I do not intend in this article to draw an endless list of all the Japanese tea cultivars and their family tree, but I will present thus a certain number of cultivars that seem to me essential in this part of the history of tea Japanese.
Indeed, here and on Thés du Japon, I always present many cultivars, as well as their links with others, and here is a sum that I will try to realize by forming groups.
But first, some generalities.
– What is a cultivar?
This is a variety of tea plant, a varietal or “cépage”.
The tea plant is a plant which cannot “fertilize” itself, in short, a flower receiving the pollen of the same tree will not be able to give seed. Thus, it will give seed only thanks to the pollen of another tree, and therefore, with this type of reproduction, each tree has different characteristics, one speaks then of botanical variety, zairai-shu in Japanese.
However, by using cuttings, one creates in some way clones with identical characteristics, one speaks then of cultivar.
– Why cultivars?
The use of selected cultivars has many advantages.
* Growing of the same cultivar within the same plantation makes possible to harvest leaves of homogeneous size, thus creating better conditions for the manufacture of the tea.
* More or less resistance to cold, diseases, etc., thus more or less suitable to some areas of production
* The existence of cultivars more or less hasty and late allows to harvest over a longer period, and thus to be able to harvest at the “ideal” moment.
* For the consumer, the variety of cultivars is a source of a variety of flavors. Unfortunately, cultivars other than Yabukita remain uncommon and very little known by the consumers in Japan.
– How do you create a cultivar?
Several cases exist.
The simplest, with a cut of a zairai tea plant looking particularly interesting. It also happens that a tea tree produces a natural mutation, a branch clearly having different characteristics from the rest of the tree (this is how Kogane-midori was created).
But the normal case is the selection from seeds from a cultivar tree. Either the pollination is natural, and we do not know the “papa”, or either we voluntarily place the pollen of one cultivar on the flowers of another tree. Then, the different seeds obtained are planted and then selected from the trees thus obtained. If it is found that its characteristics seem interesting, it is multiplied by cuttings. It is then necessary to see how this cultivar will grow from the cuttings. For arriving at an official registration it usually takes more than 20 years!
– Who ?
If some cultivars could be created by producers (Kondo-wase, Omune, Kogane-midori, Fuji-kaori, etc.), usually cultivars are created in research centers. Shizuoka is obviously the most active, followed by Kagoshima, Kyôto, but also Saitama and Miyazaki are very active.
– Since when ?
Research in this field in Japan began during the Meiji era, but it was only in the 1960s that cultivars began to spread in plantations.
For more details, please see this article.
There are more than 100 officially registered cultivars, but much more in reality if we count those that have never been. In 1953, 15 cultivars were registered for the first time.
Here is a non-exhaustive sum, by groups that often overlap, cultivars important for their role in the modern history of Japanese tea, or which have developed particularly.
※ Crossbreed notation order is (♀flower x ♂ pollen)
Cultivars at the origin of which are the seeds brought back from India at the end of the 19th century by Tada Motokichi: the first is Benihomare, dedicated to black tea, selected from an Indian tea tree seed. It is numbered 1 in the 1953 list.
By crossing it will give Benifuji, Izumi, and especially Benifûki (Benihomare x Makura-Cd86 [seed coming from Darjeeling]).
Yabukita and Shizuoka cultivars
Yabukita was created in1908 by Sugiyama Hikosaburô by selection of a seed of zairai tea plants from Shizuoka, and today remains by far the most widespread of Japanese cultivars.
It is difficult to list all cultivars from crosses with Yabukita as they are numerous, but here are some famous examples.
Sayama-kaori (Yabukita seed)
Oku-midori (Yabukita x S16)
Kanaya-midori (S6 [zairai] x Yabukita) ⇒ Kôshun (Kurasawa x Kanaya-midori)
Haru-midori (Kanaya-midori x Yabukita)
Meiryoku (Yabukita x Yamato-midori)
Yume-wakaba (Yabukita x Saitama # 9)
Oku-hikari (Yabukita x Shizu Cy225 [seeds from Hubei])
Cultivars originated in Uji
Number 2 on the 1953 list, Asatsuyu comes from a zairai seed of Uji.
Yutaka-midori (mutation of Asatsuyu), mostly used in Kagoshima
Saemidori (Yabukita x Asatusyu)
Sae-akari (Z1 x Saemidori)
Tsuyu-hikari (Shizu-7132 x Asatsuyu)
Asahi, Samidori, Komakage, Narino, Gokô, Uji-hikari, etc., are all selected from Uji zairai seeds.
Inzatsu 131 and his legacy
Shizu-Inzatsu 131 (Seed of a variety from Assam, Manipuli 15)
Fuji-kaori (Mori # 3) (Inzatsu 131 x Yabukita) [developed by grower Koyanagi Ichiji and professor Morizono Miyoshi]
Sôfû (Yabukita x Inzatsu 131)
Kondô-wase (Yabukita x Inzatsu 131)
This famous cultivars from Miyazaki prefecture are almost only grown in this prefecture, often used for Kama-iri cha.
Yamanami, selected from seeds from Hubei in China.
Takachiho (Miyazaki zairai seed)
Minami-sayaka (MiyaA-6 [Takachiho x Miya F1 9-4-48 a variety crossing of Assam and Caucasus] x F1NN27)
Mine-kaori (Yabukita x Unkai [Takachiho x Miya F1 9-4-48])
Cultivars from Yabukita seeds, selected by Professor Arima, like Inzatsu 131)
Shizu-7132 ⇒ Tsuyu-hikari (Shizu-7132 x Asatsuyu)
Kurasawa (Shizu-7111) ⇒ Kôshun (Kurasawa x Kanaya-midori)
I could add endless others cultivars.
One sees the global importance of Yabukita, also that very particular cultivars have a foreign ancestry (India, China, Caucasus!) Or on the other hand the purely local character of Uji shaded tea varieties. Kôshun’s ancestry is very interesting.
It is always interesting for anyone having a close interest in Japanese tea to have an idea of the relationships between cultivars, to make comparative tastings between varieties with family ties.