What is Wakoucha? – History, Production and More

Hey Everyone! I hope you have all been doing well and you’ve been enjoying the way that my content has been going since we re branded, I’ve definitely felt much more inspired and creative than I was before, well on days when my pain levels are low that is. But the point is, I’ve been working on some content that I’ve been wanting to do now for at least a year and even though I would like to have it all posted quicker this year I have learnt that balance is more important than anything and that I have to take time for myself and rest my body and listen to my body and mind when it is telling me I need to stop. I’m so glad that you have still all stood by me even though things are going at a bit of a slower pace here now, it makes me feel much less under pressure and I’m so thankful for that.

Anyway let’s get into today’s post shall we! Today we’re going to be taking a little bit of a deep dive into the world of Japanese black tea aka Wakoucha. When it comes to Japanese tea, most people’s minds go to green tea because that’s what most people link back to Japan. There is definitely a good reason for that, but what most people may not know is that black tea actually has quite a long history in Japan.

Although in English we refer to this kind of tea as “black”, in Japanese it’s actually called red (kou, 紅). “Wa” refers to Japan and “koucha” literally means “red tea”. Wakoucha is quite different from black teas that are produced in other countries such as India. This is due to the cultivars used, as well as Japan’s climate and differences in soil. Japan exported black tea around 1868 to 1912, because during that time the government decided that Japan should produce its own black tea because it was valued by the majority in Europe and America. The decline of Japanese black tea production happened in 1971 when the liberalization of imports took place. Reduced tariffs meant more competition from imported black tea and this meant the market was no longer profitable for Japanese tea farmers and it became more expensive to produce and much harder to sell compared to other more popular black teas. It wasn’t until recent years that Japanese black tea production was revived, now the focus is on black tea that is distinctly Japanese, and the hope is for it to be recognized internationally as well.

While not as popular now, there was definitely a time when Japanese black tea was incredibly popular and for the majority of the 20th century, a very high amount of the tea farms in Kagoshima produced black tea. When Japan introduced the official cultivar registration list in 1953, 1/3 (5 out of 15) of the first cultivars that were registered were black tea cultivars which really does show you just how invested the Japanese government were in black tea and wanted to make the most from that market like other counties were. At its peak in 1955, Japan exported 8,500 tons of black tea, which at that time accounted for 2/3 of all tea exports that year which is crazy to think about as most people out there these days didn’t even know Japan produced black tea and have never had the chance to try one, so I for one am definitely very happy that wakoucha is making somewhat of a comeback now and more people will be given the opportunity to experience it.

Black tea production is quite different from green tea. Japanese green tea is steamed soon after picking, which kills enzymes and stops oxidation (browning). That’s why Japanese green teas like sencha are such a bright green. For black tea, however, oxidization is necessary, so they are left to wither for 16-17 hours. Next, the leaves are rolled for several hours at room temperature by a rolling machine, which presses the leaves against the sides of a barrel to lightly bruise them, and then they are dried for preservation. But obviously each tea farm, tea co-operative and generations old tea family will all have their own techniques and production will differ in some why shape or form because of that.

Here are some examples of cultivars used commonly for Wakoucha (though tea farmers do experiment so they may use other cultivars outside of these ones): Benihomare, which was the first registered tea cultivar in Japan, it can be traced back to the seedlings that Motokichi Tada bought back from India in 1887. It can result in a cup that produces a cup for tea that is a vibrant red color and has a rich taste. Benifuki, originally meant for black tea and oolong, this cultivar is also used for green tea. It’s know for have a phenomenal aroma and a light mellow taste. Benihikari, this cultivar is a cross between Benikaori and the Chinese variety Cn1, combined by the Makaurazaki Black Tea Experiment Station in Kagoshima. This is really the prime example of cultivars that are best suited to one specific tea as if this cultivar was used to prepare green tea it would be way too bitter.

The taste of Wakoucha I think would definitely shock a lot of people that are used to drinking the more hard hitting, strong, heavy black teas from other places around the world, because Wakoucha is instead very calming to drink, it’s incredibly aromatic, and still has those malty, woody,  earthy, sweet flairs of black tea without any of the astringency or bitterness. They are also always incredibly smooth and not drying at all. The reason that they are milder is due to the fact that a large amount of them are made using cultivars that are used primarily to make green teas and that definitely has an impact.

I’ve also found that some Wakoucha have a delicious baked sweet potato note to them which I adore, I’m sipping on a Wakoucha from Yunomi as I write this post and it’s definitely got a prominent sweet potato note too it, along with all of the great qualities of a Wakoucha. As a bonus there is a milk chocolate note as well, it’s absolutely to die for and the perfect blog writing companion as it can be steeped a good few times. (You can purchase the tea I’m drinking while I write this post here – if it’s your first order from Yunomi be sure to use START20 to get 20% off your order).

I tend to drink this tea in the morning for a lighter morning wake up, but because it is on the milder side it works well as an afternoon black tea and pairs really well with sweet treats, especially sweet treats that are in some way shape or form creamy or have a hint of citrus to them. Hotter weather is starting to fade now, but during summer Wakoucha is also beautiful iced on it’s own unlike lots of other black teas from around the world that are too strong and astringent to have iced on their own. I would definitely recommend when you do have this that you add absolutely nothing to it because it milder and doesn’t need it, it also does not stand up well to milk because of that reason. I would also recommend buying a few Wakoucha produced from different cultivar and from different years so you can compare them to each other and learn more about this tea, and learn just how many different things really can effect the way that the tea ends up tasting.

I really hope this post has not only helped you learn more about Wakoucha and that it inspires you to give it a try should you not have had the chance to try it yet or just didn’t know about it until now. If you have any questions about Wakoucha or Japanese tea in general be sure to either leave them in the comments or send them to me on Instagram @kimberleyskyusu_

Until next time. Happy Steeping – Kimberley

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s