The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
Japan's Award Winning Black Teas
Once Again Being Produced
Most everyone associates green teas with Japan, but in the late 19th century
the Japanese government decided to try increasing their revenues by expand-
ing exports such as tea and silk to other countries.
They based their decision
partly on the success of black
tea exports from tea giants
China,
India, and Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon),
to the
U.K., Europe, and the U.S., wanting to
win a piece of the export pie with Japanese
black teas.  So, in 1874 the Japanese govern-
ment created a policy to begin manufacture of
black teas for export worldwide.

In 1875
Japanese manufacturing technicians
and experts were sent to
China to study their
processing techniques, then on to
India to
collect seeds of the assamica varietal of tea
bush.  But Japan's climate was too cold and
harsh for assamicas to thrive.
Realizing the need for more in-depth information, a Tea Research Station was established at
Makurazaki in 1901, where research began into the propagation of
black tea varietals suitable
                                               for Japan's climate and
terroir.  At the same time the processing
                                               steps for
black tea manufacture was also developed.  And be-
                                               cause Japan also ruled
Taiwan at that time, black tea manufac-
                                               ture was also begun there.

                                               Because the varietals of tea plants established in Japan and
                                               
Taiwan were more suited for green tea production, the black
                                               teas made from the harvested leaf was much lighter and milder
than the zesty strong
Assam, Darjeeling or Nilgiri teas of India, or Ceylon teas of Sri Lanka and
lacked the character and depth of China's
Keemun, Yunnan, or Panyang Congou black teas.

They failed to impress the worldwide market,
so an attempt was made instead to increase
their appeal closer to home in the domestic
market.  The British brands of Lipton and
Brooke Bond had built a considerable follow-
ing from 1900 to 1910, but the foreign brands
were subsequently banned at the beginning
of WWI.  These strict import controls remain-
ed in place for several years after the war
ended, which helped the sales of locally
made black teas.

The black tea breeding program begun in
1939 by the Ministry of Agriculture was stopp-
ed in 1946 at the outset of the war and didn't
resume until 1953 when a program to breed
black tea varietals of the Camellia sinensis
          began and ran to the 1960s.  But just as the
Japanese government tried once again to
          grow the national economy, the lifting of import bans allowed a growing number of
          foreign tea companies licensing to sell their teas to Japan.  The result was that the
          8,000 tons of tea being produced in the 1960s had been reduced to zero by 1971.

                                                            Recent changes in the market are encouraging the pro-
                                                            duction of black teas once again in Japan. One factor in
                                                            the demand for more black teas is the growing demand
                                                            for more
ready to drink (RTD) and bottled iced teas which
                                                            use less leaf in the manufacturing process than
hot tea
                                                            requires, resulting in less tea being consumed.  

                                                            Another factor resulting from less consumption is the
                                                            drop in market prices for
green tea, and especially the
                                                            lesser grades made from second and third harvests in
                                                            late spring.  And lastly, there is more interest from
          consumers for the sweeter, more mild black teas, and aromatic
oolongs and pouchongs,
          increasing demand.  

          Because of PPA (Plant Protection Agent) residue levels, more
          
health conscious Japanese are buying more locally made
          black teas, and some Japanese companies are even produc-
          ing aged
puerh style teas to be certain the teas are made
          safely.  Even though these teas may be a bit more costly it's
          worth it to them to have the peace of mind.

          With approximately 200 farmers now producing black teas, it has created new job
          opportunities for young people in rural areas where the tea is hand plucked and rolled,
          as well as other various tasks.  Many of the black teas are being sold through a network
          of local markets where
specialty and organic foods can be found, not always available
          through large supermarket chains.  These farmer's markets provide the perfect outlet to
          sell quality fresh unique products to consumers, bypassing the red tape and competition
          with large multi-national chain stores.

                                             Japan's black teas are milder, softer, more subtle and aromatic
                                             than the strong commercial black
tea blends from stores. This is a
                                             result of the Yabukita cultivar, most commonly grown in
Japan,
                                             which after processing offers a sweet, honeyed aroma and taste,
                                             with very little astringency or bitterness.  

                                             These teas are hand-rolled and slightly curved with names like Kin
                                             Mei Cha or Golden Brow Tea.  The Benifuki varietal has a stronger
                                             presence and is being used by some producers hoping it will
                                             appeal to markets outside of
Japan.
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Classes, training, and advice is also available to smallholders wanting to increase their black tea making skills.  
Courses are being run on which varietals to grow, withering techniques, how to roll leaves by hand or machine,
length of oxidation, and drying temperatures.  Nearly 300 people came to a recent work-
shop run by Kanzo Sakato, Professor Emeritus at
Kyoto University's Institute for Chemical
Research.  One of his many specialist classes is on how aroma and flavor develop during
different states of tea manufacture.


In 2007 the Satsuma Eikokukan Museum won a two star gold award and in 2009 Japan-
ese black tea makers, Kaoru and Miyoko Kanyano won a three star gold award for their
black teas at Britain's Great Taste Awards.  Japan's black teas are definitely worth searching out and trying.  
Enjoy.