Japanese black tea or Wakoucha is quite rare in Japan as a whole, but it can be a delicious drink nonetheless.
In this article, we are going to cover the basics of Japanese black tea and see how it compares to other types of Japanese teas and other types of black teas around the world.
Let’s dive right in and explore the exciting world of Wakoucha! 🖤
What is Japanese Black Tea?
To understand Japanese black tea, we first have to understand what black tea is and how it compares to other types of tea like green tea.
For the most part, tea is broken down by how it is processed, with white, yellow and green teas being unoxidized, oolong tea being partially oxidized and black tea being fully oxidized.
During the oxidation process, the enzymes break down the catechins within the tea leaf and convert them into theaflavins and thearubigins.
This means that the tea exchanges these fresher, more grassy characteristics with warmer notes of caramel, chocolate and dried fruit.
This oxidation process is what leads to the vastly different colors and tastes of green tea vs. black tea.
The History of Japanese black tea
Black teas were first produced in Japan 150 years ago, right as the country was opening up trade with the rest of the world.
At the time, international trade was carried out on ships over long periods of time.
Because the green tea was sensitive to sunlight and humidity, producers began experimenting with black teas that could hold up to the longer voyages.
These were also the teas that were popular in Europe and the U.S at the time.
Nowadays, 98% of the tea produced in Japan is consumed within Japan, and Japanese consumers tend to prefer these sweet and savory flavors of green teas like gyokuro, so black tea is nowhere near as common as it used to be.
If you’re interested in learning more about gyokuro tea, you can find out all about it here
Why is Japanese Black tea so rare?
In Japan, green tea is king. 70% of the tea consumed in Japan is sencha, which is made from leaves that have been steamed, rolled and dried.
During the steaming process, the fresh vegetable taste characteristics are locked in and the tea retains its beautiful green color.
If you’re interested in learning more about sencha tea, you can find out all about it here
Japanese black tea on the other hand is very rare, and is only made in a small handful of facilities scattered throughout Japan, with only 300 producers in total producing it.
It is far more common to find black tea being produced in places like India, where most of the factories are set up to produce black tea.
This makes Japanese black tea somewhat of an oddity, but if you get the chance to try it you definitely should! It is a unique drinking experience that is different than both Japanese green tea and Indian black tea.
What does Japanese Black Tea Taste Like?
Japanese black tea is not quite as bold as the black teas coming from China and India. It tends to be a bit softer, with more of this caramel sweetness.
That hint of astringency you may be used to from certain types of Japanese green tea is still present with japanese black tea, but it is a bit more subtle.
What cultivar is Japanese black tea made from?
When we visited the fields of Mr. Issin in search of his legendary Kamairicha tea, we learned about the differences between green tea cultivars and oolong/black tea cultivars.
Because green teas are unoxidized, they need to be made from leaves that are naturally smooth. This is why premium teas like gyokuro and matcha are typically made from smoother and sweeter cultivars like saemidori and okumidori.
Japanese black tea and Japanese oolong on the other hand is smoothed out through the oxidation process, so it can be made from bolder, more full-bodied cultivars like the benihikari, benifuji and benikaori.
These ones would be quite bitter if used for green tea, but they work fine when it comes to Japanese black tea.
Japanese black tea vs Japanese oolong
It seems only natural to compare Japanese black tea with Japanese oolong tea. Both of these teas are oxidized, and they are both rare in Japan as a whole.
Japanese oolong tea like the Miyazaki Sabou Oolong have this beautiful light and flowery flavor to them while Japanese black teas are much warmer and darker in there flavor and color.
The Japanese black tea takes on a reddish brown color compared to the light yellow color of the oolong and the flavor is much stronger on these honey or caramel notes.
Japanese black tea vs Nadeshiko
In this article, we have talked about green teas, black teas and oolong teas and we have even briefly mentioned yellow and white teas but there is a sixth category of tea that we have not yet mentioned and that is post fermented or dark teas.
These teas are allowed to ferment after being processed, and during the fermentation process they pick up a very unique flavor.
In the case of the Nadeshiko rose, the tea is fermented in a similar process used to make sake, soy sauce and miso with a culture known as Koji.
This is done in a pressurized environment in order to produce this unique flavor that is quite similar to that of a Japanese black tea but with more of these tart strawberry notes. This is definitely a unique tea that you must try at least once in your life!