and it was not until the Edo period (1603-1868) that the area began to emerge as a particularly important tea production area.

Tea production in the region improved dramatically with the advent of a process known as the Aoyagi method in the 19th century. This process, in which tea is steamed and immediately rolled dry, gradually became the basis of sencha production and spread throughout Shizuoka Prefecture.
The introduction of this process was a pivotal event in the history of Shizuoka tea and set the stage for the region to become a powerhouse in the tea industry. In modern times, tea leaves harvested in the spring are immediately steamed to stop oxidation, then rolled, shaped, and dried. This careful process preserves the green color of the tea leaves and enhances their flavor.

Shizuoka sencha has a good balance of sweetness, bitterness, and umami, and is characterized by its bright, clear color and fresh aroma. The region's diverse microclimates produce a wide variety of sencha teas, each with its own unique flavor.Shizuoka's sencha production begins with the careful cultivation of tea plants in the region's diverse geological features under the influence of the warm climate of the sea and the mountains. Shizuoka Prefecture is located at the intersection of the four tectonic plates that make up the Japanese archipelago, and is a unique region in the world where a 10 km move from east to west can create a completely different terrain.

This is why tea trees from different areas just 10 km away from each other have completely different flavors. With this fact in mind, it is easy to see why even more subdivided areas of Shizuoka, such as Tenryu, Haruno, Hamamatsu, Iwata, Fukuroi, Kakegawa, Kikugawa, Kanaya, Shimada, Kawane, Igawa, Motoyama, Fujieda, Shimizu, Fuji, Fujinomiya, Numazu, Mishima and Gotemba, are sold as separate tea production areas. Not to embarrass you, but these regions are further subdivided by geology, soil, mountain shape, and rivers. (For example, within the main mountain area, there are Kiyosawa, Tamagawa, Okawa, Warashina, Ashikubo, Umegashima, and so on).

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What makes Shizuoka sencha tea truly special is the harmony between nature and nurture, tradition and innovation. Tea farmers in the region have mastered the art of tea production, passing on their knowledge from generation to generation while adopting new techniques and methods to improve quality and sustainability. Reflecting the diverse topography and climate of the prefecture, Shizuoka's sencha teas offer a wide range of flavors, from the classic, with its deep grassy aroma and umami flavor, to the lighter, more delicate teas. This diversity makes it a favorite of both traditional Japanese tea lovers and newcomers to Japanese tea, offering teas to suit every palate.

Yame Region:
The Gyokuro Sanctuary

Yame is located in northern Kyushu, at the southernmost tip of Fukuoka Prefecture, bordering Kumamoto Prefecture. It is known as the birthplace of gyokuro, the most prestigious and special of all Japanese green teas. With a tea culture deeply rooted in tradition, meticulous cultivation techniques, and a patient passion for technical improvement, the region's reputation for producing Gyokuro of unparalleled quality is solid.

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Yame's relationship with gyokuro production dates back to the 19th century. The cultivation of gyokuro began here in the Meiji period (1868-1912) with the opening of the undercover cultivation method. Over the years since then, it has established itself as a famous producer in this field.

The gyokuro of Yame is characterized by its unparalleled quality, which sets it apart from other gyokuro produced throughout Japan.This exceptional quality is the result of Yame's unique dry inland climate, gravelly and mineral-rich soil, and the delicate management of the tea gardens and accumulated knowledge of the tea growers. The mountain fog generated by the Hirokawa and Yabekawa rivers that flow through the region provides ideal conditions for the undercover cultivation of gyokuro, giving the tea leaves a deeper, more concentrated flavor and a higher concentration of sweet amino acids.

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In Yame, authentic gyokuro made by adhering to the traditional cultivation methods agreed upon by the local system is called "traditional hon gyokuro" and its characteristics are passed down to the future. The traditional straw covering is used as a raw material, and the covering period is also strictly regulated. The traditional Gyokuro has a rich flavor and mellow aroma, and is the highest grade of Japanese tea, so much so that it can never be beaten at national fairs even when compared to Uji tea.

Kagoshima Region:
The Diverse Tea Powerhouse

Located on the southern tip of Kyushu, Kagoshima is a leader in the dynamic and innovative Japanese tea industry. Kagoshima's strength lies in its unity. Farmers join hands to form cooperatives and corporations to systematically grow and produce the teas demanded by the market. Kagoshima's tea industry was the driving force behind the spread of bottled tea throughout Japan. Today, Kagoshima is not limited to sencha, but also produces a lot of powdered green tea, which used to be produced only in a few regions such as Uji. Kagoshima is now on the verge of becoming the most important tea producing region in Japan, surpassing Shizuoka in terms of production volume.

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The history of tea production in Kagoshima is relatively new, beginning in earnest in the late 19th century. At first, black tea production was envisioned, and even today, the national research institute in Makurazaki, at the southern tip of Kagoshima Prefecture, still has genetic resources of black tea varieties collected from all over the world at that time. Although the spread of black tea was not successful, the region was eager to introduce new technology and has continued to expand production by introducing new varieties and adopting innovative cultivation techniques such as short-term coverage with shading sheets, which became popular after World War II.

Kagoshima tea farmers are pioneers in organic farming and the introduction of new varieties, and continue to push the limits of traditional Japanese tea production. Kagoshima's unique topography, including volcanic soil from Sakurajima, mild climate, and abundant rainfall, create ideal conditions for mass production of tea. In fact, Kagoshima allows for up to six harvests per year, whereas Shizuoka only allows for a maximum of four. Also, on Tanegashima Island (home to Japan's space research center) and Yakushima Island (home to ancient cedars that have lived since the Jomon period), just south of Kyushu, new tea production begins in March, bringing the aroma of new tea before the cherry blossoms bloom on the Japanese archipelago.

Kagoshima's volcanic ash soil was a difficult place to cultivate crops because of its poor fertilizing properties. Tea farmers worked to improve the quality of the tea by cultivating and improving the soil. Today, Kagoshima tea has a beautiful dark green color due to its short-term covering, and the strength of its many varieties produces a wide range of flavors.

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The diversity of tea in this region is the tireless efforts of tea farmers. The cultivation knowledge and techniques that have transformed a land never suited for cultivation into a famous tea-producing region, which is both scientific and in line with plant physiology, speaks of a unique attitude not found in other production areas bound by conservative tradition, and reflects the adaptability and flexibility of Kagoshima's tea growers. Kagoshima continues to explore new frontiers in tea production, and each cup is colored by the rich flavors that characterize this vibrant region.

Nishio Region:
The Hidden Matcha Gem

Located in the Mikawa region, in the heart of Aichi prefecture, Nishio and Kira-cho are Japan's largest matcha producers. Nishio is a hidden production area for matcha, which is made from the sandy soil accumulated along the Yahagigawa River. It is Japan's largest producer of matcha, characterized by its bright color, rich taste and creamy texture.

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Tea cultivation in Nishio has continued from the Edo period to the present, but it was matcha production beginning in the early 20th century that characterized the region.Nishio's emergence as a matcha production area was due to its ideal environmental conditions for growing tencha (green tea used for producing matcha).

The sandy soil created by the Yahagi River is very similar to the soil along the Uji River, and even if large amounts of fertilizer are applied to the tea plants, it does not accumulate in the soil, but is broken down by microorganisms that slowly transform the tea plants into a form suitable for covering. It is also said that because granite was produced nearby, Nishio was able to supply its own stone mortars and train its own metate-shi (stone processing technicians with special skills to dig out the shape of the mortar to grind fine-grained powdered tea).

Tencha cultivation began with an eye on this area about 100 years ago, and now, thanks to a stable climate and the cultivation techniques of skilled tea farmers, the area has gained a reputation as a matcha production center. Nishio's matcha is produced by carefully nurturing the tea plants with ample fertilizer, and over the course of several years, the tea plants excel in the technique of straightening them to produce the rich, bright green color, rich flavor, and aroma that characterize high quality matcha. The matcha variety called "Samidori" has become popular in Nishio and can be easily blended with any flavor of tea, and there are many leading matcha companies that market their products worldwide.

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Nishio's unique terroir, combined with the cultivation techniques of its tea growers, produces a matcha that is both exquisite in flavor and versatile in use. In fact, matcha from this region is highly prized in a variety of settings, from traditional tea ceremonies to food applications such as matcha lattes that attract people from all over the world, and is enthusiastically embraced by tea connoisseurs and enthusiasts in Japan and abroad. On the other hand, Nishio's fame has yet to reach the other side of the world, and it is whispered that many people do not know that its matcha is produced in Aichi Prefecture. Next time you drink matcha, please pay attention to where it comes from.

Conclusion

As we conclude our journey through the lush landscapes and traditions of Japan's tea-producing regions, let us recall the creative and rich world of Japanese tea culture. From Uji and Nishio, famous for their matcha, to Shizuoka, with its concentration of sencha, Kagoshima, with its mass production of sencha, to Yame, with its incomparable gyokuro, each region has created Japanese tea as part of Japan's cultural heritage and contributed to the global tea community by bringing Japanese tea to the world and adding color to our lives.

These regions, with their different climates, traditions, and innovations, highlight the diversity and depth of Japanese tea, providing the world with flavors and experiences as diverse and profound as the Japanese landscape itself.The exploration of these regions is not simply about understanding the different types of tea, but about looking closely at the knowledge, techniques, history, and makers behind each individual tea leaf. Each sip of tea contains the rich and unique aroma produced by each region, and by knowing this, we can feel the traditions passed down through the centuries and the wisdom and skills cultivated by the tea farmers through their studies. A journey through tea is a bridge between past and present cultures.

From world-famous regions to hidden gems, there are still many tea-producing regions waiting for the world to discover. Our blog will take you deeper into these fascinating regions. Be sure to check back regularly to our blog section so you don't miss out on these treasures!

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