Ito En, the Originator

Ito En is Japan’s #1 manufacturer of canned and bottled green tea products. The company was the first to make a canned green tea drink that was sold in Japanese vending machines when it debuted its canned sencha green tea in 1985.

Today, Ito En’s signature bottled green tea product is Ooi Ocha-Ryokucha, which translates into English as, “Hey, Tea!” Sold in a clear, plastic bottle with a leaf-green wrapper, Ooi Ocha-Ryokucha is Japan’s best-selling vending machine green tea.

The tea is made from tea leaves grown in Japan, using only water and vitamin C as its other ingredients for a natural, fresh taste. Light-tasting beverages without sugar are a popular tea trend in Japan, and these drinks are beginning to be increasingly consumed worldwide. Ito En’s tea products come in two different plastic bottles: one that is designed to be served cold, and the other that is designed to be held at a specific, warm temperature range inside a vending machine.

Ito En’s other bottled green teas include:

Ooi Ocha-Koicha: This variety has a stronger taste than the Ryokucha variety.
Ooi Ocha-Hojicha: While other varieties of bottled tea are light yellowish-green in color, this tea is brown due to a light roasting of the tea leaves.
• Ooi Ocha-Genmaicha: Genmaicha is a mild green tea that pairs well with tempura and other fried foods. The ingredients include a combination of green tea and lightly roasted brown rice, giving this bottled tea a distinctive yellow color.
Jasmine Green Tea: This blend combines green tea with jasmine flowers for a very fragrant yet delicate-tasting brew.
Golden Oolong Tea: Oolong tea has less caffeine than Ito En’s other green tea offerings, so this iced tea variety can be drunk closer to bedtime.

Vending machines in Japan continue to offer Ito En’s canned sencha in addition to other canned versions of matcha and oolong tea. Over 2.5 billion green tea cans are sold in Japan per year with Sapporo making up an 80% share of the entire market. Ito En began importing Chinese tea leaves in 1979, thus making it Japan’s first importer of Chinese oolong tea.

Suntory: A Functional Favorite

Japanese food and beverage maker Suntory offers bottled green tea beverages in vending machines all over Japan. Its products include:

  • Iyemon: The #2 selling bottled green tea in Japan. To make this blend, Suntory partnered with a traditional Fukujuen tea grower in Kyoto for a rich flavor.
  • Iyemon Tokucha: A functional drink, this green tea variation is specifically for those drinkers who are trying to lose weight as it contains a polyphenol that is said to help break down stored body fat. This is part of the FOSHU drink trend (i.e., Food for Specified Health Uses).
  • Suntory Oolong Tea
  • Suntory Black Oolong Tea: Combining oolong green tea with black tea, Suntory produces this bottled cold tea for consumers looking to avoid the bitter aftertaste that green teas can sometimes have.

Ayataka, the American Upstart

Ayataka is a Japanese arm of the U.S. based Coca-Cola company. The Kyoto-based company’s bottled green tea products are known for their cloudiness–unlike the clear beverages made by Ito En and Suntory–which comes from the use of specially milled powdered tea leaves of very high quality.

  • Ayataka Heaven and Earth Green Tea: Available in vending machines as cans and bottles, this unsweetened green tea blend is noted for its cloudiness and is said to taste very similar to tea poured from a teapot.
  • Sokenbicha: Available in five flavors. Some of Sokenbicha’s brews are green or oolong teas, and others are barley teas which contain no actual tea leaves. Each flavor represents one of Japan’s traditional five elements.

Images provided by author

To be concluded tomorrow