In Japan it is most often the case that the tea farmers and the tea producers are actually two separate entities. Most of the tea grown in Japan is initially processed by the farmers and then sold to tea factories called Seichas (製茶) such as our own Sugimoto Seicha headquarters in Shizuoka. These sales are usually facilitated through government auctions, but our founder, Zenichi Sugimoto, didn’t like this setup very much and began to cultivate relationships with our farmers himself many decades ago. Now we only buy our raw tea, called Aracha (荒茶), from our farmers directly. This gives us greater influence over the quality of our leaves and therefore the quality of the tea we produce.
So how is Japanese tea made?
In general the tea fields are first tended to by the farmers, who then do the shading for Matcha (抹茶), Gyokuro (玉露), and Kabusecha (かぶせ茶), and the harvesting. Most teas in Japan are harvested by machine since they are highly efficient and incomes in Japan are much higher than that of many other tea growing countries owing to the higher cost of living, making labor costs quite high. There are still a few Temomi (手もみ) or “handmade” teas in Japan, and while they are quite expensive and produced in very small quantities, they are also often quite high quality and delicious as well.
After our farmers grow and harvest the tea, it does not instantly go to Sugimoto Seicha (or the government auctions and other Seichas). Instead it is actually the farmers who perform the initial processing steps.
First the leaves are steamed. This is where tea leaves become considered either Asamushi (浅蒸し), Chumushi (中蒸し), Futsumushi (普通蒸し), or Fukamushi (深蒸し), depending on how long the leaves are steamed for. Asamushi means “light steaming”, Chumushi means “middle steaming”, Fustumushi means “normal steaming”, and Fukamushi means “deep steaming”. The different steaming types greatly change the character of the tea and the final appearance of the leaf and brew.
Our specialty is our Sencha Fukamushi. The deep steaming that Fukamushi teas undergo give the leaves a stronger umami flavor, however it also breaks up the leaves into many little pieces, giving the brew a very cloudy appearance that many tea drinkers are surprised by. The little particles of tea in the brew are a large part of what makes the flavor. Please don’t leave them in the bottom of your cup!
Once the leaves are steamed they are rolled or kneaded to break the cell walls a bit (except for Matcha), and then they are dried. Now the tea can be called Aracha and will go on to the Seichas for finishing.
At the Seichas, the Aracha leaves are blended to create a uniform flavor with leaves from different farms, then sorted to become a whole leaf tea like Sencha (煎茶), a stem tea like Kukicha (茎茶), and a little leftover particle tea such as Konacha (粉茶). After sorting these teas are roasted to bring out the final characteristics and help remove even more moisture from the tea to preserve it when it is subsequently packaged.
At Sugimoto Seicha, we pride ourselves on roasting our signature Fukamushi Sencha at a higher temperature than is normal in the industry. This gives our tea a sweeter, more umami characteristic that we and (most importantly) our customers love.
Japanese tea undergoes steaming at the farmer’s and then is sorted and finished at the tea maker’s factories. The different types of Japanese tea is determined by how the tea is grown, how the farmers steam the tea, and then how the tea maker’s sort the tea into different types and roast to finish it. All of these different pieces come together to create many different kinds of delicious Japanese green teas that we hope you will enjoy drinking!