Past, Present and Future - Japanese Black Tea -

Ad poster of black tea summit in Takahashi 2012
 A Japanese black tea summit was held in Takahashi city, Okayama prefecture on the 23rd and 24th of November, 2012. It was the 11th time. You may be surprised that Japan produces black tea in addition to green tea. Believe it or not, around 400 kinds of Japanese black tea, known as wakocha (lit: Japanese black tea) or jikocha (lit; local black tea), are on the market now.

Strictly speaking, Japanese black tea is not a newcomer. It was one of Japan’s main export items a long time ago. Its history dates back to 1870’s. Since black tea was more popular than green tea in the world then, the government pushed the production forward. As a result, about 8,525 tons of black tea was produced at peak period, in 1955. (During the wartime, production went down, though.) However, it came to lose its competitiveness in terms of price and quality and the production dropped. In addition, the restriction on the foreign trade of tea was removed in 1971, which made the situation much worse. Finally, the production reduced to only three tons in 1975.

Since the 1990s, black tea began to come back once again. More and more farmers have gradually been working on its production. One of the reasons is a decline of green tea consumption caused by the spread of bottled tea and the change of our diet. A lot of people, especially younger generation, prefer bottled tea than tea from a teapot because of convenience. Westernized dishes, which don’t go well with green tea, are served at our tables more often. In order to break with the status quo, the farmers have started to feel their way through this new challenge.

sampling space
Amid this situation, the summit was first started 11 years ago for the farmers to work hard together for better black tea. At first, the participants were only tea-related people, but in 2012 it was a much larger-scale and more like a festival supported by the municipality. Not only tea people but also a lot of consumers enjoyed a sampling session, a tea café and a tea booth where the customers could buy wakocha from the farmers at the site. For tea people, there were several symposia and seminars by specialists including Mr.Kanzo Sakata (Emeritus Professor of Kyoto University), Mr.Takeshi Isobuchi (Tea specialist) and Mr. Niroku Muramatsu (Leading expert of black tea). Various topics such as production, marketing and the future of wakocha, all of which were really valuable and meaningful, were discussed.

At this point, wakocha is creating a buzz because it’s rare and new. But soon, it will not be purchased just because of its novelty. Its specialty and originality, to say nothing of quality, will be a must for it to survive in the future. Japanese black tea is evolving steadily. The sales are increasing surely. The tea helps revitalize the rural economy, too. Black tea could be the icebreaker of a “Japanese tea Renaissance”.

Tea cafe

                                                                                                                                       special thanks AH