What is Tea Cultivar?

June 10, 2020

What is Tea Cultivar?

All types of teas grow from the same plant Camellia Sinensis which further has two varieties known as big leaf and small leaf. These two are the only varieties which further make a long list of different tea types. Big leaves, a.k.a assamica native to Assam, make the strong flavored tea. It grows from 30 to 60 feet tall. This variety has been widely cultivated for thousands of years but only reached other countries in the 19th century. These plants thrive in mostly warm and wet weather.

Whereas small leaves plants, a.k.a sinensis, are mainly responsible for most of the tea production around the world. Most of the tea plant varieties in Japan have Sinensis as a parent plant. These plants grow to 5-15 feet tall and are cut when waist-high. The cultivars are what make teas different from each other and responsible for giving them characteristics. This variety can withstand the cold weather, and when it is summer, it grows and flourishes. With these two varieties, many other tea types have been developed by farmers with a process known as a cultivar.


While studying about teas, it is essential to learn about what is cultivar as it has a different meaning with the word "variety." Each tea plant differs from others in terms of characteristics, smell, flavor, and color. It is due to the cultivar methods which have apparent effects on tea plants and give them unique qualities. It is essential to know that tea is only authentic if grown from a recognized cultivar.

Tea only has two main varieties, but as for cultivar, there are nearly thousands of them. Cultiver is an abbreviation of the phrase, 'cultivated variety.' It is a particular type of variety obtained by different cultivation methods, which include different processes. The strain is taken from the Camellia sinensis tea plant and bred and cultivated with specific practices to get the desired characteristics in a plant.

In other words, some tea plants are resistant to frost or fecund, and they grow much better when isolated and propagated. It is done on a wide scale and forms a particular cultivar. To sum it up, it is a specific variety or process chosen for cultivation, which has different results compared to other plants grown in open space.

These particular characteristics are shown in the plant's appearance, such as shapes of leaves, the height of the plant and distribution of branches, etc. Also, brewed tea's taste and aroma differ in every way from one another in this way.

Some cultivars are obtained by doing a cross between plant varieties. (ie: Chinese and Indian tea) Every variety is carefully bred, keeping in mind the particular environmental conditions, seasonal weather of the region, and sometimes are grown in a specific locality. Some are reproduced through crafting techniques, whereas some plants are bred in a way that makes crafting a lot easier for the next plant.

These methods are developing for years and changing to adjust the evolving environment. Many styles of cultivar have been defined, and it carries the weight of the identity of a particular tea and is much more critical than simple crafting methods.

Cultivar sometimes does not always determine what type of tea, i.e., black, oolong, green, etc., you have in the end as most of it depends on processing methods. If the tea leaves are steamed and dried right after picking, then the result is green tea. Whereas, tea leaves that are crushed and oxidized make the strong flavor of black tea. Only some types of cultivars suit a particular tea and is an exciting process to explore.


The cultivar first came to Japan in 1908 when a farmer grew a plant in a bamboo grove and later named it Yabukita. The name was a combination of two words, Yabu, meaning grove, and Kita meaning north. it soon became popular due to frost-resistant, hardy, and survival in different locations. Though, it got registered in 1954 as an official cultivar. The only con of this plant you can find is that it requires extra care due to vulnerability towards pests and diseases.

However, the cultivar is still a relatively new development in Japanese tea history as compared to China, who has a long history comprising centuries. In Japan, before such times, seed propagation was a common practice. Now only 3% of plants are left planted with the old method, and such native varieties with no identifiable breed are known as Zirai.

Yabukita constitutes 76 percent of Japanese green tea cultivation, and 69% of it is bred at Kyoto prefecture. Also there are hundreds of Cultivars in Japan apart from this which offer varieties in flavor and colors.


The Kyoto cultivars have three more cultivars i.e., Gokou, Uji Hikari, and Samidori, which are not officially registered but are still well known. These are used to make varieties of matcha, kukicha, and tencha.

Gokou: Gokou has its particular sweet aroma and creamy texture. It is derived from the same word gokou from Chinese, meaning halo or nimbus. These plants are picked just after Yabukita cultivation during spring.

Uji Hikari: Hikari has the same Chinese character as gokou, which means "light" and combined, Uji Hikari means "the light of Uji." It is famous for Hikari matcha, which has a rich and savory flavor.

Samidori: Sa means "early", and Midori means "green". The name itself reveals that it is an early sprouting tea plant with a distinctive green color of matcha. This plant is resistant to cold and, therefore, grows early and is cultivated too. The final match tea from this cultivar has a soft and velvety taste.


Now, Japan has green tea and is also getting into back tea production, which comprises only 1% of whole Japanese tea production and green tea stays at 99%. Black tea is still rare in Japan, and the Benifuki cultivar is famous for it. Although Benifuki is renowned for black tea but sometimes also processed like green tea, it was developed decades ago by making a hybrid strain with an Indian Assamica and Japanese tea.

Hot Tea

As compared to the Yabukita strain, which is the main cultivar in Japan, Benifuki is likely more resistant to diseases due to hybrid qualities. Moreover, it can be planted in any region of Japan due to 30% more yielding than Yabukita and does not have environmental limitations related to temperature and light.

In terms of processing, the method is also different from green tea leaves, which are processed directly after picking. Whereas, when it comes to this cultivar of black tea, farmers let the leaves sit for at least half a day and wither naturally. In this way, the moisture in leaves evaporates, and a unique and strong aroma develops, which is a signature quality of black tea. Later, tea leaves are kept in a special container to keep certain moisture and temperature level, thus enhancing the flavor and aroma.

The result is a light and smooth tea with bright color and mellow taste. You can drink this tea hot with the addition of milk and sugar, or chill it with ice and enjoy it in summer.

Click here to read more about Benifuki Tea and Its benefit for allergy and MCAD.                                                       


Nowadays, thousands of cultivar types, both natural and cultivated, are being used in tea production globally. China, for apparent reasons, ranks as the top cultivator due to large scale production  and Japan ranks second due to large scale green tea cultivation. Also, it has the widest cultivar range, which allows farmers to produce a wide variety of every type of tea. Those varieties made from original cultivars are high in price due to the years-old method. However, farmers do experiments to achieve certain characteristics in tea and make variations in methods to get the desired result.

These practices are not only limited to one country now but also have gone worldwide. Below are the noteworthy names of cultivars around the world. 

Yabukita (Japan)

Yabukita is known as the most popular cultivar in Japan, responsible for making sencha tea plants, especially in Shizuoka province. Hikosaburo Sugiyama first bred it in 1908. Yabukita was grown in a testing field first as an experiment to achieve particular qualities in a tea. It was sampled from Hikosaburo from the north, and upon successful cultivation in Shizuoka, it was named Yabukita. Later, it got registered in the tea directory in 1956. This plant got popular due to its frost resistant and high yield. It is still popular because of its strong umami flavor and perfect for matcha tea. Today, Yabukita is responsible for nearly three-quarters of tea plants all across Japan.

Green Tea

Qing Xin (Taiwan)

In Chinese, Qing Xin means "green heart" and has another name, Ruan Zhi, meaning soft stem. These cultivar plants are commonly processed into bao Zhong or oolong tea. It is also a common parent or sample plant for many of the tea cultivars created by Taiwan. Qing Xin is famous for its light and orchid-like aroma. Small and dense bush-like Qing Xin was once responsible for 40% of Taiwanese tea plantation and production.

Jin Xuan (Taiwan)

Jin Xuan is a particular new cultivar developed by Taiwan in 1980. It is popular due to the light and creamy flavor and some label it as "milk oolong". This plant is grown and yielded at much higher altitudes as compared to other Taiwanese cultivars.

Tie Guanyin (China)

It means, "Iron Goddess of Mercy" and is considered a premium Chinese cultivar due to its origin nearly two centuries ago. It was developed in the 19th century in Fujian province. This cultivar is strongly associated with processing style and makes it into oolong tea. The Bodhisattva of Compassion gifted the Tie Guanyin, and you can buy it from the open market but at a high price.

Long Jing #43 (China)

Long Jing #43 is the most famous cultivar and known for making Dragon Well tea. The plant is grown and cultivated around Hangzhou's West Lake in Zhejiang province of China. Like many other Chinese tea varieties, its origin is only in legends with no written history proof. This particular green tea plant has many variations, grades, and even multiple cultivars. To this day, it is mostly grown in the West lake area. Long Jing's popularity is due to the early budding in plants and the ability to tolerate cold weather. Tea from this cultivar is famous for the light and fruity aroma.

Qi Dan (China)

Qi Dan is another famous Chinese cultivar, but the original is no longer cultivated. However, cutting from the original plant developed into a new plant allows the same subtle flour of oolong tea due to this cultivar. Qi Dan makes another variety known as Dan Da Hong Pao at the Wuyi mountains. The said mountains are a host of at least six different cultivars, which are at least 300 years old and also a birthplace of the oolong tea plant.

AV2 (India)

In AV2 cultivar, the same cloning mechanism is used as in apples and roses or the new processes as in vegetative propagation. It is mostly produced in Darjeeling, India, known for the cold, high altitude with beautiful scenery. This particular cultivar is famous for giving the tea a complex and floral aroma.

TRFK 306/1 (Kenya)

TRFK 306/1 is also known as purple tea due to its leaves' reddish hue and the famous African cultivar. This cultivar is developed from the Assam variety of tea plants. For the past 25 years, Kenya sold its 96% black tea blended with purple tea labeled as low-grade leaves. It has high resistance and yield, also rich in antioxidant anthocyanin, which gives the leaves its purplish color. This particular oxidant is also found in blueberries and has plenty of health benefits.

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