Japanese Tea

The second oldest tea tradition in the world is found in Japan. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Buddhism was responsible from spreading tea from China to Japan: in 805, after a gift of tea seeds trip to a temple on Mount Tai, in Shandong Province, the Japanese monk Saicho planted Chinese tea seeds near Kyoto, at Mount Hiei. It took several centuries for tea production and consumption to catch on in Japan, however; not until the Japanese monk Eisai returned from China in 1191 and promoted tea for spiritual and physical health did it become part of the culture. His seminal Treatise on Tea Drinking for Health (1193) was one of the first Japanese tea books, and remains a classic: "Whenever one is in poor spirits, one should drink tea. This will put the heart in good order and dispel all illness."

The practice of Zen Buddhism informed by chanoyu—literally "water for tea"—the highly ritualistic, stylized Japanese way of tea (also known in the West as the tea ceremony). The monk Sen Rikyu (1522-1591) codified chanoyu, leading to the five main schools of matcha preparation still found today in Japan.

Another distinctive feature of Japanese tea is that most production is devoted to green tea; other styles are not commonly made. The green teas of Japan are also usually steamed to stop oxidation, rather than the pan-firing process common for Chinese and other green teas. Traditional matcha and some senchas kabuse are also shaded approximately one to three weeks before harvesting, which increases certain amino acids and leads to intensified sweet, umami notes.

Tea is made throughout the country, ranging from Kyusu in the south to just north of Tokyo, with Uji, Shizuoka and Yame Prefectures the major producers. The volcanic makeup of the islands, along with proximity to the ocean, yield a unique soil composition.