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. 🍵🍷
#1 Tea and Wine both have Cultivars
Tea and wine both have either varietals or cultivars. Just like wine 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 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.
#2 Tea and Wine are both affected by Terroir
The next similarity between tea and wine is 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.
#3 Tea and wine plants both need to be trimmed
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.
#4 Tea and wine can be aged
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.
#5 Quality is judged in a similar way
The fifth 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.
#6 Tea and wine have a rich history
Both tea and wine have a very long and colorful history, filled with legends and tales. The earliest traces of wine date back to west asia, where it was thought to be produced as early as 6000 BC. The altered consciousness that wine created was often considered to have religious importance, which is why it was often used during ceremonies.
This illustrates another similarity between tea and wine and that is its use in religious ceremonies throughout history. In the case of wine, it was first used by the ancient greeks who used it to strengthen their connection with bacchus or Dionysus, the god of wine. This tradition was carried on by the romans who also consumed wine during ritual.
In the case of tea, the buddhist monks started drinking it to help them during long periods of meditation. They found that it help increase their concentration, and it soon became a staple amongst the Chinese monks. The Japanese monks who visited China to study buddhism took note of this drink and eventually brought it back to Japan. As you can see, both tea and wine have their roots in religious ceremonies.
#7 Tea and wine are very sensitive to climate
Unfortunately climate change will have major negative effects on both tea and wine. One example of this is the “late frost” phenomenon. Ideally, once the weather begins to get warmer in spring, the tea plant will grow its fresh sprouts. This warm weather is beginning to come earlier and earlier and also more unpredictable. Once the sprouts are out, they are incredibly sensitive to frost. All it takes is a cold spell to come through in the early spring and the frost will damage the tea sprouts.
Fortunately in Japan they are quite used to this. Because Japan is further north than tea grows naturally, they are prepared to deal with the late frost phenomenon. They can use fans to blow warm air onto the tea plants, cover the tea plants or they can sprinkle water on the plants constantly to keep them above the freezing point.
Both tea and wine are very sensitive to frost. Many wine producers are also having issues with this late frost, which destroys the grapes before they have a chance to fully develop. It looks like the wine producers may have to start looking to the tea farms in Japan to help deal with this unpredictable weather.
#8 Tea and wine are important to many cultures
Tea and wine are both important to different cultures. You just need to visit Japan or China to see tea as a part of daily life. Similarly, if you visit France or Italy you will notice that wine is not just a weekend indulgence, but an integral part of the meal itself. Even though much time has past, tea is still the most common drink in a lot of countries. In vending machines all around Japan you will find bottles of unsweetened green tea commonly outsell sugary soft drinks, an indication that the culture of tea and wine are still strong around the world.
#9 Drinking tea and wine is an experience
Tea and wine are both more than a drink, but an experience. Wine is referred to as a “drinkable art form” and many tea producers will tell you that tea is the same way.
Similar to a composer or musician creating a song to strike a certain emotion in their audience, producers of both tea and wine dedicate their lives to curating the perfect drinking experience.
Why do you think we refer to the flavors in tea and wine as tasting notes?
#10 You can go to school for both tea and wine
If you want to become a master of tea and wine, it will take you many years. To become a certified sommelier, it usually takes years of study. During this study, you will have to learn the intricacies of wine tasting as well as food pairings. Once you attain this position, you can work on the floor of restaurants and be one of the foremost authorities on wine.
If you would like to become a certified tea master, you will also need to go through extensive training. You will need to learn how to identify hundreds, if not thousands of different types of teas. After you have achieved this certification, you can work with tea companies to help curate different blends of teas.
In addition to this, you can also study the tea ceremony at a school like Urasenke which can take months or even years. Once you have attained this education, you can offer tea ceremonies for guests, tourists and patrons.
As you can see, the similarities between tea and wine run deep. Whichever drink you prefer, we hope you can find a way to enjoy and appreciate both. Thank you all so much for taking the time to read this article. Cheers!