In some respects, it is easy to understand that tea cultivar selection is not the biggest consideration when buying tea. Chances are, you or perhaps those you know can share very few details about cultivars in agriculture, let alone tea. In fact, it is a surprising element in the tea market that continues to flourish and expand. Regardless of how complicated the topic of cultivars can be, it is possible to break it down into several key components.
As market demand continues to develop for specific tea cultivars, perhaps this blog’s entry will provide you with the opportunity to educate others. More specifically, this entry’s focus is on understanding "single origin cultivars" with a quick review of cultivars.
A cultivar, in the world of horticulture, is where specific traits are sought in a given plant and subsequently grown. Cultivating plants is not specific to the tea plant, also known as Camellia sinensis. Norman Borlaug, aka the "Father of the Green Revolution," used crossbreeding to attain desired traits to help stem off wheat rust and fuel new methods for attaining higher yields of wheat in the US and Mexico. While often attributed to the work of those on the ground, cultivars can be established, albeit rarely, in the wild as well. Click here to read more about cultivars.
For those more interested in tea cultivars, the Japanese have helped fuel this development in recent decades through national research. If you are keenly interested, some unique Japanese-created cultivars include "benifuuki" (grown often in black teas, you will also find it in green teas for its higher methalated catechin count—a great tea to help with allergies; feel free to check out our 1 minute explanation of benifuuki tea here), Yabukita, and Shizu-731 (known for its distinct cherry blossom aroma. Yes, oddly enough, it smells like cherry blossoms). The list of Japanese tea cultivars is long and continues to grow! (Please see more on cultivars and Japan here.)
Now that you have an understanding of cultivars generally, let's spend some time exploring why a single-origin cultivar is worth its distinction. Before we do that, however, we must get an idea of how tea is processed, particularly via modern manufacturing methods.
If you have purchased sencha at a store, for example, there is a good chance you have seen small, "folded" tea leaves that may be broken and even smaller twigs or branches in the package. Many larger manufacturers and resellers of tea purchase the leaves from farms and package them accordingly. They are often less interested in parsing out specific tea leaves, for example, and more interested in gathering what is available and selling it. Each of the farms that they purchase tea from, however, is growing tea from a given cultivar. While the most common cultivar in Japan is yabukita, this does not account for all It is entirely possible, for example, that the sencha you purchase in that store may contain several or many different cultivars.
This is precisely where "single origin cultivar" distinguishes itself in our discussion. These teas are often straight from a single farm, where a farmer has chosen a given cultivar and sold it to a reseller who is looking for that specific cultivar. To use benifuuki as a further example, resellers understand that allergies are a real concern for many and that this single cultivar is often a great solution for their customers. Single-origin cultivars are slowly becoming more popular, and it may be worth the time to understand these a bit further.
Next time you are out shopping for tea, take a second to review the packaging. Is there a cultivar listed? If so, what is the cultivar? Do you know what desirable traits are present? As you may have guessed, there is a lot more to learn, but one step at a time may be one of the best ways to shape your tea experience.
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