Harvest & Aracha production
New lateral buds develop after the tea leaves are picked. Therefore, in the major tea producing regions of Japan, leaves can be harvested 2 to 4 times a year with intervals of at least 40 days after March. Hence, the first harvest of the year is sometimes referred to as Ichibancha (the first tea), followed by Nibancha (second tea), Sanbancha (third tea), and so on.
Tea plantations are generally referred to as chaen (literally meaning “tea gardens” in Japanese). The fresh leaves harvested in chaen are immediately transported to a crude tea factory (Aracha kojo) for processing to prevent the loss of fresh color and aroma due to oxidation. Inhibiting the function of oxidase by steaming and rolling along with heating, followed by a gradual drying of the leaves, results in an easy release of the components of leaves in hot water upon steeping. This leads to the production of Japanese tea that maintains its quality upon long-term storage. The tea produced at the crude tea factory is an intermediate product called Aracha (crude tea), which is then processed to produce the final product. Therefore, in Japan, the production volume of tea as an agricultural product is often indicated by the production volume of Aracha.
Chasho, tea producer & Shiage refining process
is purchased by tea wholesalers, or chasho, and the final processing steps are performed at a refining factory (shiage kojo). While Chasho literally means “tea merchant”, a Japanese chasho is not merely a wholesaler or a retailer, but also a tea processer who makes the raw material Aracha into the fine teas favorable to consumers. At the refining factory, the tea leaves are shaped, sorted, and sifted to remove the powder and stems, blended to generate the desired taste and aroma, and re-dried to improve the shelf life (typically, the moisture content of Aracha crude tea is approximately 5%, while the moisture content of Shiagecha refined tea is less than 4%). The resulting Shiagecha is supplied to retailers and consumers as the final product.
A skillful gogumi (合組, blending) of the unique elements of Aracha crude tea further improves the quality of the tea, including the taste, color, and aroma. It also leads to the development of a variety of tea products to suit the tastes and needs of consumers. Owing to this, each production area can produce unique tea, ensuring that tea with a stable taste is supplied to consumers throughout the year.
High quality Japanese tea & technology
Japanese tea (leaves before brewing) is characterized by its beautiful green color and its twisted shape like a thin needle. The thin shape indicates that the soft (sometimes young) leaves have been processed with skilled rolling techniques, and the beautiful green color shows that the leaves are not exposed to unsuitably high temperatures that would cause discoloration and deterioration of steamed leaves during the rolling and drying processes, which also use skilled techniques.
Such remarkable Japanese tea was once produced by a manual tea processing method. Today, tea-making machines have been invented and improved to reproduce the results of the hand rolling technique. Recent advances in the automation of tea production would lead to many factories that can produce high-quality tea on a large scale. These modern facilities from factories to storehouses also ensure that today’s Japanese tea is produced and kept as a hygienic and highly safe food product.