Japanese black tea is referred to as koucha in Japan. Like hong cha, koucha translates as red tea and is red tea and not black tea. Wakoucha refers specifically to black tea produced in Japan. "Wa" referring to Japan in this context. The properties of Japanese black tea are the same as those of hong cha — it is a fully oxidized tea made from the leaves of camellia sinensis.
In a country that predominantly drinks green tea, black tea production has always taken up a tiny part of the Japanese tea production industry.
Our Wakoucha is grown by Iizuka-san in Shizuoka prefecture.
Japanese Black Tea History
Tea was first introduced to Japan in the 7th century. Since then, only green tea was grown and consumed in Japan. It wasn't until 150 years ago (during the Meiji era) that the first black tea production commenced. However, the production of black tea wasn't even for the local population, who preferred drinking green tea. All black tea produced in Japan was for export, to compete with the Chinese, Indian, and Sri Lankan tea markets. While Japan was opening up for trade during the Meiji era, steamed Japanese green teas wouldn't be able to withhold prolonged shipping times due to their gentle nature and sensitivity to sunlight and the humid sea air.
With great efforts, in 1874, Japan was able to surpass China in the number of tea exported to the U.S. This, however, didn't last long. Today Japan's exports only 2% of all the tea produced.
Unfortunately for Japan, there was no way they could compete with the amount of black tea produced in India and China in the long run. If not for the vastness of the tea fields alone. The Japanese black tea experiment wasn't long-lived. Soon almost all black tea production was abandoned.
Nowadays, tea farmers in some areas of Japan are picking up black tea production once again. The taste of Japanese black tea is incomparable to mainstream black tea from India or Africa. It is gentle, light, and sweet.
Modern-day Japanese tea production is no longer trying to compete with bigger black tea conglomerates but is reserved for tea connoisseurs and enthusiasts who are ready to appreciate the tea's refined taste.
At the end of the day, you can say it is good that Japan's black tea export wasn't able to compete with that of other countries. It allowed Japanese farmers to focus on the quality of locally-preferred green teas rather than fighting over export quantity. Even today, only a small percentage of Japanese produced teas are exported, while most are consumed locally. Furthermore, tea is often consumed within the prefecture it was produced rather than traveling to be sold in other prefectures. This gives people an exciting opportunity of visiting and tasting the local teas produced in various prefectures.
How Is Koucha Produced?
Japanese black tea production doesn't vary much from the typical Chinese black tea production. After picking, the tea leaves are left to oxidize for 16 hours. After oxidation, the leaves are rolled in a special rolling machine for a few hours. This helps to bruise the tea leaves, releasing tea oils, and producing an unforgettable malty flavor. After bruising, the tea leaves are further dried for optimal preservation. Unlike Japanese green teas, which are best consumed within six months to one year after harvest, black teas can easily keep longer without their flavor getting compromised.
What Does Japanese Black Tea Taste Like?
Wakoucha is light, smooth, sweet, a tad sour and lacking any bitter notes. It often has a pleasant lingering floral taste with notes of warm spices.
The taste of Japanese black tea may as a surprise to people who are used to drinking more rich and robust teas produced in the hot climates of India and Africa. We recommend drinking Japanese black tea without any milk or sugar. You will be amazed by its aromatic qualities! Wakoucha is still comforting, robust, and malty. We believe it pairs exceptionally well with sweets and light snacks.
Japanese people still greatly enjoy drinking imported black teas, especially with sugar, milk, or lemon. However, there is still a special place for local Japanese black tea production. The farmers no longer try to compete with the black tea production and quality of other countries. Thus, the taste of Japanese black tea is incomparable with that of any other place, thanks to the local farmers' efforts to preserve their processing skills and techniques.
To Brew Japanese Black Tea:
195℉ / 90℃
0.5g per 1oz/30ml 2 min