Japanese Tea Plant Cultivars and Varietals
Asatsuyu Cultivar - あさつゆ培品種
Asatsuyu cultivar is colloquially known for being the “natural Gyokuro” because it has a taste similar to Gyokuro without the need to go through the shading process. It is a fairly old cultivar, having been first registered in the early 1950’s. Tea made from Asatsuyu have a vibrant color ranging from electric yellow to electric green. The Asatsuyu cultivar is often used for sencha, and fukamushicha.
Benifuki Cultivar - べにふうき培品種
Benifuuki tea is known as the “health tea”. It was introduced in the Japanese market by Japanese breeders in 1993. The name translates directly in Japanese as “Red riches and honor. Benifuuki cultivar has been linked to improving allergies, hay fever and eczema. This may be attributed to Benifuuki containing a unique high content of methylated catechins and the highest content of Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) of all teas.
Gokou Cultivar - ごこう培品種
The Gokou cultivar was created in 1953 by Kyoto Prefecture Tea Industry Research Institute selecting the best examples from the variety that grew naturally around Uji, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan. Gokou is often shaded before picking, with it being used for gyokuro or tencha. Tea made from Gokou should have a dark green color and a pleasant umami flavor.
Okumidori Cultivar - おくみどり培品種
Okumidori Cultivar was created in 1974 by crossing Yabukita with a native Shizuoka variety. The main benefit of Okumidori is that it is harvested 8 days later than Yabukita, allowing for more tea to be harvested in a season. Tea made with Okumidori should be very similar to Yabukita in that it should be fresh with notes of citrus.
Saemidori Cultivar - さえみどり培品種
Saemidori, a cross between Asatsuyu and Yabukita, is able to be harvested slightly earlier than Yabukita. Saemidori cultivar results in tea that is a bright green color and suitable for sencha, gyokuro, and matcha. Though only representing 2-4% of the tea market, it continues to grow in popularity due to it’s low bitterness and lack of astringency. With an amino acid content higher than Yabukita, it is being used in many award winning teas.
Samidori Cultivar - さみどり培品種
Samidori was cultivated from naturally occurring varieties that have been growing in Uji by Koyama Masajirou in 1939. Samidori can be found on estates throughout Kyoto Prefecture. Samidoro is capable of complex flavors suitable for tencha, gyokuro.
Sayamakaori Cultivar - さやまかおり培品種
Samayakaori hails from the region northwest of Tokyo of the same name Sayama in Saitama Prefecture. It is popular due having the similar properties as Yabukita in so much that it is high yielding, good flavor, and resistance to frost. Samayakaori is noteable for having a high amount of catechins. For teas that publish the picking date, Samayakaori should be harvested slightly earlier than Yabukita.
Tsuyuhikari Cultivar - つゆひかり培品種
Have been first created in 1970 and only officially registered in the year 2000, Tsuyuhikari is a fairly new cultivar. It is growing in popularity due to it growing faster and picked earlier than Yabukita. In addition it is very resistant to both diseases and frost, making it ideal for organic farms. It is noted that the first picking of Tsuyuhikari rivals Yabukita in umami flavor, and care should be taken to get tea from this picking.
Yabukita Cultivar - 薮北培品種
Yabukita cultivar is the standard from which all other Japanese cultivars are judged. Yabukita was created in 1908 by Hikosaburo Sugiyama in Shizuoka Prefecture and registered as #6 in 1954. Whether you’re talking about acres, number of farmers, percent of tea, percent of sencha produced, Yabukita always seem to represent 50-90% of the Japanese market. Yabukita is popular because it yields a lot of tea every year, has great umami flavor and is reasonable resistant to frost. This frost resistance is useful when planting tea in environments that are less hospitable for bugs, a very helpful trait when growing organic tea.