The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
Japan's Green Teas - From Field to Factory
Japan is made up of four major islands and over 3000 small islands.  With more
than 80% of Japan's landmass mountains, it leaves little room left over to divide
up between the people, cities, and agriculture.
After the U.S., Japan is the
next most industrialized coun-
try in the world, having risen
to the challenge of utilizing every square foot
of avail- able land to it's best advantage.  

Even with the minimum of workable land,
Japan still managed to rank 8th in
world tea
production in 2004, and 13th for tea exports.

Even though it can't compete with the volume
of tea produced by other major tea producing
countries, Japan ranks at the top for its effic-
ient, precise production methods.  

They have gone from making handmade teas
in the beginning, to machine manufactured
tea in the 19th century, and on to computer-automated machines in the 20th century, with work-
ers performing their tasks in state-of-the-art factories.

                                                 Unlike
China, Japan's tea gardens aren't situated high atop
                                                 mountains in steep, terraced plots, but rather are carefully
                                                 arranged on softly undulating hills in straight, well manicured
                                                 rows.  With growing space at a premium its important that every
                                                 square foot of land be used efficiently, producing the highest tea
                                                 yield possible.

Most of Japan's tea is harvested either by high volume mechanical shearing machines, or hand
held mechanical cutting shears.  In the case of the hand held shears, a pair of workers face each
other across a row of tea, each holding an end, and guiding the
shears across the top of the row of tea bushes.

In larger gardens, where rows have been planted to accommodate
the girth, the large shearing machines straddle the row, neatly trim
ing the tea bushes with an even, uniform pluck.

Approximately 200-300 pounds of tea can be plucked per worker,
per day, using these high volume machines or hand held shears.  Because of the increased
plucking capacity, a fourth harvest can sometimes be accomplished in the southernmost regions
with the cooperation of Mother Nature and proper weather conditions.  
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Processing Japanese Green Teas
                                                  Even though all Japanese teas are essentially green, each
                                                 individual tea requires different steps in the manufacturing
                                                 process.  There are nine basic steps in processing
Japan's green
                                                 teas, with as many as 12 to 14 other intermediary steps added.
                                                 The first six basic steps produce aracha, and the last three are
                                                 finishing steps for the final tea refining, or shiagecha.  Lets exa-
                                                 mine the nine basic steps:

It starts, of course, where all tea starts, in
the field with plucking.  From there the fresh-
ly plucked leaf is quickly brought to the fact-
          ory and placed in the green leaf pre-
          server where it remains for several
          hours, until the production line is
          ready for it.  While waiting, air is
          blown over the top of the leaf to keep
          it cool.

          Step two is steaming, to stop the oxi-
          dation of the leaf.  It is steamed for
          30 to 45 seconds, up to 120 seconds
          for deep steamed teas such as
          Fukamushi
Sencha. After steaming the
          leaves are left to cool down to room
          temperature.

          Next the leaf is placed in the primary roller/dryer where warm, gentle air is blown onto it,
          while mechanical hands toss it in a continuous motion.

                                                            In step four the tea is transferred to a rotary rolling ma-
                                                            chine, where it is rolled in a slow, steady circular motion
                                                            over a grooved bottom plate.  Slight pressure exerted on
                                                            the fresh leaf helps to evenly distribute internal cell juices.

                                                            Next comes the secondary tea roller/dryer which further
                                                            dries the tea as it begins to take on its characteristic
                                                            shape.  Step six is the final roller/dryer where the tea is
          put through a series of mechanical paddles that push it back and forth across a grooved
          plate that shapes it into its characteristic long-needle style.

          With the completion of the first six steps the moisture in the leaf is now approximately
          13%.  The leaf is now called aracha or crude tea. All Japanese green tea is processed
          into aracha first and then receives the final three steps where it's put through a
          second set of machines that sort, separate, and give the leaves a final drying or
          "roasting."

          These last three steps of the refining process bring out and
          balance the flavor, aroma, and color of the leaf as well as
          giving the finished leaf a rich, glossy shine.  At this point the
          moisture content in the finished leaf has been reduced to

          
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5%.  With the completion of the last three refining steps, the finished leaf is now called
shiagecha.

Both large and small tea companies process and refine tea from aracha.  It's a common
practice in Japan for artisan tea makers and merchants to purchase aracha and then skill-
fully finish it in their own workshops.  Teas such as
gyokuro and sencha can be blended
to suit the individual taste of their customers, which can vary from one region to another, as they add their own
unique touch to the finishing.

Because all of the tea grown in Japan is used to produce just a few different styles, Japanese tea is always
blended
and sold without identifying the region, farm, or tea garden where it was grown.  
Enjoy.