The cultivation of Japanese green teas

Japan has a high-tech and highly specialized tea industry for green tea production. In the vast majority of tea-growing areas, most of the tea processing is still done by hand – but not in Japan. For one thing, agricultural workers in Japan are scarce and expensive. On the other hand, the Japanese people are very good at developing machines and technology. No wonder, then, that the lion’s share of Japanese teas is harvested with special machines, which can be adjusted exactly to the millimeter.

The Japanese tea fields are set up in neat rows, so that you can drive perfectly over the tea plants with a harvester. In addition, the Japanese tea plants with their green tea leaves are bred in such a way that the young shoots grow vertically upwards. On the other hand, leaves that are unusable for production hang downwards. This ensures that only the young and fresh tea leaves are harvested.

Green tea making tea field
The tea plant Camellia Sinensis – The base for oolong teas and black tea

There is also a gigantic variety of different cultivars of the tea plant in Japan, all of which have a different taste profile and again show the wide variety of tea. Thus, the aroma – this applies for all type of teas- is decisively determined by which cultivar a producer uses for his or how he combines different teas into a blend.

Soil also plays an enormous role in the production of green tea. The use of sufficient nutrients and minerals for tea plants is of enormous importance in sustainable cultivation. Many tea farms have therefore developed a kind of “secret recipe” for their own organic fertilizer. Some tea farms that have been working for a very long time have even managed to bring their tea fields into such harmony with the surrounding nature that the tea plants can do without fertilizers!

Shading of tea plants

For particularly high-quality Japanese green teas such as Matcha or Gyokuro, the tea plants are shaded with large nets before harvesting the tea leaf. As a result, the tea plants form more chlorophyll. The finished tea thus acquires an intense and deep green color and has great health benefits. In addition, a mix of different amino acids is formed, which provide an intensive umami.

In general, the overshadowing of tea plants is a difficult and elaborate craft that requires a lot of knowledge and skill. If the teest shrubs are shaded too intensively, the plants can suffer or even die. If the shading is too short, the desired quality level is not reached, the whole effort was in vain.

Tea varietyShading duration
Gyokuro14 to 28 days
Matcha14 to 28 days
Kabusecha8 to 14 days
High-quality Sencha2 to 8 days
Sencha, Bancha0 days

 

Green tea production of shaded green teas
The shading gives the leaves a deep, luminous green.

Harvest of Japan Green Teas

For the green tea production, the way of harvesting is extremely important. Careful attention must be paid to which leaves of the tea plant are picked. Because only from the young, fresh leaves of the tea plant can an excellent green tea be produced. The harvest of the highest quality teas in Japan takes place in the spring between April and May. During this time, the tea plants put all their energy into the formation of new, delicate leaf shoots. Once the leaf shoots are the right size, the plants are ready for harvest.

In most countries of the world, tea is still completely picked by hand. But not in Japan. In fact, there is a great shortage of labour in the land of the rising sun, which is why tea farmers had to come up with a practical and equally high-quality alternative for harvesting. And it didn’t take long for it to have special high-tech harvesters as technologically fit as the Japanese are now. For steep mountain slopes there is a portable harvester, which can pick tea exactly to the millimetre. In the lowlands, large mobile harvesters are used to harvest the tea.

Despite the use of machines, the Japanese manage not to lose any quality in the production of their teas. On the contrary: due to the intensive care of the tea plant all year round, the high level of care in the production in the tea factory and an incredibly precise use of technological means in the harvest, the quality of the green tea production in Japan is clearly significant in the average higher than in other countries. A virtue was made out of necessity. The available possibilities were brought to perfection by a lot of knowledge and skill on how the tea is grown.

Green Tea Making Harvest Japan

Green tea production – production processing

After harvesting, the fresh tea leaves are processed as quickly as possible. For this purpose, the leaves are first steamed over hot water vapor to stop the oxidation process. Depending on the duration of the damping, a distinction is made between:

  • Asamushi (short damping)
  • Chumushi (Medium-long damping)
  • Fukamushi (long cushioning).

The damping time is a decisive factor over the taste of the finished tea and size of the tea leaves. As a rule of thumb, the tea leaves become smaller and finer as the damping time increases. At the same time, the content of bitter substances also decreases.

After damping, the sheet material is brought into the typical Japanese needle shape by special machines. This form dates back to the days when tea was still shaped by hand in Japan. The Japanese formed their tea with a forward and backward rolling motion, creating long tea pins. The Japanese have developed special machines that mimic this movement, which means that Japanese tea still has its needle-like shape today. In contrast, the Chinese green tea is prepared in a wok and rolled in a circle, which is why many Chinese teas have a curly leaf.

 

By the way: Green teas from Japan are still processed by hand, but these teas are usually only produced for the national tea competition and are extremely expensive. Field workers are rare and expensive in Japan, and only a handful of tea masters have the artful ability to roll tea by hand.

We hope you enjoyed this little insight into the Japanese tea world. If you have now got thirsty for green tea, then have a look at our shop and discover our selection of fresh teas from Japan!

This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)