Since tea cultivation began around 800 years ago in what’s now Shizuoka Prefecture, it has been renowned as Japan’s largest tea-producing region. But decreasing demand for nihoncha, or Japanese tea, has raised worrying signs for the future.
“Tea sales have dropped sharply and prices remain low — poor prospects discouraging young growers from entering the business. It’s a vicious circle,” says Hiroyasu Nishizawa, president and representative director of Shizuoka-based Benefitea.
From dealing in medical and health products, Nishizawa had the know-how to build extractors and other equipment for health drinks. Could he use his expertise to help boost tea sales by creating better bottled teas?
“There are a few important tips for brewing delicious tea, but they’re not widely known,” he says. “Moreover, the tea generally sold in plastic bottles is made by diluting tea concentrate, diminishing the flavor components — not a good representation of the savory umami taste that tea leaves should deliver when brewed properly. Unless we changed course, there would be no future for tea growers.”
Nishzawa’s efforts led to development of a cold-extraction method. This technique involves brewing at low temperatures, between 0 and 4 degrees Celsius, for eight to 10 hours just to make one brew, and then filtering it an astonishing 50 to 60 times.
Another practice Nishizawa insists upon for each product is to use a single variety of tea from one producer so he can “know the field and the face of the grower,” and he says that, “with wines, knowing the vintners and how they make their products affects value. The same applies to tea.”
Nishizawa has visited many high-minded growers all over Japan, in some cases collaborating on cultivation to produce ideal leaves. After 10 years of research and development he has created nearly 40 high-grade bottled teas, and recently succeeded in making carbonated sparkling versions.
“None of my teas are cheap, but I would like my customers to know what it costs to grow really high-grade teas and to extract the best brews. I believe that offering the best brews of the best teas will eventually lead to better and wider understanding of the potential powers of Japanese teas.”
For more information, visit teargene.jp/en.