The Future of Japanese Tea: Sayama Tea Blends and Tea Culture in Japan

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  • This year, in November, I was lucky enough to participate in an event organized by Pony Canyon (PoniCan), quite a famous name here in Japan and recognized overseas, as well.

    The spotlight of the event was Sayama Tea(狭山茶/ Sayama Cha) and me and my coworker even got to taste various blends in the second half of it enjoying a cup of tea while discussing with the tea leaves producers.

    As a tea addict, I was more than thrilled when I got an invitation to attend the event, however I didn`t expect to encounter so many blends and so many different flavors, so it became such a pleasant surprise!

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    As you might have noticed, Japan has a strong tea culture and you can find plenty of assortments to choose from such as Oolong tea, Green Tea, Mugicha, Black Tea etc. and in this article my main focus will be the Japanese Tea!

    Regardless of your tea knowledge, there are discoveries unveiling themselves every day, so join me into the world of tea for a new beginning or even more discoveries.

    The Event

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    The Event started of with a few Greetings from the Saitama Prefecture`s Ministry of Agriculture and was followed by a few explanations and presentations.
    We found our table, exchanged business cards and got more accustomed with the exciting world of tea and the multitude of tea production houses present at the time.

    I must say I went there a bit unprepared and was feeling quite stiff in the beginning, a little bit out of place among the formally dressed people assisting the event, but everyone was so kind and meeting so many wonderful people was definitely a great experience!

    In the second half, an exchange meeting took place. We went around other tables and had the chance to taste so many different blends! I was surprised to see so many types of tea and excited to try it out and enlighten my taste buds with so many peculiar flavors.

    In the beginning of our event, one of the tea connoisseurs started off by saying:


    -There is a tea leaf plucking song with its origins in Sayama that goes like this:

    “色は静岡、香りは宇治よ、味は狭山でとどめさす”
    (“Iro wa Shizuoka, kaori wa Uji yo, aji wa Sayama de todome sasu”)
    ,
    roughly translated as Shizuoka in color, Uji in fragrance, end it off with Sayama for the taste, that means if you are looking for a cup of tea, Shizuoka, Uji and Sayama(Saitama) are your top three choices.

    What I`ve found out: Sayama Tea and New Beginnings

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    Sayama tea is known for its uniqueness and is mainly characterized by fleshy thick leaves given by the area`s cool climate and its traditional manufacturing method of roasting the leaves dating way back to the Edo Period.

    Sayama cha is unmistakably a high quality product and the term refers to the tea-producing area: southwestern Saitama Prefecture (including Sayama city, Tokorozawa, Iruma and the neighboring area, Nishitama district in northwestern Tokyo); unless is one of the regions mentioned above, the tea is not considered Sayama tea.

    As I had the opportunity to taste so many assortments, I found myself surrounded by so many flavors I didn`t even know exist! I can say that a characteristic of the Sayama cha is the refreshing taste and as I mentioned already, its uniqueness, its divine aroma given by the delicate ingredients.

    “The blend is very important” is something one of the manufacturers mentioned, therefore the tea producers invest a lot of their time finding a perfect blend, the perfect balance, refining their skills and knowledge, understanding of tea types, brewing techniques, dedicating their life to tea and finding new flavors for us to enjoy.

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    The event gave me the opportunity to try out not only the tea of the area, but also different sweets such as Matcha (fine green tea powder) Ice Cream and Houji Tea Ice Cream, Matcha chocolates and so on. I did try matcha sweets before, but Houji Tea was a first for me ! Its authenticity and delicious sweet aftertaste left quite an impression on me! Paired with the Sayama Tea makes the best combination, so I definitely recommend trying it when you have the opportunity to do so.

    For Sayama cha, the first brew has an invigorating taste while the second brew offers more of a mellow aftertaste, its sweetness and astringency are well-balanced and it makes it easy to enjoy even as a first time green tea drinker. So, next time you`re in Japan, don`t forget to try the Sayama Tea.


    Japan is quite famous for producing green tea, but in this event, I discovered a new high-quality black tea blend:

    The Japanese Black Tea 和紅茶(Wakoucha)

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    We all know the popular Earl Grey, Darjeeling Tea, but have you ever heard of Japanese Black Tea? As its color has a red tone, in Japan is called “Kou” 紅 (red) cha茶(tea) instead of black tea because the water in Japan is slightly different from the one in Europe, for example.

    The leaves react to the water`s PH, so the soft water in Japan makes its color look more warmer,not as dark as the teas in Europe. Its flavor is quite delicate and the production is pretty different from the green tea one as the leaves need oxidization; in Wakoucha`s case, the leaves are left to wither 16-17 hours and compared to the steamed green tea, it lasts longer!

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    The Japanese Black Tea was quite a new discovery for me , so I was surprised to find out that the Japanese black tea was produced during the Meiji Period.
    However, the Japanese people choose the green tea rich in umami over black tea and Wakoucha still needs to work harder to increase their popularity and production as currently, only about 300 tea farmers are making black tea in Japan.

    One of my first choices of black tea is the Wakoucha Tea Bag, it has a cute red package with a lot of details on it and the blend gives off a nice fragrance; I took a sip and the taste was indeed black tea, but somehow, the “和”(wa) in Japan was present, its gentle aroma and a faint sweetness made it the perfect choice for the evening.
    I paired it with a slice of chocolate cake and let myself surrounded by peace and tranquility: the perfect harmony for a perfect night!

    The main characteristics of the Japanese Green Tea

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    A subtle aroma, with many nutrients and a strong unique flavor, the Japanese tea has many positive effects and more antioxidants; it has cholesterol-lowering effects and helps preventing cancer.

    The Japanese Green Tea has quite a few varieties and here are some of the main types:

    1.Sencha (煎茶)

    Sencha is the most common type of Green Tea in Japan that has a well-balanced flavor,a yellowish light green clear color and the best choice to try if you just entered the world of green tea.

    2.Gyokuro(玉露)

    One of the finest quality blends with a pale transparent yellow color is the refined green tea Gyokuro, often compared to wine tasting as it should be consumed in small amounts to fully enjoy the mellow umami (highest quality flavor) taste and unique seaweed aroma. To get the perfect cup of tea, the ideal temperature should be around 55 degrees.

    3. Matcha(抹茶)

    Often used in Sadou (Tea Ceremony), matcha is a powder that dissolves in hot water; a vivid green tea with a rich, deep umami flavor and elegant refreshing aroma of green leaves that leave a sweet aftertaste.

    4. Bancha(番茶) -whole leaf Green tea

    Bancha has a golden color and is made from mature tea leaves, it has a refreshing and delicate flavor and is quite popular among Japanese people.

    4. Houjicha (ほうじ茶)- roasted whole leaf

    Houjicha `s color is one of a light brown.
    Roasting sencha or bancha tea over a high flame left the leaves without moisture and turned the color into a warm, autumn-like transparent brown. As the tea has lower caffeine and a light flavor, it is quite recommended for children and elderly tea lovers.

    Tea Culture in Japan

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    Japan is known for its vending machines and unique flavors, so when it comes to tea you can find it either canned or bottled, in vending machines or grocery stores and you can buy either high quality tea bags, tea leaves or tea powder from supermarkets, tea producers etc. and make it yourself at home or office.

    If you are having lunch or dinner outside, many restaurants will offer you a cup of tea instead of water. Many places usually offer the standard Japanese green tea: Sencha or Gyokuro, while some may offer Genmaicha, a green tea with toasted brown rice. In a soba shop, the tea you`ll most probably get is Soba cha (made with roasted buckwheat groats), a nutty flavor that is simply delicious and super refreshing, not to mention healthy!

    When you go shopping, don`t forget to search for unique flavors such as matcha flavor, houjicha flavor, houjicha latte flavor etc. You can find it in drinks, ice cream, cakes (such as green tea sponge cake), cookies, chocolate and so on!


    Before the conclusion, I considered that a few words about our main host are needed, so here is:

    A small introduction about our host- Pony Canyon

    Pony Canyon is a Japanese company associated with the Japanese media group Fujisankei Communications Group. The company is one of the major leaders in the music industry in Japan, publishing not only music, but also music and videos games.
    The headquarters are in Tokyo, Minato and that is the place where our event took place.

    To Wrap it Up

    I am very thankful that I could participate in such a wonderful event that allowed me to discover new tastes and flavors and relax surrounded by beautiful people with different backgrounds and just have a cup of tea together while having a good conversation.

    At the end of the event, we got tons of Omiyage (souvenirs) and small samples so we can enjoy the soothing flavors once again at home.

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    Each taste is different, rich in flavor, well-balanced, either refreshing, either nutty, some even have a smokey taste or an unique oceanic flavor!

    A sweet or bittersweet aftertaste will linger in your mouth, some of the teas are bold and strong, while other blends are fruity and zesty; all of them are tea delights that will awaken your senses, so I`m sure you will find the perfect cup of tea as there are numerous choices you can pick from.

    I learned in my Journey that tea is also a bond , is communication, is life, is “Tsunagaru” /つながる connecting with people.

    I hope that sharing my experience with you will make you adventurous enough to start your own journey in the World of Japanese Tea.

    *Featured Image: jp.fotolia.com/