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Traditional Beverage Caters to On-the-Move Generation

August 24, 2000
An immense variety of bottled teas, from plain green tea to blends, are now sold in Japan.

Green tea has a deeply embedded place in Japanese culture. First it should be noted that when the Japanese simply refer to tea (ocha), they usually mean green tea. A visit to a neighbor for a trifling matter will often culminate in an invitation for a cup of tea, and when paying a visit to a company on business, guests are bound to be served the beverage. Since long ago, moreover, the Japanese have been very particular about the proper way of brewing tea--how much leaves to use, how hot the water should be, and so on.

Recently, however, quite removed from the traditional way of drinking, a new phenomenon of consuming ready-made tea has been spreading. These teas are sold everywhere from vending machines to supermarkets, and have exploded in variety to include black and Chinese teas in addition to green, as well as some that use more unusual ingredients.

Portable Tea
The source of this new tea boom is the introduction of the 500-milliliter bottled tea. This size allows consumers to drink a bit at a time, replace the lid so it does not spill, and carry the beverage around. And while tea has traditionally been consumed indoors, the new packaging allows drinkers to easily enjoy the beverage out on the street or up in the mountains.

Many manufacturers have come out with products of this sort, and there are now over 100 types of bottled tea being sold. The size of the market has doubled from 80 billion yen (727 million U.S. dollars at 110 yen to the dollar) in 1993 to 160 billion yen (1.45 billion dollars) in 1999 and is expected to double again in another five years.

The variety of bottled teas range from the orthodox green tea to those made from the leaves of persimmon, ashitaba (a plant of the celery family native to Japan), dokudami (a wild plant commonly seen in Japan), and bamboo leaves. It seems as though just about any type of leaf has become fair game for making tea. In addition to these straight teas, there are a number of blended varieties, which combine plant essences with tea leaves to achieve added flavor and effects.

Aside from the national brands produced by major manufacturers, there are also locally produced varieties with limited availability, such as turmeric and bitter-gourd teas, which are holding their own against the big guys in the marketplace.

Tearooms have taken note of the popularity of these "outdoor teas" and are responding by increasing their selection of Japanese teas and offering assortments of original sweets in an effort not to be left behind the times. A number of cafes specializing in Japanese teas have also been opened that allow customers to choose from a large selection of tea leaves.

Unusual Offerings
The appearance of some bold food products and beverages that are made using green tea are also stirring up something of a boom. Among these are green-tea-flavored Western-style sweets that a large number of makers have been producing, which allow consumers to savor the taste of pricey powdered green tea at a low cost. Other offerings include dairy products mixed with tea, green-tea shakes, and tea lattes and espressos, which are made using an espresso machine. Some of these beverages have even gained a following in the United States.

Although the emergence of many different varieties of tea has been welcomed, there is a worry that, before long, a generation will emerge that will have never consumed tea from anything other than plastic bottles. It may be inevitable that most people today are unfamiliar with the traditional tea ceremony, but the prospect of children growing up without ever experiencing the warm pleasure of a homemade cup of tea is a sad one for many.

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.