Japanese farmers are switching from green tea to black tea.
When people think of Japanese tea they automatically think of green tea. All that is about to change however. As demand decreases and prices fall amid changing consumption habits, Japanese farmers are now beginning to try their hands at producing black tea.
Green tea was introduced to Japan from China by the Buddhist priest Myõan Eisai in 1191 and as such has a strong connection with Buddhism, particularly Zen. It has had a cult following and even evolved an art form based around it’s preparation and enjoyment known as cha no yu or sadõ (the way of tea). But Japan had a falling out with green tea soon after the fall of the feudal regime of the Tokugawa government (1600-1868).
According to the Japan Tea Association, Japan’s tea farmers first began making black tea in the Meiji period (1868-1912) mainly for export to England and India. For quite a time, Japan actually produced some of the finest black tea in the world and it became very popular in Japan at this time when adopting “Western” fashions was on the rise (wakon yõsai - Japanese spirit, Western ways).
The total domestic production of black tea exceeded 8,000 tons in 1955, but production had quickly declined by the 1970s due to the liberalisation of tea imports in 1971 and the rise in popularity of Japanese green tea.
That is all about to be reversed.
A family income and spending survey carried out by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has shown that the average amount of green tea purchased in 2010 by a household was around 950 grams. This is down dramatically from around 1.2 kilograms only ten years earlier.
Consumption of green tea in Japan has fallen steadily in the last ten years as the Japanese diet and tastes have become increasingly more varied. These days many families don’t even have a teapot in their home.
Fewer people are brewing tea at home with the spread of bottled tea available in convenience stores and vending machines all over Japan.
The lessening demand for high-quality green tea which was once a highly popular gift has continued to diminish, dealing a severe blow to the annual income of tea farmers.
Shizuoka Prefecture, which produces 40% of all raw tea leaf in Japan, says that in 2010 sales of the prefecture’s prized “ichiban cha” (number one green tea) was 20% lower compared with 10 years earlier.
Japanese farmers are now turning to producing black tea from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, those normally used to make green tea. Farmers are experimenting with the famous “Yabukita” variety of tea from Shizuoka that is normally used to make green tea. Yabukita is widely recognised as the best type of tea, with three-quarters of green tea in Japan being Yabukita. Their intention is to produce a new ‘wa kocha’ (Japanese black tea) that is acceptable to Japanese tastes.
This year the Shizuoka Prefectural Government launched a workshop at the Tea Research Centre of the Shizuoka Prefectural Research Institute of Agriculture and Forestry to teach farmers how to create black tea. Unlike green tea, black tea is made through a process of oxidisation in which the leaves are left to turn progressively darker.