- Marina Tsuji
A Guide to the Top Three Japanese Teas and Their Production Areas: Shizuoka, Sayama, Uji
Japanese tea is an indispensable part of Japanese people’s diets. Although called "Japanese tea", there are so many varieties, and each has its own flavor and aroma depending on the growing region. Read on for the characteristics of Shizuoka tea, Sayama tea, and Uji tea, known as the three famous Japanese teas, as well as the ways you can enjoy Japanese tea.
Unique Characteristics of Japanese Tea
When you mention Japanese tea, the vivid green tea known as “ryokucha” comes to mind for many people. It really is the case that the majority of tea produced in Japan is ryokucha. "Ryokucha" (literally translating to "green tea") is the general name for all unfermented tea, where the tea leaves are processed without fermenting. There are various types of ryokucha, such as “sencha” (new leaf buds that have received plenty of sunlight which are then steamed, crumbled, and dried), “gyokuro” (high-quality tea made with new leaf buds grown in the shade), and “hojicha” (new leaf buds that are roasted over high heat). The tea commonly drunk in Japan is sencha. There are several ryokucha production areas in Japan, and the flavor of the tea differs in each region.
Shizuoka Tea: Largest Tea Leaf Production in Japan
It is said that Shizuoka tea was first planted in 1244 by a high priest who brought the variety of tea back with him from China. Nowadays, it makes up 40% of the tea leaves produced in Japan. Shizuoka tea has a strong aroma and unique taste, and the leaves are produced in mountainous regions with extreme temperature variations (Kawane/Tenryu/Honyama). “Fukamushi sencha”, which is steamed for twice as long as ordinary tea leaves, was developed in the Makinohara area of Shizuoka. Kissa Issa, located at the north exit of Shizuoka Station, sells tea from around 50 different companies, and there you can choose your preference from the three different types of Japanese tea and enjoy it with a teacake. You can purchase these tea leaves for as little as 500 JPY!
Sayama Tea: Deep Intensity and Attractive Aftertaste
Soon after tea was introduced to Japan, tea plants began being cultivated in modern day Kawagoe, and since the middle of the Edo Period (1603 - 1868), Sayama tea began being actively produced as the local specialty that it is today. Sayama tea gets its distinctive intense flavor through a unique process known as “Sayama-hiire”, using tea leaves that have overcome the cold winter. Producers aim to cultivate with an emphasis on flavor, to the point that it is said that “Shizuoka is for color, Uji is for aroma, Sayama is for flavor.” At Sayama Tea Cafe Wahoan, located in the popular tourist destination Kawagoe, you can try and compare two types of Sayama tea for 500 JPY (incl. tax).
Uji Tea: A History and Tradition of Kyoto
The history of Uji tea is long, with cultivation beginning in the early days of the Kamakura Period (1185 - 1333). At the time, tea leaves were made into a fine powder then added to hot water before drinking, but in 1738, the “Aosei Sencha Seiho” method was developed, in which the tea leaves are steamed, crumbled, and dried, dramatically improving the quality of ryokucha. Sencha spread from Kyoto to the rest of Japan, even to the common people, and the culture of enjoying the deliciousness of ryokucha was born. Because of this, Uji is considered the place of origin of Japanese ryokucha. Uji tea is characterized by a profound flavor of astringency followed by sweetness and richness. At Kanbayashi Shunsho's Matsumoto branch, a tea shop that’s been operating for 450 years located about a 3-minute walk from Uji Station, you can drink matcha in the eating area, or purchase sencha and gyokuro.
How to Enjoy the 3 Famous Japanese Teas
The best way to enjoy these teas is to find specialty shops in each of the producing regions. Even with one brand of tea, the flavor, color, and fragrance changes depending on how you brew it, so it’s recommended to try and compare them. If you want to enjoy tea at home, you can also buy leaves from specialty shops and souvenir shops. If you can't make it to the producing regions, you can even buy them at supermarkets and convenience stores. They also come in tea bags, so you can simply put a bag in a mug and pour in hot water to enjoy an authentic cup of ryokucha!
Now you know the characteristics and some of the history of Shizuoka tea, Sayama tea, and Uji tea, as well as the ways you can enjoy these three major Japanese teas. When staying in Japan, have a satisfying cup of ryokucha, which is packed with the country’s history and culture.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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