10 Things about Japanese Green Tea Harvesting You (Probably) Didn't Know

by Kei Nishida

10 Things about Japanese Green Tea Harvesting You (Probably) Didn't Know

Green tea is central to the lives of everyone in Japan. The culture surrounding the harvest and preparation of these tea leaves is complex and rooted deep in tradition. The green tea harvested in Japan differs in taste and value from the leaves gathered in China and other areas of the world.  Here are 10 things about Japanese green tea harvesting you (probably) didn't know. 

1. The first harvest yields the most desirable and nutrient dense tea leaves of the year.

First harvest, also called the Shincha harvest, begins in May and lasts several weeks and into June. This harvest is known to produce the highest quality green tea leaves, largely due to the time the plant spends idle during the winter. This slow growth during the cold months causes the leaves to be nutrient dense, resulting in better flavor. The leaves gathered during the springtime have up to three times the amount of L-theanine than what is produced in the later harvests. This accounts for the sweet and mild flavor noticed in the leaves gathered early in the year.  (You can get 2017 fresh crop Japanese green tea by clicking here.)

2. The subsequent harvests occur once a season and produce more bitter leaves.

As established above, the first harvest is held in highest regard. So what about the rest of the year? Nibancha is the second harvest of the year, taking place in June and July. The summer heat makes the harvest very difficult and taxing on everyone involved. Sanbancha and yonbancha are the third and fourth harvest, respectively. The leaves grow quicker in preparation for these harvests, resulting in lower quality and less valuable leaves. Despite this, farmers and workers work extremely hard all year to maintain a healthy green tea farm.

3. Kanreisha curtains are used to protect the plants from direct sunlight.

Japan utilizes their own specialized technique for harvesting Gyokuro and Matcha tea leaves. About a month before each harvest, the plants are covered with curtains to limit sun exposure. These curtains, called ‘Kanreisha’, protect the plants from direct sunlight and are known to result in a sweeter flavor. There are two types of curtains used in Japan: direct covering of the plants and a canopy style to block the sun. They are both effective. Shading these green tea sprouts causes them to produce theanine, which is the source of the typical Japanese green tea flavor. This method of production is typically only used in Japan.

Covering tea

4. Each leaf is chosen carefully and handpicked by skilled workers.

Small family operations run most of the farms where the best quality Japanese green tea leaves are hand-picked during harvest season. Rows of tea bushes share space with forest and other crops such as vegetables. Small tea processing plants are associated with these small family operations to sell their harvest, creating slight differences in flavor that Japanese green tea connoisseurs appreciate.

Hand Picked

Machine picked leaves do not result in the same high quality tea as those which were picked by hand. When hand picked, sprouts grow from existing forks, giving a much mellower flavor and a more delicate scent. In what is considered to be the busiest time of year, thousands of skilled workers gather to evaluate and determine when the ideal gathering time is.

The best time to pick the leaves is when there are from three to five sprouts, and the leaves are exactly the right size. Harvesting too early means lesser yield; harvesting too late affects the resulting tea's quality.

Even one day can make a difference and results in bitter leaves, so it is very important that the tea is picked at just the right time. It must be picked rapidly, all at once, so each worker must use their experience to quickly but delicately pluck the leaves.

How much tea can a tea picker pick?

An experienced, skilled harvester can pick only about 6-8 kilograms or 13-17 pounds of leaves per day. Since the period from their appearance until the time the sprouts grow too large to harvest is only a few days, it's a very labor-intensive process.

5. Japan produces a relatively small amount of green tea compared to the rest of the world.

Despite it's large green tea culture, Japan only produced 7% of the world's green tea. The majority of that is consumed within Japan and only a small portion is exported to other countries. Japan consumes 95% of all its tea production domestically, with only 5% exported to other countries.

6. Traditional wooden baskets and garments are still used in every harvest to collect the leaves.

Woven, wooden baskets have been used to gather tea leaves in Japan for generations. This is still the most popular means to collect the leaves. During the harvest season, the fields will be full of men and women carefully placing leaves into their baskets.

Wooden BasketGreen Tea Wooden basket

The traditional tea picker's garment is light enough to be comfortable, yet full enough to withstand the heat of the sun. It's called a Chamusume, or Tea Daughter.

7. There are tourism for experiencing tea harvesting

Obubu, as the Japanese green tea is called in the Kyoto dialect, is one of the most expensive teas in Japan with a cost of about 14,000yen per kilogram. For over 800 years farms in the rural Kyoto prefecture has been growing it and you can help out during harvest season. There are travel agents that can arrange a day visit where you start with a morning tour of the farm and the opportunity to pick your own tea leaves. Staff will show you how best to do it and you are provided with a traditional wooden basket for your crop. In the afternoon, after lunch, you get to work on processing the leaves by roasting and kneading to get them ready for a delicious cup of Ocha.

8. In the fall, workers begin to prepare the farm for next year's harvest.

Autumn follows and is considered the most critical season for farmers. This is the time when Camelia sinensis, the tea plant, grows best, and farmers have hurriedly worked during late summer and early autumn to enrich the soil and encourage new root growth. The work includes adjusting the soil's pH to the proper levels, deep aeration by mechanical means and application of fertilizer to promote strong, healthy growth of the tea bushes.

Green tea trees are pruned during the fall months of October and November. Pruning at this stage ensures that the sprouts of old leaves don't get mixed in and degrade the next year's springtime harvest. Neglecting to prune at the correct time will also be harmful to the plant and result in unhealthy trees. 

9.Green tea trees need special care during the wintertime.

Straw, dry leaves, and bamboo husks are all laid out by the trees to help keep them warm during the cold and snowy months. This acts as a fertilizer and helps the soil to retain a healthy amount of moisture. The trees, especially young ones, are prone to disease and death during the cold months so farmers must go out of their way to ensure the trees stay warm and healthy until spring arrives. (Read more about the ancient Chagusaba Method where different plants are used to keep soil in good shape which make the tea taste better.)

10. The harvests in Japan are very different to the techniques used in China.

Japan picks certain leaves at different times of the year while China generally gathers all the leaves at once. China also harvests the buds and stalks, unlike the delicate Japanese tradition of plucking each acceptable leaf individually. After the harvest, Japanese tea leaves are steamed to give them a stronger, richer flavor.

The process of tea leaf harvesting is complex routine that takes up much of the year. From the first harvest all the way to the last, the farmers in Japan are working tirelessly to produce the highest quality tea they can.

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Kei Nishida
Kei Nishida

Author

Kei Nishida, PMP is a writer, a Japanese Green Tea enthusiast, and the founder and CEO of JapaneseGreenTeaIn.com. With two books behind him and more on the way, this entertaining author brings his passion for Green Tea wherever he goes.

His two books "I Will Teach YOU How to be healthy by Using Japanese Green Tea!: Surprising Facts and Tips for How You can Take Best Advantage of This Amazing Plant" and "Green Tea Mania : 250+ Green Tea Facts, Cooking and Brewing Tips & Trivia You (Probably) Didn't Know" are available in print and Kindle Book on Amazon.
These books and his blog Japanese Green Tea and Health provides health related tips and research findings focusing on green tea and its health benefit in variety of ways.

Kei’s love of Green Tea and passion for writing has helped make him a feature author on sites and Magazines such as Yoga Digest Magazine, T-Ching, Sexy Fit Vegan, and Woman’s Daily Magazine.

His enthusiasm for health and tea pushed him to developing his company, JapaneseGreenTeaIn.com, where he brings the very best in Japanese Green Tea to customers all over the world.

Kei grew up in Japan and moved to USA at the age of 14, now living in Portland, Oregon. In his earlier carrier, he was Software Engineer at Hewlett Packard Inc. Kei takes advantage of being bi-lingual in Japanese and English, as well as his science background for his research and writing. Information you find in his books and blogs are a combination of the best content and research from Japan and all around the world.

Books By Kei Nishida

I will Teach You How to Be Healthy By Using Japanese Green Tea

Paperback: 112 pages
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1541252454
ISBN-13: 978-1541252455
Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.2 x 8.5 inches
Click Here to View Table of Contents and First 2 Chapters



Green Tea Mania : 250+ Green Tea Facts, Cooking and Brewing Tips & Trivia You (Probably) Didn't Know

Green Tea Mania : 250+ Green Tea Facts, Cooking and Brewing Tips & Trivia You (Probably) Didn't Know
Paperback: 120 pages
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1544093322
ISBN-13: 978-1544093321
Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 0.3 x 6 inches
Click Here to View Table of Contents and First 2 Chapters



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Steeping Guide

Steeping Guide - Hot

  1. Dissolve 2 teaspoon of powder into 8 Oz of hot water. We recommend about 175°F for most common green tea.

    Please note that our product page has different recommended temperature based on type of tea between 175°F- 185°F; however, 175°F can be the most common and standard temperature that would work for any type of our green tea.

    Steeping Guide on JapaneseGreenTeaIn.com

  2. Wait for 60-120 seconds  (Please follow steeping guide on the product for specific time based on type of tea.)

  3. Use mesh strainer to filter out the green tea leave and serve hot

Steeping Guide - Cold

  1. Dissolve 3-4 teaspoon of powder into 30 Oz of cold water.  For best result, use filtered water, bottled water. Alternatively, you can boil water and let it cool down until room temperature. 

  2. Keep in refrigerator for 3 hours or more. Key point is to use longer time to dissolve. This way, sweetness increases, and it does not break down theanine and vitamin C.  For best result, let it sit for overnight. 

  3. Stair the water first, then use mesh strainer to filter out the green tea leave and serve cold.