Tea is the most commonly drunk beverage in Japan and an important part of Japanese food culture. Various types of tea are widely available and consumed at any point of the day. Green tea is the most common type of tea, and when someone mentions “tea” (お茶, ocha) without specifying the type, it is green tea to which is referred. Green tea is also the central element of the tea ceremony. Among the most well-known places for tea cultivation are Shizuoka, Kagoshima and Uji.
Japanese tea and a brief history
Tea was first introduced to Japan from China in the 700s. During the Nara Period (710-794), tea was a luxury product only available in small amounts to priests and noblemen as a medicinal beverage.
Around the beginning of the Kamakura Period (1192-1333), Eisai, the founder of Japanese Zen Buddhism, brought back from China the custom of making tea from powdered leaves. Subsequently, the cultivation of tea spread across Japan, notably at Kozanji Temple in Takao and in Uji.
Where tea can be found
Tea of one kind or another, hot or cold, can be found practically at all restaurants, vending machines, kiosks, convenience stores and supermarkets.
At restaurants, green tea is often served with or at the end of a meal for free. At lower end restaurants, green tea or mugicha tend to be available free for self-service, while konacha is commonly provided at inexpensive sushi restaurants. Kocha is usually available alongside coffee at cafes and Western restaurants.
At some temples and gardens, tea (usually ryokucha or matcha) is served to tourists. The tea is typically served in a tranquil tatami room with views onto beautiful scenery, often together with an accompanying Japanese sweet. While the tea is sometimes included in the temple’s or garden’s admission fee, it more often requires a separate fee of a few hundred yen.