> Japanese Black Tea History and Origin

The Start of Domestic Black Tea Production in Japan

At the start of the Meiji Era in 1868 (to mid-1890s), Japan’s main exports were tea and silk. Assessing black tea’s increasing demand in a global market, the Meiji Government dispatched Motokichi Tada on a treacherous mission to China and India to study Assam and Darjeeling tea production in 1875. Upon his return to Japan in 1877, he introduced black tea production and helped spread its method all over Japan.

To start a tea farm operation in Mariko, Shizuoka, Motokichi Tada (1829-1896), a former vassal of Tokugawa Shogunate, acquired a large lot of land that has been disposed by the 15th Shogun Yoshinobu Tokugawa (also known as Keiki.)

By 1881, Tada’s careful seeds selection, adoption of new production application, research of pathogens that linked to fungus and pest infestation, new cultivation techniques, product quality development, organic farming method and presentation of imported farming machinery blueprint respectably contributed to initiate the official India-style black tea production in Japan. Without Tada’s involvement in new tea production, it was implausible that the Japanese tea industry (which also included the green tea producers), could have attained the same level of modernity that created a huge wealth and changed the tea industry in Japan forever.

After experiencing its production peak in mid-1920s to early 1930s, black tea production in Japan slowly started to decline due to growing nationalism and rejection of things not traditionally Japanese. By the time Japan was experiencing a postwar economic miracle, Japanese black tea industry lost its ground to their foreign competitors in global markets. As a result, Japanese black tea production no longer became a significant focus. Thus, its production was largely withdrawn. In June of 1971, a free trade agreement involving black tea came into effect. Ultimately, this agreement led to the Japanese black tea industry limiting its production domestically, yielding just over 1 to 2 tons of tea per year.

In 2002, the first annual Japanese black tea summit was organized in Tottori. There were less than 30 black tea farmers in Japan around this time. Today, there are more than 200 farmers producing roughly 93 tons per year thanks to a growing demand for domestically grown products and a cultural shift to embrace western products and ideas. In recent years, Japanese black tea has been known to be called Wakocha. The word ‘Wa’ means Japan or pertaining to Japan and ‘kocha’ means black tea; hence, the word ‘Wakocha’ was born. The summit has since been hosted in numerous prefectures which include Ishikawa, Shizuoka, Fukuoka and Kochi. The summit’s goal was to bring all mainstream black tea fans together hoping to blossom more interest and appreciation of Japanese black tea.

Besides the origin, much of what defines Japanese black tea can be associated to its smooth flavor and the amount of care farmers put with regard to their production process. Japan does not experience extreme day and night temperatures, thus black teas harvested in Japan are less likely be exposed to high temperatures. This gives Japanese black teas delicately fragrant and pleasantly mild flavor, which is not commonly seen with black teas from other countries. It goes without saying that Japanese black tea is very special. It can be served hot, cold, with or without milk and sugar. This tea also pairs well with a wide variety of foods and desserts.


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