If you’re like me, a freshman when it comes down to discerning one green tea producer from another, you’re in luck because I’m going to share my homework (something I never did in high school because I never did it)
There seems to be a million and one green tea producers, distributors, to retailers, so I don’t really know if I’ll be able to get my head wrapped around everything although count me in for at least a B+ worth of effort.
First, How Big is the Green Tea Market
According to Ocha.net, the top 3 major tea producing countries are:
If you want to know more details you will have to go to the Ocha.net website. The website is run by the World Green Tea Association based out of Shizuoka City, Japan.
What Are the Types of Green Tea
According to Bento.com, there are approximately twenty different types of green tea and the most popular are sencha and fukamushicha. They account for almost seventy five percent of the tea sold in Japan.
- Bancha – picking order from nibancha to sanbancha
- Sencha – whole tea leaves infused in hot water
- Shincha – “new tea” or first picking of the season
- Tencha – shaded unpowdered tea used for matcha
- Fukamushicha – steamed twice as long as regular sencha
- Kabusecha – shaded green tea (not as long as gyokuro)
- Karigane – contains gyokuro twigs of the tea tree
- Konacha – tea powder (agari) served at sushi restaurants
- Kukicha – stems and stalks from sencha gyokuro
- Matcha – ground green tea used in formal tea ceremonies
- Gyokuro – a shaded green tea which makes it a top-grade
- Hojicha – roasted green tea (bancha or sencha)
- Genmaicha – mixed with well-roasted popped brown rice
I cross referenced with Itoen’s global site, and you can view all that content directly here.
Who Are the Big Players?
Since this site is focused on Japanese food and culture in the good ole U.S. of A, I will only be listing Japanese green tea producers in the United States.
- Website: www.itoen.com
- Headquarters: Shibuya (JP), with an office in Brooklyn, NY (USA)
- About: founded in Japan in 1964, ITO EN pioneered new packaging methods such as vacuum processing and double-packaging, so tea could be sold in smaller quantities at mainstream stores without compromising quality.
- Product Line: green tea (loose leaf, powder, tea bags, and bottled).
- Retail: Matcha Love is the retail arm of Ito-en.
- Online Sales: yes
- Website: www.maeda-en.com
- Headquarters: U.S.A/ G.T. Japan, Inc., Irvine, CA.
- About: So cool, Taku H. Maeda, the founder started Maeda-en in Texas in 1980. Now Maeda-en’s green tea is shipped to 40 countries around the world.
- Product Line: green tea, matcha, and ice cream.
- Retail: opened Shuhari Matcha cafe in Abbot Kinney in 2016. Shuhari translates to “SHU” to savor centuries of tradition. “HA” to shake things up, break the rules. “RI” to achieve independence and a new sense of creativity.
- Online Sales: yes
- Website: https://yamamotoyama.com
- Headquarters: Pomona, CA
- About: Family owned and operated over 325 years. Founded in Tokyo in 1690, the company specializes in green tea and nori (seaweed). In 1975, the Pomona, California facility was established. That facility is HACCP, GMP, SQF, QAI, Organic Certification, KOF-K, and Kosher certified. WTF, that’s a lot of certification and acronyms.
- Product Line: nori, green tea, and soy wrapper.
- Retail: n/a
- Online Sales: yes
The Big Japanese Green Tea and Matcha Brands in Japan
Want to know who they are, check out the article below:
A lot of the large producers sell online, but a lot of these online sellers sell a variety of products from green tea to green tea accessories. Also to make it easier on you, I have also provided an approximate guestimate on their monthly site traffic to help you know which companies are really driving people to their site.
- Website: www.hibiki-an.com
- About: based out of Japan with an office in Las Vegas, in their own words “genuine Japanese tea shipped worldwide from the tea farms of Uji in Kyoto, Japan – for your green moment.”
- Products: green tea, teapots/cups, accessories, snacks/candy, and gifts.
- Differentiator: where this company stands out is that they don’t just sell tea, but they sell it all (a substantial amount of products from porcelain, ceramic, to glass teaware).
- SE Traffic (guesstimate of avg. monthly traffic): 56,621
- My Thoughts: they still have their old school website with a ton of content, so in order to be web 2.0 they launched a separate “smartphone (sp)” website.
- Website: www.ikkyu-tea.com *Editors Choice runner up*
- About: based out of Southern Kyushu, Japan, this team of Italians, Swiss, and French live and work together in Japan delivering tea to the U.S. and elsewhere.
- Products: green tea, teaware, to accessories.
- Differentiator: wow, it would be in web development, marketing, to creative execution. So if they absolutely kill it on this end, I have to wonder if it’s the same experience all the way through the purchasing experience.
- SE Traffic (avg monthly traffic): 752
- My Thoughts: this company isn’t playing around, and they do such an impressive job on so many levels from design, marketing: describing the various types of green tea, to regions they’re from, to the user experience of not having any annoying pop-up ads. This company is so on point, others in other industries need to take some notes.
- Website: www.japanesegreenteaonline.com
- About: almost nothing on the website, so I had to do some research on the lead dude of the company. From his profile on LinkedIn, he’s a fellow American from SoCal. He attended USC for a short bit (because school is for tools) in which he up and left for Osaka Japan to teach English. From there on out, Japanese Green Tea Online was formed.
- Differentiator: since they do not market any major differentiators, I’m sure they’re just like all the other online tea sellers of “freshest” teas to your door. BTW, I thought “fresh” was just hype till I visited Coors brewery had some of their freshest brews, and yea, it did have a discernible difference. Maybe it’s the same with green tea?
- Products: green tea to a few teapots and accessories
- SE Traffic (guesstimate of avg. monthly traffic): 1,494
- My Thoughts: this is a lightly skinned Shopify website, so its current (web 2.0). They also have been online since Feb 2000, and it is another company I am hoping to look past the website. Hopefully there’s some capability on the back-end, Just like the listing below (o-cha). As for this company, it is ran by Larry O’Connor who seems to work with a specific farm? In this case, the President, CEO, and grand lord of Japanese green tea online (I added those last two titles to give extra weight) is working with the Itoh family farms in Uji.
- Website: mizubatea.com
- About: this the only American based tea company listed, so I had to include them. Not to mention, if you love cheeseburgers, bald eagles, 700hp supercharged big block Chevy’s, then buy Mizuba cuz Murica, specifically Portland, Oregon. Oh, and the CEO and I both have a Colorado connection in common.
- Differentiator: you love America.
- Products: their 100% authentic farm-direct, shade grown and stone milled Uji matcha under the Mizuba brand.
- SE Traffic (guesstimate of avg. monthly traffic): 18,766
- My Thoughts: I was debating which category to place this company in because they take a product from Japan, and they brand it under their Mizuba tea company brand of products. I thought they were doing that, so that they could use various other suppliers from around the world, but they were named an “official Uji-cha dealer” by the farmers via the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce. You go Lauren P., CEO., USA, USA, USA!! Also, if you wonder how Lauren got into it all, here you go “Lauren knows tea. What she didn’t know was that the tea gatherings she hosted twice a week in college, the journeys abroad she spent collecting tea, or the countless cups she drank and loved to share would lead her to Japan, and ultimately, to a true vocation.”
- Website: www.o-cha.com
- About: founded in 1988 when the “internet was relatively young” by Kevin Moore out of Mesa, AZ. He spent the first 5 years in Arizona when he was busy majoring in Japanese language at Arizona State University (ok, very cool). In 2004, Kevin started operations out of Iwaki City, Fukushima which you know was interrupted, but not stopped in 2011 due to the Tohoku earthquake.
- Products: green tea to tea ware.
- Differentiator: O-Cha.com is the first and only company to offer green tea online from Tsuen Tea, Japan’s oldest tea shop located at the same spot on the banks of the Uji river for over 851 years.
- SE Traffic (guesstimate of avg. monthly traffic): 12,926
- My Thoughts: I’m confused with this website because I’m sure that domain name may be worth a hefty sum, yet their efforts to skin/theme, brand, and market themselves is very minimal. When I see sites/companies like this, I hope that they are strong on the back-end because they seriously lack the capability on the front-end. One big example is their attempt at a logo which looks like they did it up in Microsoft Word ‘select font’ (done).
- Website: www.sazentea.com
- About: I didn’t think I’d find a good “About” but I was wrong, it’s a good one. Maybe the best one out of all the companies, so I’ll let them tell you in their own words “once upon a time there was a small country in Central-Europe called Hungary, where one day a Japanese man and a Hungarian woman walked next to each other as strangers. They now walk together, as a family, along the way of tea. Sazen Tea was founded in 2014 by Motonari Jotatsu (historian, Japanese tea instructor, Chinese tea advisor) and his wife, Agnes Balogh (graphic designer, Urasenke tea artist). Its goal is to provide high-quality teas and tea utensils, and to spread the greatness of tea culture.”
- Products: green tea, tea ware, and tea making accessories.
- Differentiator: it’s a husband and wife operation, so how could you not want to support that!? Don’t you want their kids to have socks or lunch money?
- SE Traffic (guesstimate of avg. monthly traffic): 41,653
- My Thoughts: at first glance I didn’t think much of this company, but upon researching, I can’t help but love them for this part of their business “we offer our products at prices true to Japanese domestic retail costs, so they are the most authentic prices in the world.” That right there says they are carrying over the entire Japanese experience, and not solely an an opportunity to capitalize on this market strictly for profit, I love that.
- Website: yunomi.life (“drink tea” life), *Editors Choice*
- About: right off, not only is the About page in English, but they also offer it in Spanish, French, and German. For good reason because the guy behind it all is also super cool. I say that because I have a bias to anybody who is in the astronomy or aerospace industry which is where Ian Chun initially had his sights on early in his career. Unfortunately for his parents, this island boy from da 808 had another path, to help local farmers reach markets outside of Japan… jeebus, another cool company (loving this company).
- Products: green tea, tea ware, lifestyle (kitchen bed and bath, dining, and apparel), salts and seasonings, and tea making accessories.
- Differentiator: this one is easy because Mr. Chun knows what’s up, so I will just quote them by saying “Yumomi is a bridge to Japan, introducing over 125 small-scale producers of artisanal Japanese tea and other products.” Oh, and if you’re local, they own a 50-year old farm house whose owners built an authentic tea ceremony room (chashitsu) in the early 1980’s, can you really get any cooler than that?
- SE Traffic (guesstimate of avg. monthly traffic): 25,478
- My Thoughts: it’s at least web 2.0 (Shopify has gotten to be very robust), and I kind of guessed that it would be from their cool logo design although a “.life” is something you don’t see that often, or at all. So it’s kind of cool that they were up on things to utilize it. It would be a shame if that hinders them in regards to SEO SERPS because they have a ton of content.
- Rishi Tea & Botanicals – such a beautifully done site from the design to the product photography.
- Steepster – I never knew a site like this existed, but it does. It’s a tea community website where you can write a tea journal, see what others are drinking and get recommendations from people you trust.
Other Teaware Stores
One of the most infamous brands of tea pots in Japan is Nambu. Nambu ironware (tekki) has a 900-year history of craftsmanship in Japan’s Northern region (Morioka in the Iwate prefecture).
- Akazuki – Nambu ironware to all sorts of tea related tableware.
- Kogei Japan – traditional crafts of Japan.