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The history of tea in Japan has its earliest known references in a text written by a Buddhist monk in the 9th century. Tea became a drink of the religious classes in Japan when Japanese priests and envoys sent to China to learn about its culture brought tea to Japan. The first form of tea brought from China was probably brick tea (磚茶, tancha?). Ancient recordings indicate the first batch of tea seeds were brought by a priest named Saicho in 805 and then by another named Kukai in 806. It became a drink of the royal classes when Emperor Saga, the Japanese emperor, encouraged the growth of tea plants. Seeds were imported from China, and cultivation in Japan began.
In the 14th century Ming Dynasty, southern China and Japan enjoyed much cultural exchange. Significant merchandise was traded and the roasting method of processing tea became common in Kyushu, Japan. Since the steaming (9th century) and the roasting (13th century) methods were brought to Japan during two different periods, these teas are completely distinct from each other.
The pastimes made popular in China in the 12th and 13th centuries – reading poetry, writing calligraphy, painting, and discussing philosophy while enjoying tea – eventually became popular in Japan and with samurai society. The modern tea ceremony developed over several centuries. The historical figure considered most influential in its development was Sen Rikyū (1522–1591). In fact, both the beverage and the ceremony surrounding it played a prominent role in feudal diplomacy. Many of the most important negotiations among feudal clan leaders were carried out in the austere and serene setting of the tea ceremony. By the end of the 16th century, the current "Way of Tea" was established. Eventually, green tea became available to the masses, making it the nation's most popular beverage.
In 1740, Soen Nagatani developed Japanese sencha (Japanese: 煎茶), which is an unfermented form of green tea. To prepare sencha, tea leaves are first steam-pressed, then rolled and dried into a loose tea. The dried leaves are brewed with hot water to yield the final drink. Sencha is now one of Japan's mainstay teas.
Rolling machines[edit source | editbeta]At the end of the Meiji era (1868–1912), machine manufacturing of green tea was introduced and began replacing handmade tea. Machines took over the processes of primary drying, tea rolling, secondary drying, final rolling, and steaming.
Automation contributed to improved quality and reduced labour. Sensor and computer controls were introduced to machine automation so unskilled workers can produce superior tea without compromising quality. Certain regions in Japan are known for special types of green tea, as well as for teas of exceptional quality, making the leaves themselves a highly valued commodity. Uji is still famous for its tea. Today, roasted green tea is not as common in Japan and powdered tea is used in ceremonial fashion.
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