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Updated: Dec 11, 2021

Most people know that wine and whiskey are aged in barrels over a specific period of time. The goal here is, by maturation to remove harsh flavors from the raw alcohol while also adding distinct flavor characteristics, which usually can be found in the barrel’s wood for example.

We often think of green tea as something that should be enjoyed right away and as fast as possible, while it is still fresh and vibrant. That’s why Shincha is overwhelmingly valued. Kuradashi tea on the other hand is an exception to that rule.

Around 100 years old wooden tea-boxes made from cedar used to store tea still in use.

What is Kuradashi?

In general, every harvest season in spring, after new tea leaves (Shincha) are harvested, they are enjoyed immediately. This especially applies to Sencha green tea. In contrast, Matcha and Gyokuro gain an enriched flavor over time and are therefore best consumed a few months after the harvest. The name Kuradashi can be translated to “removing from the warehouse” and is simply put intentionally aged Japanese green tea, which is made from the finest green tea leaves. This method of aging a tea on purpose by properly storing the tea after the harvest and after the initial steaming and drying process was originally used for Tencha. Nevertheless, Gyokuro and nowadays Sencha can be aged this way. Tencha are the shaded green tea leaves destined to be made into Matcha powder what is then used in the Japanese tea ceremony.

For the aging process, nowadays, the leaves are usually put into foil bags, which are then placed in wooden boxes. The foil bags are usually vacuumed and sealed to protect the tea from the surrounding conditions. The boxes are placed in a large refrigerator where the temperature and humidity are carefully controlled. It is a delicate balance of allowing some exposure to oxygen but not too much. There has to be just the right amount of oxygen to gradually let the tea age. Further, the temperature has to be cool but not too cold to avoid condensation. The tea leaves can easily spoil, if not monitored closely. Like fine wine or whiskey, aged tea can easily pass from a state of being deliciously enriched to a state of being deteriorated.

The leaves are then left to age until autumn of the same year or even longer. Sometimes for up to two years. This aging process breaks down certain compounds in the leaves that cause tightening and puckering sensations in the mouth when consumed. At the end of the long-lasting process, the flavor is enriched, well-rounded and pleasant with much less recognizable bitterness compared to fresh leaves.

In order to enjoy this deep noble aroma that is unique to Kuradashi tea, especially with Gyokuro and Matcha, it is definitely worth the wait of a few months after the harvest.

Tea field for Tencha in autumn. Above and below freshly harvested rice fields are visible.

A look back.

Kuradashi tea was always a seasonal product and its history dates back to the early Edo period when preserving the aroma and flavor of the tea was much more difficult. It is said, that the habit of drinking intentionally aged green tea dates back to Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and his fondness for its mellow richness, the rich umami flavor, and the almost complete absence of astringency. At that time, Gyokuro and even the way how Sencha is produced today were not yet invented.

In the old days, the newly harvested leaves were partly processed and dried. They were then put into a tea jar which then was stored high in the mountains in a granary. There, the climate was ideal for storing and aging the tea. In fall, a ritual called Kuchikiri (口切) took place, where the tea jars filled with tea were opened. In the Japanese tea ceremony, it is also called the New Year of tea, and it is a very important event in the annual calendar of the tea ceremony.

Kuradashi Matcha ready tp be prepared as Koicha.

Thank you for reading so far and let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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