All You Need to Know About Japanese Tea Picking: There’s More to the Cup than Meets the Eye!

  • The final and most arduous days of the tea picking season begins in rural Japan towards the end of May. Although tea is well known as an essential part of Japanese cuisine and culture, many do not know the secrets of how that tea is produced.

    Tea Picking


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    To learn the truth about high-class Japanese green tea and the hands-on production process required to make this tea that sells for an approximate $50 USD per 100 grams (3.5 oz), check out “Hand-picked Secrets of Japanese Green Tea”. However, the process of tea picking lasts far beyond the first few days of May when the most expensive green tea leaves are picked. Tea picking season lasts for the entire month of May and tea growers make the most out of their harvest by alternating methods as the tea plants grow larger.

    After the first few days of picking the top one or two leaves off new stems for high-class green tea, the tea picking method changes to what is known as the regular picking method. The regular method consists of sliding a hand along the stem of the tea plant, applying medium pressure, so as to remove the leaves without simply breaking off the stem. This method works well while the leaves are still rather tender before the tea plants grow too large. Though depending on the regional climate, this method can be used after the first few days of May until the second to last week of May. Most tea that you may buy in stores, or be served in a restaurant is picked during this time, using the regular picking method.

    Regular Tea Picking Method


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    Once the tea plants have grown large, the leaves are no longer tender and easy to use for regular green tea. Thus, the picking method changes again, this time to matcha or butsu zumi (zumi: picking method). Matcha zumi is accomplished by simply breaking off the stems of tea plants. The stems and leaves are all roasted together to make matcha, probably the most well known and commonly consumed kind of green tea. Based on the method of tea picking and time the leaves are picked, we can see that matcha is actually a lower grade tea than is commonly thought.

    Tea Leaves and Stems from Matcha Picking Method


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    Now, you may be wondering what happens to the rest of the tea leaves that are not picked, especially from the first method of picking. Some tea pickers return after a week or two to the fields where they completed the first method of picking to do matcha zumi and retrieve the rest of the tea leaves. There are still some tea leaves that remain on the plants after all this and they can be used to make yet another kind of tea called bancha, the lowest grade of tea. Typically two men use a large hedge cutter like a buzz saw with a net bag attached and cut the tea plants, which are bushes planted in rows, down to the woody stems. Thus, tea growers get the most out of their fields in one harvest.

    Tea picking is a long process, with each method having a particular purpose and kind of tea it is used to make. Knowledge about the process of tea picking and processing will greatly increase your purchasing wisdom and appreciation of Japanese tea. There is more to the cup than meets the eye.

    Related Articles:
    Hand-picked Secrets of Japanese Green Tea
    A Discovery Off the Beaten Path: Wazuka, Japan’s Most Beautiful Tea Town