Nihoncha Award is the award chosen by both tea judges and consumers in Japan. There were 463 tea entries in this contest in total, and the first judging was held at Shizuoka, then moved to Kyoto for the second judging. Eventually, consumers in major cities in Japan, plus tea lovers in Berlin, Germany, and embassy staffs residing in Tokyo, made their votes and chose their favorite teas. Tokyo Tea Party is a joint event of consumers’ voting and an Awards ceremony. This is a fancy event for tea lovers. The Nihoncha Award is a unique tea contest not only because it is voted on by consumers but also all types of teas are judged, including black teas, Chinese teas, and flavored teas produced in Japan. (Award link (Japanese): https://nihoncha-award.jp/about)
The quality and the shape of Japanese teas would not be in their current state without overseas tea consumers’ influence. Japan started exporting teas to Europe through the East India Company in 1610. After the arrival of Matthew Perry, Commodore of the United States Navy, tea exports to the U.S. accelerated. Green teas were very popular among American people after the civil war. Japanese tea producers’ main interests were how to obtain high evaluation by overseas customers and foreign merchants. To make original Japanese teas durable enough for long distance transportation, teas were refired to take out further moisture and made compact like found in current tea styles. If you think Japanese green teas taste bitter and astringent, it is because Japan tea producers had to accommodate the American brewing style. Americans put tea leaves and water in a pot, boiled them, steeped them, and drank with sugar and milk in those days (Development Council Township of Uji Cha, email Magazines, July 2018, (Japanese) http://www.ujicha.or.jp/txt-mail/%E3%83%86%E3%82%AD%E3%82%B9%E3%83%88%E3%83%A1%E3%83%BC%E3%83%AB%EF%BC%88vol-73%EF%BC%89/). And tea producers hastily produced tea for export and that ended up deteriorating the quality. The United States issued an Act in 1883 that prohibited the import of inferior teas. So, the Japanese tea industry formed an industry association to monitor the quality and improve the manufacturing process by inventing tea and refiring machines.
Japanese tea is a part of Japanese culture and history. And overseas customers played a very important role in its history. In fact, people outside of Japan have been enjoying Japanese teas for more than four hundred years. We predict more overseas customers will evaluate and choose good Japanese teas from different and new viewpoints. And we believe they will push Japanese teas to the next level.
We think organic and eco-friendly tea farming is a very important evaluation item for overseas consumers. Only 2 organic teas won the prizes this time, out of 83 prizes in total. One characteristic of prize-winning green teas was that they had more amino-acids that could be boosted by adding chemical fertilizer than teas we buy at stores. Organic tea farmers continue to work hard to make safe and tasty Japanese teas. This is a narrow and small method but will lead to improvements in health and quality in the future. Miyazaki Sabo, one of our farmers, is a good testimony of this fact. In the past, they received the Platinum Award, which ranked them among the top 20 teas in this contest. And this year, they received the Jury’s Award for their Oolong tea. Their teas are also very popular in Japan, and all of their prize winning tea packages were sold out. Please check their product lineup on our site. (https://sono-organic.com/vendor/miyazaki-sabo) SONO continues to support organic farmers and producers who pursue both safe and tasty teas.
(Reference: Sugiyama, S. (2013). Japan’s Industrialization in the World Economy:1859-1899 Export, Trade and Overseas Competition. Japan: Bloomsbury Academic Collections.)