There is a big difference in the taste and aroma of Japanese tea depending on the producing area. Japanese tea is cultivated in various regions, from Okinawa, which is a southern region, to Hokuriku, which is snowy in the north. Even in the same area, the characteristics of Japanese tea vary greatly depending on whether it is mountainous or flat.
Mountain tea vs. Tea on flat ground
The tea in mountainous areas is sometimes referred to as “Yamate tea”. It often contains the scent of the land, with a fragrant wood-like scent. Also, since the taste tends to be strong, tea such as gyokuro has a sweetness and umami that can be felt on the tongue, and sencha also has clear bitterness and astringency.
Tea on flat ground
Tea on flat ground has a good balance of umami and bitterness. For this reason, mellow and full-bodied sencha is produced through deep steaming (called Fukamushi), which is steamed for a longer time than normal sencha. For tea in mountainous areas, deep steaming is not suitable, since it results in too strong taste. In addition, with the less effect of the surrounding environment than that of tea in mountainous areas, the characteristics of varieties appear more clearly. Most areas in Shizuoka Prefecture and most areas in Kyushu are such tea producing areas.
Tea in the eastern region vs. western region
Tea in the eastern region
In the eastern part of Japan, "Fukamushi Sencha" is the mainstream, especially in Shizuoka Prefecture. "Fukamushi Sencha", as mentioned above, is a tea that was made with a longer time in the process of steaming tea leaves. By steaming for a longer time, the sweetness comes out and the flavor becomes mild and rich.
In addition, Sayama tea produced in Saitama Prefecture, located above Tokyo, is characterized by a unique scent called “Sayama Hika”. “Hika”means the scent generated through the final drying process of tea production. By applying heat, more than 50 types of natural components are emerged, which creats a unique sweet scent. Sayama Hika has a characteristic scent reminiscent of baked sweets.
In Hokkaido, at the northeastern region in Japan, there are a wide variety of aged teas which are made utilizing its cold climate, where teas have different personalities.
In fact, the eastern region of Japan doesn’t have a long history of producing Japanese tea, and it was not an suitable environment to grow for tea trees, which were originally tropical plants.
However, at the end of the Edo era (around 1600s), by cultivating Shizuoka Prefecture and the subsequent efforts to improve the varieties of tea and the manufacturing processes mentioned above, it has now grown into a production area essential for Japanese tea.
Especially, Shizuoka prefecture, which is a major tea producing area in the east, flourished as it had Shimizu Port as a trading base, it can be said that it is just like Bordeaux in France for wine.
Tea in the western region
The most famous tea producing areas are Kyoto prefecture where Uji tea is grown and Fukuoka prefecture where Yame tea is grown. What both have in common is the presence of "shaded tea" such as matcha or gyokuro.
"Shaded tea" is tea that was grown through shading process to block sunlight in a certain period. Tea has the characteristic of increasing its umami during being shaded from sunlight. It is an indispensable technology for tea that enjoys the umami and sweetness like matcha and gyokuro.
Originally, Japanese tea spread from the Kyushu region (Southen part of Japan including Fukuoka Prefecture), which is close to mainland China. Eventually, major production areas moved to the southern part of Kyoto Prefecture (around Uji), since it was close to both the central Kyoto which was capital city during 1400-1600s and Osaka which was the trading hub at that time.
It can be said that the west of Japan is characterized by the evolution of tea cultivation methods typified by “shaded tea” with such history and culture as background.
In Kyoto, a typical tea producing area, it is similar to the old Italian wine producing area for wine.
Yamecha has a long history, but in recent years the Kyushu region, which has grown into a large-scale and diverse variety of tea-producing area, may be likened to a California wine-producing area.