lush leaf growth in a Japanese tea garden
Among our customers some concern has been raised about our Japanese tea and where it comes from.
First of all, the Japanese tea that we are selling now is from the 2010 harvest, which means that it was grown, harvested, and manufactured pre-earthquake and pre-tsunami. These teas are still drinking very, very well. And this is the reason why.
In Japan, most tea companies create their signature green teas by blending together various batches of fresh leaf that will contribute certain taste and aroma characteristics to the mix. These characteristics give each tea the signature style and flavor profile that the tea must have, and which their customers expect.
In the tea factory, some of that fresh leaf is processed into new tea to sell right away. But much of it is semi-processed into aracha ( crude tea ), a stable or ‘half-made’ tea that is put into storage for use later.
appearance of a typical batch of aracha
Once aracha is made, it is vacuum-packed, and placed in high-tech refrigerators under very cold storage conditions in the tea factory until it is needed. Small tea companies who do not own tea gardens will purchase various batches of aracha at wholesale tea markets, or from private tea growers, and they will create their signature teas by blending together various aracha.
batches of aracha for sale at a wholesale tea market in Japan
Once in deep, cold storage, aracha can keep for very long periods of time, years, actually. So, during the course of the year when the tea factory needs a batch of a certain type of tea, the aracha needed for a particular tea is removed from storage, and carefully ‘refined’. It is during refining that aracha becomes tea, and acquires its characteristic flavor, aroma, color, needle shape and glossy surface. After refining, the tea is, well, Japanese tea as we know it.
It is because of this unique method of tea manufacture in Japan ( for example, Chinese green teas are not made this way ) that our 2010 green tea from Japan is still holding so well and drinking beautifully. (To read about Japanese tea manufacture, please refer to our book, The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide, Ten Speed Press, 2007, pages 172-175).
In spring 2011, leaf plucking and the manufacture of both new teas and aracha began in early May, depending on the tea growing region and the location of the tea gardens.
But, discrepancies are starting to appear in reports and the media about the safety of Japanese tea from the 2011 harvest. Initial, early reports indicated that most tea production regions of Japan were far from the path of possible radiation contamination, and posed no cause for concern.
But as the 2011 teas come to market and are tested, reports are beginning to show varying traces of contamination in many of the new teas, and in some cases, these levels appear to be substantially above allowable limits.
Accordingly, we at Tea Trekker will refrain from placing orders for 2011 Japanese teas until more certainty is known. Our inventory of 2010 tea is plentiful and teas are still getting the ‘thumbs-up’ from our Japanese tea customers. Click here to see our listing of 2010 Japanese green teas: http://www.teatrekker.com/shop/green/japan/
We make this decision with a heavy heart as we are staunch supporters of Japanese tea growers and producers, and look forward to returning again to Japan to learn more about tea and tea culture from our colleagues in this fascinating and beguiling country. This turn of events is a devastating situation for tea farmers, tea factories and all lovers of Japanese tea, and we do not make our decision lightly.
Donate to Mercy Corps
Help us support those affected by the recent earthquake and tsunami. Tea Trekker has teamed with MERCY CORPS, our long-standing charitable fund, to collect donations for the relief effort underway in Japan. Mercy Corps is always among the first groups with ‘feet-on-the-ground’ after a disaster, and specializes in sustainable agricultural assistance worldwide. Please click here to read more about Mercy Corp or to donate to their relief efforts.