Touring a Tea Processing Facility in Japan

Lisa with Takeda, owner of the Tsuchiyama tea garden; his entire family is involved in the business

Butterfly nets filled with tea?!

Well, not really, but you’ll see what I mean as we continue our virtual tour of Japan’s tea industry in Shiga Prefecture, along with Lisa of TeaHaus and Eat More Tea!

(See previous post for intro to Japan’s tea industry in Shiga.)

When tea leaves are picked, they immediately begin to wither, or passively oxidize.

It’s this property—the oxidation process—that tea producers exploit!

To get a specific type of tea (e.g., green vs black), tea producers carefully control how much oxidation the leaves undergo. The more oxidized, the darker the final tea leaf.

So after the leaves have been harvested, they are placed onto a conveyer that will take them to the next steps, as seen in this Tsuchiyama facility (photos by Lisa).tossing-leaves-in-hopper-webGreen teas are slightly oxidized, unlike black teas that undergo a more complete oxidation. This is done by purposely damaging the leaves, which breaks down cell walls, but in a tightly controlled way for a specific amount of oxidation.

In Japan, machines slightly roll or cut the leaves; mechanizing this step results in a more uniform product, which is important to Japanese tea producers. (For black teas, the leaves are more aggressively damaged, usually by being cut into small pieces, which increases the amount of oxidation.)

The leaves are then cauterized by steam to stop oxidation. Using steam retains the leaves’ bright, vegetal flavor and very green color. (In contrast, Chinese tea producers stop oxidation with dry heat.)factory-interior-webmultiple-bins-webAfter being subjected to steam, the leaves are tossed so that they dry, because all moisture must be removed from the leaves.

In this facility, these drying tumblers are about four stories high! (And with a definite resemblance to butterfly nets as the leaves flutter up and down!)leaves-in-net-webOnce dry, the leaves may be further cut or torn, depending on what tea is being produced.leaves-on-conveyer-webThe leaves are then sorted. The light green shreds shown below, next to tea leaves, cannot be infused as tea but they are pretty and have a good flavor when simply eaten, like sprinkled on a salad.sorting-webThe final product is packaged,bags-of-tea-webpackaged-webultimately to end up in your teacup!brew_5132-web

(Japan Sencha shown in teacup is available at TeaHaus.)

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