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Japanese Teas-To Steep or Not to Steep?

is japanese green tea safe? Japanese green tea JT Herself radiation levels in green tea Sencha world tea expo

[caption id="attachment_678" align="alignleft" width="239" caption="Green Tea Producing Regions in Japan"][/caption] Is Japanese Green Tea Safe? by JT Herself A couple of weeks ago I had the honor and privilege of attending the 2011 World Tea EXPO.  One of the hottest topics covered was the safety of green teas from Japan and how we, as a tea community, can support the tea farmers in that region and provide education to our customers and fellow sippers.  Below are my notes from the 1 hour panel discussion that took place. Let's start with a few facts: * I have attached a map (see left) of the major tea producing areas in Japan.  Getting to know the areas that are/are not affected is primary in making an informed decision (ie. Kagoshima, Fukuoka, Kyoto, Uji, etc.).  These regions are upwards of 600+ miles from the Fukushima plant.  Not all green tea is radioactive!! * 90% of the tea that is produced in Japan is consumed by the Japanese. *The FDA and United States Customs allows for food items to be imported into the United States with levels of 1200 Bq/kg or less.  (A Bq, or Becquerel, is a unit used to measure a radioactivity).  The Japanese government has a self imposed limit of 500 Bq/kg for all items leaving the country. *CNN recently aired a story on tea gardens in the Shizuoka Prefecture that helped put a practical explanation on the amount of contaminated tea you would have to drink in order to physically have complications.  You would have to steep a pound of tea a day (equivalent to 200 bottles of tea) for a year. Give me the tools to make an informed decision! So, here are some excellent tools to use when looking into tea from Japan.
  1. 2010 tea. Last years (2010) Japanese tea was amazing and many tea retailers currently selling Japanese green teas are still selling 2010 tea.  The 2011 first flush teas are slowly starting to make their way out of Japan.  That said, ask your tea retailer what year their Japanese teas were grown.  If they can provide you with documentation that it was 2010, or proof that the tea was in-house prior to March 11, 2011, then you can be assured that the tea is safe to drink.
  2. Not all "Japanese teas" are from Japan. As an example, Sencha is a very common form of Japanese tea.  However, not all Sencha's are cultivated in Japan.  The Chinese, India, and other nations have become quite good at cultivating "Japanese tasting" teas.  Joy's Teaspoon carries an Organic Sencha that actually hails from China.
  3. Where did the tea originate? The Japanese government is now requiring that all shipments leaving Japan provide documentation that shows the prefecture the tea originated in.  Any retailer wanting to assure their customers that the tea they sell is safe is going to be willing to provide you with that documentation.
  4. Are the teas being tested before they are put on the shelves? The short answer is yes.  Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare is testing agriculture all over the country for radiation.  That same tea is being tested upon arrival into the United States by US Customs.  As a retailer, I have had a number of sources telling me that the importers themselves will also be privately testing, via independent labs, all teas being shipped into the US to ensure their wholesale clients that the teas are safe.  This means that documentation proving that the teas are safe should be available to you, the consumer, upon request.
I'm still not comfortable! Fair enough!  With all of the information that I have readily available from within the industry I am still struggling with the decision to carry 2011 green teas from Japan.  As brutally honest as that is, my heart just aches for the farmers and representatives of Japanese tea that I met at the EXPO.  Joy's Teaspoon has begun extensively researching green teas from all over the world and assure you that any teas added to our current line will be safe and at the level of quality many expect from us. I also assure you that documentation and information about all of our teas is readily available. This article was compiled with information available as of July 8, 2011.  Of course, should more details or information be made available, we will keep you all apprised!  We would love your questions, comments and feedback on Japanese green teas!  You can comment below, shoot us a note at naomi@joysteaspoon.com or give us a call at (877) 795-1411. Resources Banks, Christine. ed. "Japanese Tea  and Radiation". TeaMuse.com Bolton, Dan. ed. "Panelist Respond to Crisis with Measured Calm". World Tea News Idaho State University.  "Radiation Related Terms" Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare -http://www.mhlw.go.jp/english/topics/2011eq/index.html Lah, Kyung. "Crisis Brewing as Japan's Tea Farmers Face Radiation Ban". CNN.com


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  • The Lazy Literatus (Geoff) on

    Thanks for the informative entry. I’m still gonna drink my matcha in the morning regardless of the current scare. I figure that Nishio and Uji are far enough a way from the effected areas. If not, it’ll make said matcha all the greener. And I could always use a third eye.


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