History of Japanese tea: Edo period
The Edo period (1603-1867) was a very important period in the history of Japanese tea, with the development of Gyokuro and the start of export of Japanese tea.
In this article, I’m going to explain the history of tea in the Edo period.
Development of Sencha and Gyokuro
Uji in Kyoto had been growing tea since ancient times, but in the late 16th century, a unique method of growing tea called “the covered cultivation” was invented and succeeded in producing highly flavored tea.
However, this method of growing tea leaves under covers was not permitted for everyone, and was only applicable to houses with a limited position.
Under such circumstances, NAGATANI Soen (1681-1778) developed a new production method for Sencha (steeped green tea).
After a great deal of trial and error, he came up with the idea of a production method called “a method for producing green Sencha” in 1738.
It is a method of tea production by drying tea leaves in a drying oven and kneading them by hands.
By this method, green tea with much better taste, aroma and color can be produced.
Later, when Soen took the tea to Edo, YAMAMOTO Kahee, a tea dealer in Nihonbashi, praised it very much.
Soen’s tea was sold through YAMAMOTO Kahee, and since then it has spread to various places along with the production method.
In 1835, the sixth generation, YAMAMOTO Kahee created the tea that was described as “taste like honeydew” and Gyokuro that is still popular today was born.
What kind of tea was drunk in the Edo period?
In the Edo period, the culture of drinking tea was widespread among the common people.
According to researcher NISHIMURA Toshinori, the types of tea familiar to the common people gradually became more sophisticated from dark brown coarse tea to yellowish green tea.
The type of tea used to be drunk differs a little depending upon the family and social status, but there is no doubt that there was such a transition.
Modernization of tea distribution
The Edo period was also a time when distribution systems such as wholesalers, brokers, and retailers were developed that are similar to those of today.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the development of the distribution system was one of the factors that led to the spread of tea production throughout Japan.
It is a well-known fact that Japan had a policy of seclusion during the Edo period, but only Dejima (island) of Nagasaki was allowed to trade.
In fact, tea was an important export there and the basis of foreign trade.
At the time of the unequal treaties with the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries, 181 tons of tea was exported.
For this reason, tea was recognized as a useful export item for earning foreign currency even in the Meiji period (1868-1912).