What's so special about mountain-grown Japanese tea?

If you are familiar with the selection of teas on the Yunomi site, you have probably come across teas that are described as, “mountain-grown”. As we have had customers inquire about mountain-grown tea, I would like to touch on this topic today.

To provide an example, the following was a question raised from a customer: 

"What are the primary differences between “mountain grown” and regular (I assume plateau grown) Japanese tea? How does it affect taste? nutrients? Etc." 

First, historically in Japan, mountain-grown teas have long been thought to be delicious in comparison to teas grown in flat/plain tea fields. In fact, many of the major and famous tea producing regions in Japan are located in mountainous areas where it is frequented with fog and mist, in the upper reaches of a river.

 

Kajihara Tea GardenMountain surrounded tea fields of Kajihara Tea Garden located in the hamlet of Tsuge, Ashikita, Kumamoto Prefecture. Photo by Kajihara Tea Garden

 

The Secret Components of Mountain-grown Tea

We’ve touched on this in some of our blog posts (see below for links to related reading) but one major reason is because in the mountains, there is a large temperature difference between mornings and evenings. In comparison to flatter tea fields, hours of sunlight are limited in the tea fields located in the mountains. This means that in mountainous tea fields, the growth of tea leaf buds happens at a slower rate and as a result, the time of tea harvest is also delayed. This is good for several reasons for the quality of tea: 

  1. More umami: Because of the slow growth of the new tea buds, the umami (sweetness) component in the tea leaves is cultivated over a longer period of time. 
  2. Less bitterness (which again, leads to more umami!): Due to the short hours of daylight, mountain grown tea leaves have a tendency to contain less catechins and more amino acids. With the suppression of bitterness and astringency, the tea leaves will contain a lot of umami. 
  3. Strong mountainous aroma:  Lastly, aroma affects the quality of tea and is influenced heavily by the natural environment in which the tea leaves are grown. It is said that the best aroma comes from mountainous areas. If you haven’t been particular about enjoying the smell of Japanese teas, next time see if you can fully be present to the aroma of your tea!

 

Tea Fields on Mountain Slopes = Good Drainage & Good Ventilation

Another advantage to mountain-grown tea is that tea grows well in areas where water can be drained and ventilation is good. In fact, typically, cold air flows down the slope and stagnates in flat areas. This is another reason why historically, the majority of tea fields have optimally utilised the slopes of mountains. The clear challenge here is that having a tea field on a slope makes the tea work more challenging for tea farmers. Moreover, with the aging of tea farmers, tea fields located in sloped areas are unfortunately becoming abandoned. 

 Kiroku Tea GardenThe tea fields of Kiroku Tea Garden in Wazuka, Kyoto Prefecture are on an incline but that won't stop the women tea farmers from doing their tea work. Photo by Kiroku Tea Garden

 

ChiyonoenHere is another beautifully inclined tea field (freshly harvested!) in the mountains, from Yame, Fukuoka Prefecture. Photo by Chiyonoen Tea Garden

 

Appreciating Terroir

The key factors listed above are the major reasons why mountain-grown tea is considered to be delicious! But do keep in mind that of course, there are other factors such as climate, rich soil, tea farmers that take care of the tea bushes, as well as the processors of tea which all factor into making good quality tea. That being said, even if a tea is not mountain-grown, there are other factors that make a specific tea unique and particular to a region (soil, weather, and of course, skilful management). I guess that is the beauty of the diversity of different teas!

So next time you go to drink your Japanese tea, we hope that you will imagine the region in which the tea is grown. Moreover, we hope that you may enjoy trying different teas from different regions!  

 

Related Reading: 

 

Featured image; tea fields of Azuma Tea Garden in Wazuka, Kyoto Prefecture. Photo by Azuma Tea Garden

AromaMoe kishidaMountain-grownTerroirUmami

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