Tea was first introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks that had traveled to China to study its culture in the early 9th century. Japanese monks appreciated the tea culture they experienced in China so much that they planted the seeds for developing Japan its own tea culture. This culture was propagated through the spreading of tea seeds to the Uji region of Kyoto by the late 12th century. At this time tea was a privilege only enjoyed by the highest classes and had quickly become popular among the warrior, or Samurai class.
Japan was one of the first transplants of tea from its origin outside of China. It quickly developed into its own varieties and the people Japan developed their own culture around it. It became an art and ceremony that held a deep space in the hearts of people, even the most fierce. Samurais utilized tea ceremonies as a space for peace negotiations. Chado, the Way of Tea, is the practice of Japanese tea ceremony and is a spiritual practice of patience and appreciation. It is a practice that shows humility as some ceremonies can have you waiting three hours for one bowl of tea. There are a number of different schools of chado that are still being studied to this day.
Japan’s current trademark tea is Sencha, a steamed green tea. It was not introduced to Japanese tea production until the mid-18th century, but has taken up about 80% of Japan’s tea production. There are several different types of Sencha and grades depending on special steps that are taken during cultivation and processing. For instance, Gyokuro, is Sencha that is made from leaves harvested from tea trees that have been shaded for weeks prior to harvest. The shading inhibits chlorophyll production which results in a much more savory and sweet final product.
One of the highest priced teas in Japan are the first teas of the season after the long, cold winter. The Shincha, or new tea, goes for prices up to twice than later harvests because of the rush it makes it to the customer. These teas usually make it to the market around the end of Golden Week at the beginning of May.