Off-the-Eaten Path Food Experience in Japan. "Meet the People and Places behind your Plates! "

Saturday 11 June 2016

Tea tour (2) Visit to home made tea, bancha

History of Japanese green tea

The first tea served in Japan was recorded in 805, when the two notable priests, Saicho and Koubou taishi have been back from China. The one established Enryakuji temple in Mount Hiei, and the other established Kongobuji temple in Mount Koya. The tea at that time was block-processed black tea.

It is said that the Emperor Saga was fond of tea, and there is a record of cultivating tea in Gosho, the Emperor's dwelling in Kyoto. However, after the boom was over, tea has been forgotten.

In 1191, the priest Eisai encountered matcha, powdered green tea in China - soong dynasty. This is the origin of current Japanese green tea, and tea ceremony has been developed along with zen philosophy.

This is the general history of Japanese green tea, but what we call "traditional" Japanese green tea is mostly for ruling class, such as samurai worriers or aristocrats, and folk tea is different.

We sometimes organize tea tour to some villages in June to July. This year we will visit Tokushima to learn about awa bancha. Please contact me from here, if interested.

see also this article:

Tea Tour (1) Cultural Landscape And Tea Experience In Wazuka, Kyoto

Tea garden in Mandokoro, Shiga

Bancha (番茶) tea in rural area

Tea trees are everywhere around farm houses in rural area, which is not for selling but for domestic use. We visited several villages in Nara, Wakayama, Shiga, Shikoku, Kyushu to learn how to process tea from farmers.

Tea is grown even on the path of farm roads...

tea garden tsubayama, kouchi

There are many variations of processing methods; (1) drying, (2) steaming, (3) boiling, (4) baking, (5) hand rolling, and (6) fermentation.

Traditional Japanese green tea is processed by steaming first to stop fermentation after the harvest, called mushi 蒸し, on the other hand, bancha 番茶, or folk tea, is first dried under sun for a few hours and then baked in iron pan, called kamairi 釜炒り.

sun drying bancha in wakayama
baking tea in wakayama

In some areas, tea is rolled by hand after baking or steaming.

hand rolling tea in wakayama after baking
In Uji, tea is rolled to be like thin needles
hand rolling tea in Uji, kyoto after steaming
leafy bancha without rolling
Tastes and flavors of tea are different depending on its climate, soil and methods of processing.

Generally, the first tea, or ichibancha 一番茶 in Japanese is harvested around the beginning of May, called 88ya, 88 days after risshun 立春 (first day of spring).
The second tea is harvested around June in the early summer.

In the rural area, what we call bancha (literary means late tea) is harvested in June to July. In some areas, it is harvested around doyou 土用, 18 days period before rikka 立夏 (first day of summer) in mid July under the strong sunshine.

roots of tea plants

Forgotten tea plantation

There are many lands without successors.
Farming requires hard labor, and young people are not willing to take over.
Now many tea farms are desolated and forgotten.

On the other hand, these lands are more than welcomed by natural farming lovers. It is hard to find organic tea in Japan. More than 99% of tea sold at shops are conventional with pesticides and chemicals. Small-scale produced organic tea is only for domestic use and cannot be distributed in cities. 

It is possible for us to visit these farms to harvest naturally grown tea in the mountains.

naturally grown tea in shiga

Harvested tea
Learning tea processing from a villager 

cooking with tea

Tea is not only for drink. It is edible.
As it can be seen in Asian countries culinary tradition, tea is used as also seasoning or as vegetables in western China, Laos, and Thai.

In Nara and Wakayama, chagayu 茶粥, tea porridge is largely cooked.
Potatoes, beans, or millets can be also added.

tea porridge in Totsukawa village, Nara
This bag is called chanbukuro 茶ん袋 filled with tea leaves inside, when boiling porridge. Then, the porridge is flavored by tea.

Tea experience

If you wish to learn how to process tea and how to cook tea porridge from villagers, it is possible by staying any farm inns, called nouka minshuku in Japanese, where tea is produced.

Personally I really like and recommend Totsukawa village, located on the path of kohechi, a pilgrimage route stretches from Mount kouya to Kumano Kodo.

This is a pilgrimage path in front of a farmhouse in Hatenashi shuraku 果無集落, the world heritage site.

On the load to Kumano Kodo from Mount Koya, you can find sparsely located village communities and tea plantation. There are 2 farm inns along the trail.


From JR Osaka, take the train to JR Tsuruhashi and transfer to the Kintetsu line to Yamatoyagi station (approx. 50 minutes.) From there, the bus to Totsukawa takes 3 hours 40 minutes.

see also this article by JNTO (Japanese National Tourism Organization)

about farm inns
Totsukawa village tourist information 十津川村観光協会 (Japanese only)