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The Japanese Tea Industry

The japanese tea industry has gone through several growth phases over time. First established to respond to the tastes of the international market, the industry originally exported a large portion of its production. That is why black tea was still being produced in Japan until the early 1970s. Today, almost all production is reserved for domestic consumption and less than 1 percent is exported. Specializing in the production of green tea, most of which (70 percent) is Sencha, Japan is the seventh-largest tea grower in the world today.

While the younger generations are more interested in coffee - and in spite of the fact that tea drinking is still deeply entrenched in Japanese traditions - Japan is currently witnessing an evolution in consumer tastes. Each year Japan imports several thousand tons of grands crus tea from Darjeeling as well as wulong tea from the high mountains of Taiwan. Nevertheless, the Japanese tea industry continues to flourish, thanks to, among other things, many tea-based products, such as toothpaste, pharmaceutical products, pasta, iced tea and polyphenol extract in capsule form.

It is rare to find small-scale growers in Japan who carry out all stages of production, from picking to the final processing of the tea, themselves. The very high cost of machinery forces the growers or processors to specialize in a specific stage of production, fragmenting the traditional chain of production. Thus, the Japanese tea industry and Japanese tea cups comprises several sectors, as shown in the diagram below.

Japanese farmer-growers maintain their gardens and pick the tea according to the quality and the type of tea desired. Some farmers process the harvest them-selves , but usually they sell it or subcontract the processing to specialized companies that turn the leaves into aracha. In turn, these companies take the various batches of aracha to the tea market where it is sold at auction. Many tasters will sample the batches of aracha, and they will often separate them into various groupings. (As there are corporate groups that offer exclusivity and certain benefits, some companies sell their aracha directly to their partners.) The selected batches of aracha will then be sent to various distributors to undergo the different processes required to turn the leaves into a finished product. Finally, brokers and importers will sell the tea to the many distributors and retailers.

A BRIEF SUMMARY OFTHE JAPANESETEATRADE
Production area: I 19,100 acres (48,200 ha)
Total annual production: 101,500 tons (92,100 t) of green tea
Annual production by province or region: Shizouka,44,000 tons (39,900 t); Kagoshima, 26,570 tons (24,100 t);
Mie, 8,400 tons (7,620 t); Miyazaki, 4,220 tons (3,830 t); Kyoto, 3,275 tons (2,970 t); Nara, 2,790 tons (2,530 t);
Fukoka,2,570 tons (2,330 t); Saga, 2,130 tons (1930 t); Kumamoto, 1,920 tons (1,740 t); Aichi, 1,060 tons (964 t)
Average production yield: 1,700 pounds per acre (1,910 kg/ha)
Annual exports: 2,105 tons (1,625 t) of green tea; 159 tons (144 t) of other teas
Province that exports the most: Shizuoka
Principal purchasing country: United States, since 1853

Source: Tea Board of Japan, 2007. The data relates to aracha. (Values in imperial units of measure supplied by publisher)
ARACHA Processing Japanese green teas involves several stages. Aracha is the name given to leaves that have undergone a partial processing that will be completed later. Only 75 percent processed, it is a raw product that includes stems. Aracha is used to produce Bancha, Bocha or Sencha teas. The type of tea produced is usually determined in advance, based on the quality of the leaves picked.