The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
Where Japan's Tea Grows - The Uji Region
Uji is Japan's oldest tea growing region, where the world famous tea gardens
are located just south of the historical city of Kyoto, on the main island of Hon-
shu.  Tea first arrived in Japan from China in the 800's, brought from the Jin
Chan area of China by monks, to Japan's imperial city of Kyoto.
The importance of the tea
plants wasn't immediately
recognized upon their arrival, and the
gardens weren't plant- ed for several
hundred years, until the 1100s.

Kyoto remained the imperial city from 794 to
1868, and it was during this time that
Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (r. 1449-1474)
ordered the expansion of the tea gardens
that had been planted 300 years earlier.

Many of the ancient tea gardens are still
producing tea today, providing most of
Japan's finest quality gyokuro, sencha, and
matcha (made from tencha leaves).
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                                                While China makes tea from over 600 different cultivars, Japan
                                                produces tea from just one variety, the yabukita clone, which
                                                was introduced in 1954, and accounts for over 90% of the tea
                                                grown there today.  

                                                The yabukita varietal produces a larger concentration of amino
                                                acids, giving
Japan's teas their characteristic thick vegetal broth-
                                                iness, or fullness of flavor, something the Japanese call umami.

In the mid 17th century Soen Nagatani, a Uji tea producer invented the Sencha rolling method,
a new technique for loose
green tea production.  This new technique
produced a more mellow, brothy tea that
quickly caught the fancy of Japanese tea
drinkers and became their new everyday
tea.  Today the Sencha rolling method is
used throughout Japan.

Not only did the Uji tea producers invent
the sencha method, but in the 1860's at
the end of the Edo period, they created
two new variations in growing Japanese
teas; the sencha sun grown method, and
the gyokuro shade grown method.  

No one knows for sure exactly who came up
          with the idea to shade tea plants, as
          it's been lost in
history over time.

                                                           What is known, is that
shade grown teas have higher
                                                           levels of both chlorophyll and amino acids in the leaves,
                                                           while polyphenol levels are lowered.  This gives the teas
                                                           a darker, more vivid emerald green color, with less astrin-
                                                           gency and a more mellow flavor than entirely sun grown
                                                           teas.

                                                           To shade them, the tea plants are covered with a black
                                                           plastic mesh for anywhere from a few days to a few
                                                           weeks before harvesting.

                                                           
Sencha and bancha are sun grown teas.  These teas  
          have slightly lower levels of amino acids and chlorophyll, and have a higher level
          of certain polyphenols.  They are also lighter in color, more vegetal, and slightly more
          astringent.

          Just south of Uji's world famous tea gardens that produce all of
          Japan's most exquisite and expensive teas is Kyoto, Japan's sev-
          enth largest city and important cultural center.  

          Uji has suddenly become the suburb of a major and affluent city.  
          And, as is the story so often, its few remaining tea farms have be-
          come endangered by urban sprawl, as many of the farmers have
          already sold their tea gardens to make room for fast food restaur-
                                                          ant franchises, shopping malls, apart-
                                                          ment complexes, and office buildings.

                                                          Most
gyokuro is grown in Uji and what's left of the remain-
                                                          ing gyokuro fields is sandwiched between buildings and
                                                          on hills surrounding the city of Kyoto.

                                                          Matcha, made from tencha leaves, is Japan's oldest type
                                                          of tea, and is also grown in Uji.  The best quality tencha
          comes from the Uji fields in Kyoto prefecture where it originated, and also from the Nara
          and Mie prefectures to the southeast, where gyokuro and sencha is also grown.  
Enjoy.  
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