Origin of Japanese tea
The origin of Japanese tea is as mysterious as its aromatic cup.
Tea is made from the buds and leaves of the tea plant, a family of Theaceae (scientific name: Camellia sinensis). The tea plant is a perennial evergreen tree widely distributed throughout the subtropical regions. Tea species are broadly divided into the Chinese and Assamese varieties.
The Chinese varieties are shrub-like plants, mainly cultivated in temperate regions as they possess a strong tolerance to cold temperatures. The leaves are small with a low tannin content and mainly used for the production of green tea.
The Assamese varieties grow into tall trees, but have a poor tolerance to cold temperatures. The leaves are large and have a high tannin content. They are primarily used as the raw ingredient for the production of black tea.
The many intermediate groups of Chinese and Assamese varieties are sometimes classified into four categories: the Chinese small-leaf variety, the Chinese large-leaf variety, the Indian small-leaf variety, and the Indian large-leaf variety.
Japanese tea is considered to be a natural hybrid derived from the Chinese small-leaf variety and is especially suitable for producing green tea. Chinese small-leaf varieties are distributed throughout southern and eastern China and Taiwan. They have a large number of branches with small leaves only 4 cm in length. The leaves are hard and of dark green color with rounded tips.
In Japan, some Yamacha (literally “mountain tea”) also grows in the mountains of southwestern regions (around Kyushu and Shikoku islands). It was once believed to be a native plant. However, it is now assumed that Yamacha was brought to Japan in the past.