Mie is the third prefecture in tea production. Although it is far behind Shizuoka Prefecture and Kagoshima Prefecture, the top and the second respectively, it is one of the major tea producers in Japan with the 2018 annual production being 6,240 tons.
Teas grown in Mie Prefecture are generally called “Ise tea,” which is certificated as a Mie Brand. In addition to “Yabukita,” the prefecture’s main cultivar,” “Sayamakaori,” “Okumidori,” and “Saemidori” are also common.
It is less-known that Mie Prefecture has the largest share of the tea being processed for desserts such as ice cream.
Features of Tea in Mie Prefecture
In Mie Prefecture, tea has long been grown throughout the prefecture.
Although there are differences from region to region, as we meet with dozens of tea growers throughout Japan each year, we would like to introduce some of the characteristics of Mie’s tea.
Japan’s largest producing area of Kabuse-cha
The tea leaves have richer umami, less astringency, and a seaweed-like aroma called “Ooika”. This “Ooika” is considered a sign of high quality tea, and Kabusecha, which is carefully and painstakingly produced, is known as the second highest quality tea next to Gyokuro.
Japan’s largest producer of raw tea
Tea-flavored drinks and sweets have become increasingly popular overseas in recent years. In fact, Mie Prefecture is Japan’s largest producer of raw tea for processing used in ice cream and other sweets.
Demand for raw tea is expected to increase in the future, but with inexpensive raw tea being imported from overseas and the market price of tea decreasing every year, Mie Prefecture is focusing on developing new values and products for tea.
Supporting a Major Tea Producing Region in a Supporting Role
Mie Prefecture’s tea, despite being extremely tasty, has not gained much fame as a brand tea.
The reason for this is that it was often bought by tea merchants in other prefectures, such as Kyoto and Shizuoka, and used as blended tea. (Tea produced in Mie Prefecture and finalized in Shizuoka Prefecture is sold as “Shizuoka tea.)
Another reason is that many of the teas are shipped as raw materials and are rarely seen by consumers as “Mie tea.
In recent years, it has become an urgent issue to establish a brand as “Ise-cha” (Ise tea).
History of tea production in Mie Prefecture
Mie Prefecture has a long history of tea cultivation. The earliest record mentions that tea cultivation was taking place at Ichijō-ji Temple in Suizawa-chō, Yokkaichi City. Myōe Shōnin, a Japanese Buddhist monk who popularized tea cultivation through the country during the Kamakura Period, sowed tea seeds in Kawakami, Ise. This also implies the lengthy history of Ise tea.
At the end of Edo Period, the chief priest of Jōgan-ji Temple, Kyōkō Nakagawa, brought tea seeds from Uji. He contributed to the popularization and development of industrial tea cultivation.
Tea production in Mie Prefecture has such a long history and a suitable location. As mentioned above, it is also the third largest tea-producing prefecture in today’s Japan. Unfortunately, however, the region has a comparatively low standing and Ise tea is not so well-known.
One thing is that most of the tea shipped from Mie Prefecture is used as an ingredient of a branded tea in other prefectures, which makes it difficult to build a strong brand. For example, a tea produced in Mie Prefecture and processed in Shizuoka Prefecture is sold as Shizuoka tea.
Tea-growing areas in Mie Prefecture
The land of Mie Prefecture is narrow from north to south. Most parts there have a mild climate. The average temperature is 14 -15 degrees C. The rainy region’s well-drained soil is suitable for tea cultivation.
Teas produced in Mie Prefecture are all included in the brand of Ise tea. The region has, broadly speaking, two tea-growing areas of Hokusei and Chu-nansei.
Hokusei area has the three major cities of Suzuka, Yokkaichi, and Kameyama. A lot of Sencha (steeped green tea) and Kabusecha (covered tea) are produced there. Mie is the largest producer of Kabusecha by prefecture.
The name Kabusecha comes from “cover culture,” one of cultivation methods (“kabuseru” in Japanese means “to cover”). In this process, they cover tea plants to protect them from sunlight 7 to 10 days prior to harvest, which deepens the umami of tea and darkens the color of leaves.
Chu-nansei area includes Matsusaka City, Odai-chō, and Watarai-chō. They utilize valley slopes and riverfront flatlands to produce plenty of high-quality Sencha and Fukamushi-Sencha (deep-steamed steeped green tea).