Tea is believed to have first arrived on Japanese shores in the 9th century, when travelling priests brought leaves home from China. Since then it has firmly established as the most commonly consumed beverage in the country.
Tea is a part of everyday life in Japan and is readily available in high end restaurants, convenience stores and even on-street vending machines. Its cultural significance is perhaps best demonstrated during Japanese tea ceremonies, which can occur in both informal and formal settings. A single ceremony last up to several hours, often involving meals, and the focus is very much on the art of tea making, with great care and attention going into the creation of each brew.
Japan produces predominantly green tea, with most plantations located in the regions of Kagoshima, Mie and Shizuoka. The latter is the most prominent tea growing region and accounts for roughly 40 per cent of the country's annual production.
The most popular Green tea, sencha, is grown throughout the country, however, other grades such as gyokuro are grown exclusively in Kyoto. This particular area is where the Japanese tea ceremony was first established and it is therefore often referred to as the birthplace of Japanese tea culture.
The sencha version of green tea is known for its sweet flavour, refreshing aroma and light green colour. The subtleness of its well-balanced flavours make it the perfect every-day tea.
The gyokuro grade, meanwhile, is regarded as the nation's finest tea and has a distinct sweetness achieved through sheltering the tea leaves from direct sunlight for 20 days prior to harvesting.
Other variants, such as matcha, are ground into a powder during production and thus provide the drinker with a greater intake of healthy nutrients. The highest grade of matcha has a sharp, sweet taste and yellowish colour.
If you're visiting the Kyoto region then take the opportunity to travel south to the town of Wazuka, where you can tour the green tea fields while brushing up your knowledge of Japanese tea culture and sample a wide range of green teas.
Alternatively, journey south west of Tokyo for a tea tasting day trip to Shizuoka where you can tour some of the vast tea plantations and factories while learning how to taste tea like a proper Japanese connoisseur.