Almost all the tea produced in Japan is steamed green tea, and much of what is produced is consumed domestically. In fairly recent times, a growing portion of high end tea is being exported to the international market, particularly organic grades.
In Japan, labour is costly, growing areas are limited and demand for product is high. Although hand-plucked and/or hand-processed tea are available for the premium market, most tea is mechanically harvested. Blends of sencha, the most popular Japanese tea, are particularly common. Leaf from different regions are combined to achieve a particular taste, price point or to adapt to seasonality.
A standard year will see four flushes of growth from the tea bushes stretched over April to May (spring harvest), June to July (summer harvest) and September-October (autumn harvest), with the most coveted being the flush flush, or shincha, occurring in the first few days of early May.
Tea and tea bushes are virtually ubiquitious on the Japanese mainland, from Shizuoka south-west of Toyko, to the famed Uji even further south, as well as on several islands such as Kyushu and its largest city, Kagoshima. Tea grown within the northern regions of Japan are particularly prone to frost. To protect the crop from frost-burn, large overhead fans controlled by a thermostat are activated automatically. Their job is to disperse stagnant air above the crop and prevent the formation of ice crystals.
The more southerly-located tea growing prefectures of Kyoto, Aichi and Mie boast production of some of Japan's finest grade green and black teas, helped in part by the warmer climate than the frost-prone north of the country.
Typical tasting notes of Japanese green tea include vegetal or grassy, marine, floral, semi-sweet, and astringent and umami, which is sometimes described as brothy-savoury. Steamed green tea is particularly healthful and delicious, being rich in soluble compounds, particularly catechins, theanines, as well as trace minerals. This can cause the tea liquor to appear cloudy or tinted, particularly with deep steamed (fukamushi) green teas, which contain a high proportion of quick infusing broken leaf.
Common cultivars: Yabukita (around 70%), Saemidori, Okumidori, Gokou, Asanoka and Benifuuki (common for black teas).