Tuesday, we looked at how tea arrived in Japan, by way of Buddhist scholars who brought it back from China in the early 800s. Since then, tea has grown to become an important part of Japanese culture. Here’s a look at how tea became such an integral and popular item in Japan.
Tea History in Japan:Part 2
In 1740, Soen Nagatani developed Japanese sencha, an unfermented form of green tea. To prepare sencha, the tea leaves are first steam-pressed, then rolled and dried into a loose tea. The dried leaves are brewed with hot water to yield the final drink. Sencha is now one of Japan’s mainstay teas.
The other more traditional type of green tea in Japan is matcha, the finely powdered green tea that is the focus of the Japanese tea ceremony. Matcha is prepared using shade-grown tea leaves that are rolled, laid flat to dry and then stone ground to form a bright green, fine powder.
At the end of the Meiji Era (1868–1912), machine manufacturing of green tea was introduced in Japan, and began replacing handmade tea. Machines took over the processes of primary drying, tea rolling, secondary drying, final rolling, and steaming of the tea leaves.
The first time tea was exported from Japan was in 1610, by the Dutch East India Company from Hirado, Nagasaki.
In 1859, when the ports of Nagasaki, Yokohama and Hakodate were opened to foreign trade, tea became one of Japan’s main export commodities, with an estimated 181 tons of tea exported in that year alone.
The three largest producing regions for Japanese tea are Shizuoka, Kagoshima and Mie. Shizuoka, which is located in the area between Mt. Fuji and the Pacific coast west of Tokyo, accounts for around 40% of Japan’s annual commercial tea production.
While Japanese culture is now renowned for the elaborate tea ceremony that developed over thousands of years, in today’s fast-paced modern culture, convenience is key. So ready-to-drink green tea products, particularly bottled or iced in vending machines, now account for an estimated 20% of all green tea consumption in Japan.
Green tea is so ubiquitous in Japan that whenever tea or “ocha” is offered, 99.9% of the time, it is green tea, which of course comes from the same plant as black tea, but does not experience fermentation or oxidization, and instead is steamed soon after being picked to stop the oxidization process.
Of course, we at Rae’s Café have always admired green tea, which is why Organo’s Organic Green Teais one of our most popular products.
Obviously, Japan has a long and storied history when it comes to tea. So, we thought we’d take a look at how tea arrived in Japan, and how it became an integral part of Japanese culture over the years.
Tea History in Japan:Part 1
Tea is thought to have been first brought back to Japan from China by Buddhist scholars, who were sent as envoys to learn more about Chinese culture.
Ancient texts indicate that the first batch of tea seeds were brought back to Japan by a Buddhist priest named Saicho in 805, and then by another named Kukai in 806.
After that, during the latter part of the Heian period (794-1185), Emperor Saga was said to have encouraged the cultivation of tea plants in Japan.
At this time, tea was extremely valuable, so it became a drink of the royal classes, and was enjoyed primarily by imperial court nobles and Buddhist monks.
In 1191, in the early Kamakura Period (1185-1333), Eisai, founder of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, brought back a new type of tea seeds to Kyoto from Sung-dynasty China.
It was Eisai who wrote the first specialty book about tea in Japan, called Kissa Yōjōki or How to Stay Healthy by Drinking Tea. The two-volume book was written in 1211 after Eisai’s second and last visit to China. The first sentence states, “Tea is the ultimate mental and medical remedy and has the ability to make one’s life more full and complete.”
Eisai was also said to have been instrumental in introducing tea consumption to the warrior or Samurai class.
Slowly, green tea became a staple among cultured people in Japan — a brew for the gentry and the Buddhist priesthood, alike. Production increased and tea became increasingly accessible, though was still a privilege enjoyed mostly by the upper classes.
The pastimes made popular in China in the 12th and 13th centuries – reading poetry, writing calligraphy, painting, and discussing philosophy while enjoying tea – eventually became popular in Japan, particularly within the Samurai society, and helped spur the development of the tea ceremony.
From the late 15th to the late 16th century, tea masters such as Murata Shuko, Takeno Joo and Sen no Rikyu developed a new tea ceremony, referred to as Wabicha. This style of tea ceremony gained a strong following among Samurai, and is the origin of the tea ceremony still practiced today.
As you can imagine, there’s so much more to the history of tea in Japan. So stay tuned for Saturday’s post, where we’ll look at the next stages in the evolution of tea culture in Japan.
Many people pair their coffee with something sweet. But in Japan, they prefer something soft and furry! A unique trend has seen around 100 cat cafes spring up around Tokyo in recent years. Customers are invited to enjoy their coffee in the company of friendly cafe cats, who are keen to play, be petted, and generally enjoy all the attention showered upon them by cat lovers who find it too difficult to keep a pet of their own in this high-density metropolis. Some of these cafes specialize in certain breeds or types of cats — even presenting a “menu” of the different feline playmates on offer for patrons.
Tea is a truly international beverage, with many cultures including it in their daily routine: Britain has its fine bone china teacups; India has ornate, hand-carved teapots; Morocco serves its mint tea in beautifully-painted glass tea cups; China and Japan practice ancient tea ceremonies; and even modern tea adoptees such as America’s Southerners can proudly be seen sipping their tall glasses of iced tea (sometimes laced with sweet, freshly-picked peaches!) on steamy summer afternoons.
There is something inherently soothing about the goodness of tea that has seen it adopted by so many cultures across the globe. Here are our five reasons for loving tea:
Many cultures across the world have tea ceremonies, from the ancient rituals in China and Japan to the classic British “high tea” where pretty little teacups are served alongside dainty tea sandwiches and scones.
Tea became popular in the UK after Britain colonized India in the late 1700s. The tea plant thrives in the ideal tea-growing climate of India, notably in regions such as the Darjeeling mountains. Nearby, Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) is also renowned for its high quality tea production.
Tea also gained favor in British colonies such as Australia and New Zealand due to the influence of their English settlers.
Organic Red Tea is like a blank canvas. You can make it strong, you can add honey or lemon or your favorite milk for extra flavor, or you can drink it warm (and comforting) or iced (and refreshing) depending on your mood and the weather.
Organic Green Tea is a great way to indulge in the “ritual” of tea. Try mixing up a batch in a Japanese stoneware teapot, or serving it in ceramic teacups, for a more traditional “tea service”.