The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
Japan's Premier Sun-Grown and
Shade-Grown Teas
Like every other tea producing country Japan also has its own methods of grow-
ing, harvesting, and processing tea that are uniquely theirs.  The tea bushes are
pruned in the fall and spring so that their first flush plants, ready for plucking in
May or June are all the same size and fullness in each garden.
Most of Japan's plucking is
done with mechanical shears
or leaf harvesters, that give the rows an
arched shape which maximizes the surface
area for new growth and is easy to maintain.

Japan produces mainly
green tea and has
two distinct seasons, their early growth or
spring season known as Ichiban Cha
(translates to "new tea") in April and May,
and the rest of the season's harvests.

Most of the high grade tea comes from the
famous tea gardens in
Uji and Shizuoka pre-
fectures.  The rare, costly teas that are
hand plucked, such as gyokuro and tencha
leaf (for matcha) also comes from these
areas.
Japan has two distinct growing classifications for their highgrade
teas; sun-grown tea and shade-grown tea. The sun-grown method
is just as it sounds-the teas are grown under full sun for the entire
growing season.  Sun grown teas are: bancha,
genmaicha, guricha,
konacha, and
sencha.

For shade-grown teas the tea bushes are shaded for about 20 to
30 days before harvesting.  Shade-grown teas are: kabuse-cha
(considered a shade grown sencha), gyokuro (Jade Dew), and tencha (to make into high quality
matcha).

Shading of tea is only done for the top
grades of gyokuro, and tencha that is made
into the most expensive ceremonial grade
of matcha.

The reason behind shading the tea bushes
is to increase chlorophyll production in the
plants by reducing natural photosynthesis
in the leaves.  The increased green chloro-
phyll pigment changes the natural balance
of
caffeine, sugars, and flavanols within the
leaf giving the tea processors room to man-
ipulate it, pulling out added sweetness.

         Also the lack of photosynthesis in-
         creases L-theanine, an amino acid
         found naturally in tea, that adds a unique vegetal quality to the flavor, and helps coun-
         teract some of the stimulant effects of caffeine, thus having a relaxing effect on the
         body, yet an alert state of mind.  Photosynthesis reduces L-theanine and increases
         tannins, the compounds responsible for teas astringency.

         Approximately 20 to 30 days before harvesting, just as the
         warm spring air stimulates new leaf growth, the plants are
         shaded over.  There are two methods of shading known to-
         gether as kanreisha, and the two styles, tana, and jikagise.

         For the most expensive teas and for large gardens with huge
         quantities of tea to harvest, tana is used.  This is the most
         elaborate form, with trellises or wire frames built over the tea
         bushes, covering the rows in large sections.  Black netting is placed over the frame
         covering the plants from top to bottom, all the way to the ground, but leaving plenty of
         room for new growth, and for workers to move about to tend and harvest the tea.

         Rain is also able to filter through the netting, so the tea plants get ample moisture, while
         the warmth is retained inside, creating a nurturing wet and humid environment perfect
         for encouraging new leaf growth.

                                             A small amount of dappled light (about 10%) is still able to filter
                                             through the netting. Sometimes a thick layer of straw is added to
                                             reduce the light even more.  This step is used for the most expen-
                                             sive grades of tencha (for matcha), and gyokuro.

                                             The side and top tana netting can be rolled up or back for increas-
                                             ed air circulation on those days when it's cloudy and total shade
                                             is not needed.

                                             The second shading method, jikagise, is used by small growers
                                             and family gardens to shade smaller sections. Basically jikagise is
         a cloth used to wrap the bushes row by row.  The cloth is tied down and floats just
         above the bushes.

         To access the plants it must be rolled back one section at a time, making it more time
         consuming and cumbersome to deal with, so it's not practical for use in larger
         applications, but is fine for smaller gardens.

         
The pluck for tencha (made into the highest grade matcha) is a bud and three leaves,
which includes slightly older leaves to add a bit of character to the finished flavor of
matcha.  For gyokuro the pluck is a bud and two leaves.  

Basically
production of tencha and gyokuro is the same but for one step.  Both tencha
and gyokuro are steamed and dried, but tencha is not rolled.  This is because the tencha
leaf must remain flat for removal of the stems and veins, after which it's ground into silky smooth ceremonial grade
matcha powder.

Gyokuro is a lightly sweet, rich tea with uniquely Japanese vegetal flavor, that goes through a series of unique steps
from rolling to separating and drying, to end with its characteristic thin needle-like appearance and deep green color.

                                             Because of this complicated growing, harvesting, and processing, both gyokuro and
                                             tencha (matcha) go through, they are at once Japan's most loved and expensive teas.
                                             There's even a yearly competition among gyokuro connoisseurs to crown the best
                                             producer.

                                             So, if by chance you get to try one or both of these outstanding teas, you can rest
                                             assured that with everything that has gone into making them, they're worth every
                                             single penny.  
Enjoy.
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