Covering Process of Japanese Tea Plants
Covering culture or shading of tea plants has been in use since the early ages, and it was developed to save the tea leaves from frost. In modern days, farmers use the covering or shading process to achieve certain characteristics in tea for a specific period. The covering process varies in days for different tea and makes it different in flavor and aroma.
Tea came to Japan around the 12th century and became popular due to taste and health benefits.
Later in the 15th-16th century, the farmers started to cover the tea plants in the winter season. They saw that the cold winds destroy the growing leaves and found a solution in the covering process without knowing the shading effect. They would cover the crops when young leaves sprout to protect them before harvesting.
Farmers later realized that the covered tea leaves had a rich umami flavor and much less bitterness than usual tea. Later, this practice became popular to get the desired taste in tea and has made several variations. The covering process helped in discovering matcha green tea, which instantly became popular more than other varieties.
Shading is later classified into three types, ceiling shelf covering, simple tunnel shading, and direct covering. Each kind is used for the same purpose, to prolong harvesting period, protect crops from frost, and produce high-grade tea. In-ceiling shelf covering, a structure is made with bushes or straw above tea plants to filter the sunlight and let the plants grow high and bright in color. In other methods, plants are covered with see-through cloth a few weeks before plucking to get a rich tea taste. Lastly, some plants are entirely covered from the sun for specific days to produce high-quality and full benefits tea.
When talking about covering culture, one should not forget to mention Matcha, which was literally discovered due to this process. Before the grinding process, the loose tea form is called Tencha which is widely popular in Japan. Each year, four or six weeks prior harvest, a traditional covering process known as Tana is used. In it, the green tea plant is covered with straw mats or vinyl sheets a few feets above. Due to lack of sun, you see lighter green tea leaves due to the concentration of chlorophyll. This method is mainly responsible for the sweet umami flavor and plentiful health benefits.
Nowadays, not all green tea plants go through the covering process because each has its own taste, color, and aroma. Kabusecha literally means to cover, and it is the most common and widely known tea, which has a covering process for nearly three weeks. Gyokuro is another finest tea in Japan which is grown under a ceiling-shelf covering.
Here is quality covered tea we carry: