What is Yabukita (やぶきた)

June 06, 2022

What is Yabukita (やぶきた)

There is clearly more to green tea than meets the eye. It is as diverse as most marketable crops are. While all tea plants belong to the same Camellia Sinensis family, they still manifest differences in shape, color, taste, aroma, etc. That's because they come from different cultivars. 

What is a cultivar?

While it's pretty easy to get an idea of what it means from the word itself, it's better to know what it actually is. It is often defined as a plant variety produced during cultivation through selective breeding. It is basically a plant that was purposefully bred for specific traits. It does not produce true-to-seed; however, it can be reproduced through methods such as tissue culture and grafting. Seed production is possible but under meticulous control.

Click here for my other blog post entirely about What Cultivar is

Japanese greent tea cultivar

What is the most common green tea cultivar?

Green tea mainly comes from China and Japan. Although Japan is more commonly associated with green tea, China is actually the bigger producer. Its most popular green tea is Longjing or Dragon Well, and it comes from the Longjin No. 43 cultivar.

Meanwhile, in Japan, the most common green tea is Sencha, and the cultivar mainly responsible for producing it is the Yabukita. It comprises about 85 percent of the country's entire tea production. Farmers favor it for large-scale production because of its high yield, frost resistance, and ability to thrive in various locations.

Simple is the best

How did Yabukita originate?

The word "Yabukita" is a combination of two Japanese words: "Yabu"(藪) (bamboo grove) and Kita (北) (north). The name was coined because, in 1908, tea breeder Sugiyama Hikosaburo took tea samples from Shizuoka and then first cultivated them in a field situated on the northern side of a bamboo grove. This experimentation was done to figure out which plant varieties work best, survive longer, and manifest better characteristics. There was also a similar cultivar that came from the southern side of the bamboo grove. It is called "Yabuminami," (藪南) with "minami" meaning south. It was discarded when it was determined to be inferior to Yabukita.

Even though it had been around for decades, Yabukita wasn't registered as a tea cultivar until 1956. It bore the registration identification of No. 6. A couple of years before its registration, it was tested and bred by the industrial tea laboratory of Shizuoka. A couple of years after registration, Yabukita was recommended to be cultivated and produced in the prefecture. Shortly after that, the same recommendation was given throughout Japan. By the 1960s, farmers began to leave conventional tea cultivation and picked up the new cultivar. Yabukita's popularity shot up in the '70s and, by the '90s, it was being used by more than 93 percent of Japan's tea farms.

Green tea steaming

What is Yabukita's profile?

Yabukita is a green tea cultivar originally crossed in Abe, Shizuoka, its parents being seedlings of native Shizuoka species. It is harvested in the spring, between April and mid-May.

The plant grows upright with its branches reaching skywards. It is of medium vigor, but its yield is high. While it can withstand the cold, it is susceptible to some fungi, including diseases like anthracnose and gray blight. It has bright green leaves that are also very aromatic and tasty, with a distinct umami flavor. It is imperative to harvest Yabukita at the right time since its quality deteriorates when leaves are picked past the harvest season.

Final Thoughts

Since it's high yielding, cold-resistant, as well as compatible with a range of climates and soils, Yabukita is deemed the most practical and profitable Japanese green tea cultivar. So it's understandable why Japanese tea farmers choose to plant it. Considering Yabukita's popularity, there is a good chance that the next cup of Sencha you enjoy has tea leaves from this cultivar.

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