World Tea Expo Country Tour: Matcha Demand Marks Japanese Tea Market

What to know, the education sessions to attend and some booths to visit at World Tea Expo to get the full view of what’s happening with Japanese tea today.

Two key factors are influencing the Japanese tea economy: matcha and millennials.

The Japanese have consumed matcha for centuries, but now Americans love matcha. In the last 25 years, matcha sales in the United States have increased five-fold to more than $10 billion dollars, reported CBS News. Much of the growth has taken place in the last three to five years.

Sugimoto America’s experience is one example of this market trend.

Tea plantation in Kyoto Japan. GettyImages.com

Noli Ergas, account manager, said, “In 2013 the company had just started releasing matcha retail products; and in the time since, we went from just trying out matcha to matcha becoming probably over 80 percent of our total business.”

Ergas added Sugimoto America has gone from importing about 1 ton of matcha in 2013 to importing 150 tons in 2017.

“The demand for organic matcha in the West is greater than the production ability in Japan right now,” Ergas said.

As a result, Japan has had to adjust tea growing practices to meet demand. Matcha is now being cultivated outside of the traditional matcha growing prefectures of Kyoto and Aichi. Kei Nishida, CEO of the Japanese Green Tea Co., said “The tea farms are seeing the trend and a lot of regular tea farms are being converted into facilities that can grow matcha.” Matcha is now grown in Shizouka and Kagoshima, the first and second largest tea producing prefectures in Japan. South Korea and China are growing and exporting matcha, too.

Thai iced milk tea, Thai milk tea crepe cake, iced matcha green tea, matcha green tea roll cake. GettyImages.com

Japanese millennials, meanwhile, are effecting change to the tea market in Japan with their tea flavor preferences, their affection for sweets and by putting a modern-day twist on Japanese tea culture. Ito En’s Executive Vice President of Corporate Relations and PR and World Tea Expo Origins Tasting Tour guide Rona Tison said, “It is the younger generation that is going to keep any business sustainable.”

Tison said when it comes to drinking tea, young people prefer a lighter flavor profile. Ito En is appealing to their palate with its Shinryoku, a ready-to-drink green tea, made from Shincha—first flush tea leaves. The Japanese Green Tea Co. has added lemon and orange to its green teas to provide green teas with more sweet and sour notes rather than the seaweed-like taste favored by past generations. The lemon and orange green teas will be sampled at the company’s World Tea Expo Booth 244.

Nishida pointed out the growing use of matcha in Japanese desserts due to young people’s fondness for sweets. Some well-liked matcha-infused desserts include matcha soft serve ice cream, matcha Kit Kat bars and matcha cake. Whereas, Americans recognized matcha for its healthy antioxidants and began adding it to smoothies, thus inspiring the Japanese to do the same, Tison noted.

Tison added, minimalist contemporary tea cafes have appeared in Japan in which a respect for traditional Japanese tea culture is merged with modernity.

Dive Deeper With These World Tea Expo Sessions

Get to know Japanese tea better by attending these World Tea Expo conference sessions.

Origins Tasting Tour, including Japan, China, India, Sri Lanka and other countries,  8:30 a.m.-5:15 p.m. June 12 in rooms 231 and 232.

Marketing Matcha, what defines matcha and commonly accepted grades, and how to market your matcha, 10-11:10 a.m. June 12 in room 230.

A Tea Producer’s Perspective. Learn about sustainability issues of the tea industry, including understanding the cultivation, process and business of matcha, 11:30 a.m.–12:40 p.m. June 12 in room 225.

3 Not-to-miss Booths at World Tea Expo

Sugimoto America is a subsidiary of Sugimoto Seicha, a Japanese tea grower in Shizuoka, Japan. Sugimoto America imports Japanese teas such as matcha, sencha, genmaicha and other Japanese favorites. The company will be in booth 540.

Japanese Green Tea Co. sources its tea directly from Arahataen Green Tea Farms in the Shizuoka prefecture of Japan. Arahataen farms exclusively with the Chagusaba Method. The company will be in booth 244.

Ito En is Japan’s leading green tea purveyor and its teas are widely distributed throughout the United States. Its brands include: TEAS’ TEA, OI OCHA, matcha LOVE, ITO EN Matcha Green Tea Bags and ITO EN Shots. Ito En will be in booth 732.