Our Innovations in Green Tea
Throughout the 1200-year history of green tea in Japan, major innovations have taken place at approximately 400-year intervals. These watershed events have contributed to green tea becoming an integral part of Japanese culture and everyday life in Japan.
In the early 9th century, when Saicho and Kukai (Buddhist monks) returned to Japan after accompanying a Japanese envoy to Tang-dynasty China, they brought with them seeds of the tea plant. Around this time, Emperor Saga encouraged the growing of tea, and the custom of tea-drinking was adopted by Buddhist monks and the aristocratic classes.
In 1191, Eisai (a high-ranking Zen monk), brought tea seeds from China, and grew tea from these seeds in Kyoto. Eisai gave seeds from the tea plants he grew to one of his pupils, the priest Myoe Shonin. These seeds are said to have become the basis for Uji tea.
In 1214, Eisai learned that the shogun, Minamoto no Sanetomo, was aflicted by alcoholism. Eisai sought to help the shogun by writing a book about the health-giving properties and effects of tea, titled Kissa Yojoki (How to Stay Healthy by Drinking Tea) and by sending the shogun a gift of tea. From then on, under the patronage of the shogunate, the custom of tea drinking is said to have spread among the bushi (samurai warrior) class.
Kissa Yojoki (How to Stay Healthy by Drinking Tea)
In the latter half of the 16th century, tea ceremony culture spread, and the formal tea ceremony that is still practiced today was established by Sen no Rikyu.
Later, in the mid-Edo Period, a style of tea drinking was developed that is similar to that of the present day. Whereas previously tea leaves were ground into a powder, the new style involved infusing tea from pressed leaves. Subsequently, the tea drinking custom spread to the common people in the Edo Period.
Tea ceremony culture spreads
ITO EN succeeded in developing ready-to-drink green tea beverage product despite a long-held assumption that this was technically impossible. ITO EN offered a new style for drinking green tea and made green tea an even more familiar part of everyday life.
ITO EN succeeded in developing ready-to-drink green teas
Significance of the Development of Green Tea Beverage Products
—Green Tea Makes the Leap
from Indoors to Outdoors
ITO EN was founded in 1966. At this time, such traditions as long-established merchants and goodwill were afforded much importance. However, ITO EN stimulated innovation in the tea industry by introducing its route sales system, which involves direct sales, and its direct procurement system through close relationships with tea growers. These innovations saw ITO EN grow vigorously. However, from around 1975, the green tea (tea leaf) market suffered a precipitous loss of momentum. The main reasons for this slump lay in the rapid changes that had taken place in Japan's eating and drinking patterns over the preceding decades. As well as more diverse eating habits, Western food had become much more prevalent and beverages too had become more diverse and westernized. Specific phenomena that contributed to these changes included the popularization of carbonated beverages, such as cola, from the late 1950s through the 1960s, and the sale of ready-to-drink canned coffee around the same period. Then, in the 1970s, fast food chains, convenience stores and vending machines became ubiquitous across urban Japan.
In this environment, ITO EN launched a 10-year project to research and develop products that would enable consumers to enjoy the natural, delicious taste of green tea, anywhere, anytime. The fruits of this project included the launch of ITO EN's groundbreaking, ready-to-drink, canned green tea beverage product in 1985, a feat that had long been considered technically impossible by many experts. Green tea had thus made the crossover from an exclusively indoor drink, typically prepared in a teapot at home, into a beverage that could be consumed outdoors. This has had a major impact on Japanese food culture. Through the transformation of green tea into a ready-to-drink beverage, ITO EN has provided a new style of drinking green tea, and green tea has become even more part of the fabric of daily life for modern Japanese people.
In 1990, ITO EN launched sales of green tea in PET bottles, and, in the autumn of 2000 the Company introduced heatable PET bottles for green tea. Both of these achievements put ITO EN at the forefront of the beverage industry, reinforcing the Company's position as the innovation leader of Japan's green tea market.
Innovation in Manufacturing Methods
The Story behind Development of Ready-to-Drink Green Tea Products
Overcoming technical issues—"preventing oxidation to achieve a natural taste"
Since olden times, conventional wisdom in Japan has told people they should "not drink tea that has been left overnight." That is because green tea oxidizes very rapidly. Green tea that has been made in a pot deteriorates over time.
To develop a green tea beverage in a can, two main problems needed to be overcome—discoloration and deterioration of aroma. To solve the problem of discoloration, ITO EN developed a method to expel oxygen from the head space inside the can by injecting nitrogen gas into the can when it is sealed.
To prevent the aroma from deteriorating, ITO EN developed the optimal tea blend and infusion time and temperature. Selecting the right tea blend included such variables as tea-growing region, tea cultivar variety and time of picking. For infusion, time was adjusted to the second and temperature adjusted to the degree Celsius. Over the 10-year research period, ITO EN tested more than 1,000 combinations of these variables to develop the optimal combination to produce the best aroma.
ITO EN was able to solve these problems thanks to the know-how it had accumulated as a tea specialist. Since ITO EN was a tea specialist, it was able to pursue a natural green tea taste without using any additives. From the outset of its R&D project, the Company already possessed significant expertise in infusing tea naturally with the desired color, taste and aroma, and this knowledge was applied to the development of ready-to-drink beverage products. This also reflected ITO EN's philosophy of continuing and preserving the natural taste of Japan's treasured green tea culture, which has evolved over many centuries. This philosophy has not wavered, and from the time of its development to this day, Oi Ocha products have remained proudly free of any additives.
Innovation in Tea Ingredients
—Ensuring High-Quality Tea Leaf Ingredients
Large-scale, flat areas of farmland into tea plantations
ITO EN maintains extremely high standards for the tea leaf ingredients it uses. Most beverage manufacturers procure a majority of their ingredient tea leaves via third-party intermediary supplier companies and organizations.
In contrast, ITO EN employees go directly to tea plantations and tea markets and procure ingredients after verifying firsthand the quality of the tea leaves.
To ensure future stable access to high-quality tea leaves, ITO EN is involved in projects to transform idle agricultural land into tea plantations. In such regions as Kyushu, to support the conversion of large-scale, flat areas of farmland into tea plantations. ITO EN provides hands-on training and guidance for tea-growers. ITO EN purchases all the tea produced by growers participating in this program. By developing large-scale plantations, the efficiency of plantation operations can be increased through mechanization. By purchasing all the tea produced through the program, ITO EN helps growers achieve stable performance for their plantation businesses. These innovative programs not only ensure access to high quality ingredients, but also bolster employment opportunities in tea-growing regions and promote the overall development of the tea industry.