Japan: tea industry down, will matcha fashion revive the fortunes?
Japan: tea industry down, will matcha fashion revive the fortunes?

Sounds unbelievable, but in Japan, the tea industry is in decline. The hope, now, is that his fortunes will recover thanks to the fashion of the moment: that of matcha tea parsley that, practically, we find everywhere, from ice cream to cakes, including chocolate. Japanese green tea producers are trying to focus on matcha tea precisely because the demand for tea on Japan's sacred soil is decreasing.

Just think that in the traditional tea shop of Shigehiko Suzuki, in Central Japan, adorned with the "noren" drape, customers are flocking not to sip bright green tea, but to eat ice cream or cakes done with it. The Marushichi Seicha company of Suzuku, in 1998 began making powdered matcha green tea, traditionally produced with a bamboo whisk. Since then, the company has started exporting 30 tons of green tea to the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Suzuki explained that the demand for matcha in the world is growing rapidly, but above all for making ice cream, desserts and coffee. In contrast, however, the consumption of green tea for drinking in Japan dropped from 1,174 grams per household in 2001 to 844 grams in 2015. According to Suzuki, the cause of this decline could be attributed to a increasingly westernized diet.

The 55-year-old revealed that the number of Japanese who regularly drink tea is decreasing, while there are more and more Japanese who eat or drink more Western products. So the tea no longer sells like it used to. Nine years ago, Suzuki saw this trend and tried to remedy it by opening a shop where customers can choose an ice cream from seven flavors of matcha (seven levels of growing bitterness). His place has become so popular that he has opened two stores in Tokyo and one in Kyoto, the traditional home of matcha.

Another problem is related to the fact that the tea fields are shrinking and that traditional farmers are getting older and no longer able to carry out such a demanding job, also because there are no successors. The fact that the price of tea is falling due to lower demand does not help to find new recruits.

Another factor that could explain this decline is the fact that traditional Japanese tea suffers from an image problem, according to Suzuki: it is considered something to be reserved for older generations. It is mainly the over 60s who drink tea, young people now drink coffee. And as tea seems to lose its appeal to customers, the priority now is to increase its appeal. Like? Modernizing it to attract young people. For example, some venues like Tokyo Saryo propose a middle ground between the traditional tea ceremony and the practical bottled tea: a place in a quiet neighborhood where Japanese tea is brewed and served in special glass cups.

Others, like Stephane Danton, the French owner of a Japanese tea shop in Tokyo, have decided to give to the green teas new flavors, such as mango and plum, to help foreign tourists overcome the bitterness of Japanese tea.

But the strong will be enough foreign demand for matcha tea to save this industry? Suzuki thinks not: given that matcha tea is becoming very popular abroad, it is now produced all over the world and therefore Japan is no longer the only producing country. So Japan will face global competition.

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