Our latest thoughts about 2011 Japanese Tea

               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.



2011 Shincha – UPDATE !

UPDATE to Original Post

JUNE 11th….Conflicting reports about possible radiation levels  ( or not )  in the 2011 Shincha crop from Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan continue to appear in American and Japanese news reports.  Each new report contradicts the last (all reporting is in credible media) so the truth is clouded. An American food-professional colleague living in Tokyo ( who makes her living writing about Japanese food and teaching cooking classes ) has strongly suggested ( read i-n-s-i-s-t-e-d)  based on information that she has that we halt the sale of this tea until more can be determined about the safety of tea from this area.

So we are. Apologies to all for this action, but without 100% faith in the soundness of what we are selling, we feel this is the right thing to do. Other than the 2011  Shincha ( which is now pulled from sale ), all of our Japanese green tea  is from the 2010 (pre-earthquake and tsunami ) harvest. It is still delicious and drinking quite nicely. We will not receive any additional 2011 Japanese green tea until more clarity is shed on this issue of contamination in Japanese agricultural products. Indeed, this is a heartbreaking situation for Japanese farmers of all manner of agricultural goods.

May 27th

Each spring the first plucking of new, seasonal Japanese tea – Shincha  – begins between the end of April or the beginning of May. The timing of this plucking for ‘first pluck’ tea is calculated according to the traditional Japanese calendar, which places the time on the 88th Night following the first day of spring. This period is also known as Hachijuhachiya, meaning the time that plants begin to sprout.

Only a very small amount of Shincha is plucked each spring as there are only a few days that tea leaves are this tiny and new. Tea workers race to beat the clock and harvest the tea leaves before they grow too large to be called Shincha. ( After the Shincha harvest, various pluckings of Sencha begins, and so on throughout the season).

Shincha is exquisite in flavor and aroma because it is made with the first tea leaves to sprout on the tea bushes after winter hibernation. During the winter rest, the tea bushes absorb and store nutrients gathered from the soil during this time. Thus, the first leaves to ‘sprout’ on the tea bushes in the spring contain a large amount of these nutrients and antioxidants, the energies of the season, and, best of all, fresh, bracing flavor.

Our Shincha Kunpu is truly a special tea. The leaves are shiny, thin and delicate, and the taste can best be described as exceedingly lively, herbaceous , earthy and sweet. It displays all the vitality of the new season in its taste, which is an invigorating expression of seasonality. The heady aroma of Shincha recalls the fresh, green aromas that greets one in the tea gardens and tea factories in Japan in the spring.

This highly sought-after tea is best drunk now, when it is young and full of the moment. It is not a tea for keeping, or saving for special occasions ‘later’.

To order our 2011 Shincha, please click here: http://www.teatrekker.com/shop/shincha-kunpu/

Our Japanese Tea After the Earthquake & Tsunami

We are now placing orders for our 2011 Japanese green teas. Our confidence in doing so is based on information that we have been receiving that the tea fields in Shuizoka and Kagoshima ( both of which lie substantially south of Tokyo and Fukashima ) are free from contamination.

The Shizuoka government has been monitoring the radiation level of the atmosphere, tap water and fallout on an hourly basis from the beginning of the events that occurred in Japan in March. Since then, there have not been any abnormal measurements. For reverence, please visit (http://www.pref.shizuoka.jp).

United States FDA and Canadian customs have restricted fresh products from some prefectures in Japan. Shizuoka is not included in these restrictions since unusual levels of radiation have not been detected in the air or water in the prefecture. Kagoshima is even further south and has also not detected any abnormal measurments.

Many fresh food producers in Japan have requested a certificate to prove the safety of their products. Consequently, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan has developed and will issue a “Certificate of Environmental Radioactivity Level” for such products. We are pleased to say that our new 2011 Japanese teas will bear this certificate.

Japanese and United States Governments have numerous safeguards and inspections in place to assure the safety of products from Japan. If you are concerned about the safety of certain Japanese food products, please visit the USFDA website to read some FAQs on Food Safety at http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/PublicHealthFocus/ucm247403.htm.

FYI….until the 2011 new Japanese tea begins arriving from mid-May to early June, 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.

Also, we have set up a Tea Trekker donation link to Mercy Corps ( www.mercycorps.com ) on our our website for those who would like to donate to the relief efforts that this worthy relief organization has underway in Japan.

Please visit our website to read more about our Japanese tea or to donate to Mercy Corps.