Tomiya cha (Camellia sinensis L. Kuntze) was a famous tea of the Edo period, widely known as a specialty of Tomiya, which was once famous for its tea production. It is a non-fermented tea whose history has been lost, but which is now being reanimated in an effort to revive it in the modern age.
The tea leaves of Tomiya cha are grown in the climate of Tomiya city, which are harvested by hand and a tea leaf plucker in early to mid of May. The size is large compared to regular tea leaves, the mature leaves are green and long oval with slightly less waves on the leaf margins. The harvested leaves are aromatic and have a unique flavor, also have features to feel the taste of mild sweetness and slight bitterness, the color is greenish-golden when the tea is brewed. The tea plant of Tomiya cha is about 1.1 to 1.3 meters high. Increasing the number of tea plants by propagating native seedlings year by year.
The native species tea plants were grown in a corner of a hilly area where was left untouched, and it is believed in a historical literature to be a tea plant of the Uji lineage which is currently the most famous production area for Japanese green tea.
Tomiya is said to have been established in the Edo period (1603-1867) when Masamune Date, the first head of the Sendai domain, brought in seedlings from Uji, where famous place for Japanese green tea in Kyoto prefecture, and began cultivating them at Tojoji Temple in the domain as an industrial promotion measure when the Sendai castle was built. The soil of Tomiya was very compatible with tea trees, and most of the hills around the area of the highway were filled with tea plantations. The "An’ei Fudoki," a record of culture geography and a history of a provision, from the mid-Edo period, states that more than 60% of the fields in Tomiya Village were tea fields. In addition, the "Fudoki" (1776) clearly mentions the names of places such as Tomiya and Akashi, which correspond to Tomiya cha, as place names in regard to tea. It is very rare to find a record of tea fields among the Fudoki that remain in the whole country, which means that production was so active. In addition, tea is mentioned as a specialty around the inn towns in the Edo period illustrations that describe the Oshu Kaido (Oshu Highway) for the Shoguns. Since tea is not found north of this point on the highway, we can get a glimpse of the northern limit of Japanese tea cultivation along the highway at that time.
Farmers harvest only the tip shoots and the first two small leaves of the tea plant. And they use only the highest quality, softest and most tasty tea leaves.
Tomiya tea is processed within 90 minutes of harvest and stored in a cool, dark place to ensure freshness and are added 3-5 gr (about 1 tbsp) per person is added into hot water (70 Co ) into a teacup to warm it. And allow the water to cool down moderately and adjust the temperature of the water used to brew the tea.
One of the reasons why Tomiya cha was nearly extinct was that its production was declining due to rapid urbanization, aging farmers, and the tea industry that was becoming increasingly mass-produced and mechanized. In the Taisho era (1912-1926), there were about 30 farmers growing tea, but gradually they were overtaken by other tea production areas nationwide. Around 1970, the history of Tomiya cha was about to cease after “Kesen ya” which is a Japanese style accommodation stopped growing it, even had been growing tea for its own use.
Another reason why Tomiya cha was in danger of extinction was that it is a native species. The production of native varieties had been gradually decreasing due to increased yields through selective breeding and the introduction of varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases.
In recent years, however, the value of native species has been reevaluated, and efforts to protect and restore them are underway. Tomiya cha is also working to expand its cultivation as part of the "Tomiya Cha Revival Project" since 2017. The "Tomiya Cha Revival Project" began with the regeneration of Tomiya cha from native seeds left in Kesenya’s tea fields. The project aims to increase the number of seedlings and revitalize the region by reviving Tomiya tea, while also creating employment opportunities.
In 2017, the "Tomiya Cha Revival Project" was launched, and local people are working daily to revive the history of tea cultivation, which had been lost for centuries. They have planted 10,000 seedlings of native species over the past five years, 2,000 seedlings per year.
Currently, efforts are underway to increase the number of native varieties of tea plants, with the goal of revitalizing the Tomiya cha industry. This revival project is led by local farmers, and while aiming to revitalize the local community, the project is also creating job opportunities for the elderly who live in the area by having them maintain the tea plantation. In the future, we aim to become agricultural diversification, especially sixth industry initiatives.