Similar to Part 1, this guide is intended to be an overview focusing on growing regions, a small list of popular cultivars, and harvest seasons for Japanese green tea.
Notable Tea Producing Regions
Tea is mostly grown throughout southern and central Japan. In the north the climate is too cold to produce great tea.
Uji- Located in the Kyoto prefecture, Uji is the most historically significant growing region in Japan. This is the prefecture where tea originally landed when it came from China to Japan. It is the birthplace of such styles as Gyokuro and Matcha but also produces excellent quality Bancha teas and Senchas as well.
Shizuoka- This prefecture is the largest tea producing area in Japan accounting for nearly 45% of the total tea produced. Shizuoka produces wonderful Sencha as well as Bancha teas.
Kagoshima- Located in the south, Kagoshima produces the widest variety of tea plants. 25% of the tea produced in Japan comes from Kagoshima.
Yame- Located in the Fukuoka prefecture on the island of Kyushu; Yame is responsible for over half the Gyokuro and a significant proportion of the shaded tea produced in Japan. This is the birthplace of authentic Gyokuro (Hon Gyokuro).
Although many people believe that tea is a native Japanese plant, the cultivars of Camellia sinensis var. sinensis were brought from China. Later assamica cultivars were brought over to produce black tea for exporting purposes. While Japan has more than 50 registered cultivars, the majority of teas are produced using only a small number of cultivars chosen for their harvest times, yields, pest resistance, and most importantly flavor.
Yabukita- Grown throughout Japan, the Yabukita varietal is the most common, accounting for about 70% of all the tea produced. It produces large, productive crops and is the most resilient to insects and disease.
Gokoh- This is a cultivar commonly in used in Uji to produce Tencha, the base tea for Gyokuro and Matcha. It prized for its exceptional sweetness and deep green color.
Samidori- Similar to Gokoh, this plant produces a sweet leaf used primarily in Uji for Tencha.
Asatsuyu- This cultivar is quite unusual but is quickly gaining popularity. It is prized for its unique flavor and used primarily making Sencha.
Saemidori- This plant is a hybrid of Yabukita crossed with Asatsuyu. This plant is bred to increase the productivity and disease resiliency of the Asatsyu plant.
Sayamakaori- A highly productive plant used for its strong character. It is usually reserved for lesser quality teas.
Okumidori- This plant is closely related to Yabukita plant. The big difference is that it matures slowly so it can produce tea later in the season.It is often bred with the Yabukita plant for this reason.
Ichibancha- This is the Japanese term for the first flush or 1st harvest season of the year. It begins in late February in the southern growing regions and as late as April in the northern growing regions. Shincha and Gyokuro are always Ichibancha. Some Bancha and most Sencha is Ichibancha.
Nibancha- The Japanese term for 2nd flush or second picking of the tea season. It begins in May in the south and June in the northern growing regions. Most of the tea produced is Sencha.
Sanbancha- The third picking in Japan. It usually occurs in the middle of the summer. Most of the Sanbancha is low quality Sencha for blending with Nibancha sencha and ready to drink beverages where the yellow cup color isn’t as important.
Yonbancha- The forth or fall harvest, usually the final season responsible for the lowest quality teas such as Bancha.