Tea in Japan

Tea culture in Japan dates back to at least the 8th century when Japanese Buddhist monks would bring tea seeds from China for the religious and royal classes to drink. In 1191, the famous Buddhist monk Eisai was attributed for popularizing tea consumption among the general public. In the 13th & 4th centuries the original Japanese tea ceremony was developed.

Tea drinking became commonplace in the following centuries and a daily household staple. Japan also began to develop a unique and sophisticated style of green tea called Sencha. It is unique since it is steamed and requires a high level of skill, and not pan-fired and oxidized like green teas from other countries such as China or India. In the 19th & 20th centuries, industrialization led to the modernization of the Japanese tea industry and mass production began to output very large quantities of low grade tea used for export, low-price tea bags and bottled tea drinks.

Historically, tea making in Japan was passed down through the generations. Pioneer and expert tea farmers developed hundreds of both registered and non-registered tea cultivars and unique types and styles of Japanese teas. However, with the younger generations moving to the cities, tea culture in Japan is facing a major crisis and 4 of every 5 tea farms are being abandoned with no one left to continue operations. The risk of losing this tea making wisdom is unfortunate.

As interest spreads by word of mouth throughout Japan, the US and abroad, there are new tea farmers, producers, sellers, promoters, drinkers and connoisseurs that are helping to keep the culture alive. With the global movement of farm-direct, heritage and sustainable food practices, what was once thought of as old-fashioned is now being considered a deeply important cultural treasure that needs to be protected and preserved.