5 Reasons Tea is Similar to Wine

Tea and wine are similar in many different ways. In this article, we’re going to compare the ways that tea is similar to wine when it comes to the cultivation, processing and consumption of each drink.

Just like when is broken down into different varietals, tea is broken down into different cultivars. The cultivar used to make a tea should be prominently featured, as it tells you a lot about a the taste of the tea, and in some cases where it is best grown. There are hundreds of different tea cultivars in the world and a few dozen registered in Japan alone. The most common is Yabukita, a tougher cultivar that can survive the relatively cold winters of central Japan. In southern Japan, the mild winters allow for more delicate cultivars to be grown. The Saemidori and Asatsuyu cultivars give the tea a sweeter flavor, and the Okumidori can be used to round out a tea and give it a smoother taste. The rare Gokou cultivar gives the tea a powerful savory note, so it is used in premium matcha or powdered tea.

This brings us to our next similarity, terroir. The climate and landscape of a particular region has a great influence in the teas that are grown there. Just like with wine, the tea plant draws a lot from the soil. A more rocky soil, like the soil on this mountain tea farm in Shizuoka, can impart more minerals into the tea itself. This is noticeable in the taste, as you can feel the minerality of the tea as it interacts with your palate. If you want to experience this taste profile, a good example is the sencha Isagawa and Kukicha Osada. These two teas were produced by the Osada family and they were grown up in the mountains here. The soil is rocky and mineral rich, and you can feel it as you taste the tea.

The terroir isn’t the only similarity between tea and wine cultivation, there is also trimming that needs to be done. This trimming is done throughout the year, but particularly in the fall. The top layer of leaves need to be trimmed so that light can penetrate to the lower parts of the plant. This will allow next years harvest to have enough sunlight to produce young healthy buds. When you visit the tea fields in the fall, you can see the older leaves on top of the plant that are often cut.

A fourth similarity between tea and wine is that tea can be aged. In most cases, a green tea will decline in flavor as it’s aged, but according to Mr. Sakamoto, a Gyokuro tea can actually improve with flavor as it is aged. He believes that the peak taste happens around 2 years after the tea is produced, when the flavors have had a chance to mellow out. The flavor of Gyokuro is normally strong, but the aged tea is much smoother, with less of this sharp umami flavor. Most green teas are best consumed within two years of being produced, but certain teas like white tea and pu-erh tea can be aged to improve their taste.

The fifth and final reason that tea and wine are similar is that the quality is judged in similar ways. Both a fine wine and a high quality tea will have a complex flavor profile that lingers on the palate for a long time. The flavor is judged by how long the flavor persists and also by how many layers there are to the taste. A low quality tea will be described as having a flat flavor, which means it’s really one dimensional. There is only one taste to the tea, and more often than not that taste is not a good one. A high quality tea will have layers of flavors. Beginning with a light sweetness, then transitioning into a powerful savory note, which evolves into a vegetal taste profile and later finishes off with a mouthwatering astringency. With so much variety in the world of tea, you can get a different layered experience every time. 

If you’re interested in trying high quality green teas from all around Japan and comparing them to one another, we recommend you sign up for the monthly tea club. Not only will you get great deals on our best teas, you’ll also receive a free clay teapot to help prepare them. This is the perfect way to start off your journey into the world of Japanese green tea.

Thank you all so much for reading. If you have any questions about green tea, please feel free to leave them in the comments below. Until then, we’ll see you next time.