Chabanare may be a “tea” word that you’ve never heard before.

In Japanese, there is a word meaning the decline of love for Japanese tea. Is there reduced demand for Japanese tea? What might increase interest in fine Japanese tea in the future?

Japanese Green tea - Kagoshima, 88th Night

There are more than a hundred varieties of Japanese tea that are beloved domestically and all over the world. However, after 2004, the production of Japanese green tea started to decline. There are many reasons for this, but one is the rise of bottled tea. In Japan, commercialized ready-to-drink beverages began to spread like wildfire. This was not limited to convenience stores. Bottled beverages using lower-quality tea became popular in cafes and coffee shops too. Because of this, the acreage planted in quality tea also started to decline, responding to the lower demand for fine Japanese tea. 

As a domino effect, the price trend for tea declined. Preferences for PET-bottle green tea beverages are rising, and the demand for traditional finely-crafted Japanese tea is fading. There was already a consumer shift to look for more convenient ways of consuming tea and reduced interest in tea leaf quality and long-held respect for ancient tea traditions.

Even though countries worldwide are importing Japanese tea because of the belief in the health benefits, there seems to be reduced appreciation by the Japanese for following the traditional ways of consuming tea. It is disheartening for the tea farmers to plant more tea plants, risking overproduction. This whole cause-and-effect scenario is called chabanare 茶離れ, which means “leaving tea trend,.” It is a term used to discuss young people’s reduced interest in tea farming and tea businesses. Chabanare means that the tea industry is facing many challenges to survive.

Women and Tea

One of the ancient traditions, Chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony was once a way for Japanese women to refine a delicate expression of femininity before getting married. It seems that the younger generations of women no longer prioritize this relationship with the tea ceremony. Even though the practice now emphasizes meditation and mindfulness for all participants, men and women, general interest in the Japanese tea ceremony is less. 

Japanese Tea Ceremony

As practitioners of Chanoyu are predominantly members of older generations, there are fewer young tea lovers to pass this tradition on to. This is another worrisome omen for Japan to preserve its culture and tradition.

An Aging Population of Tea Lovers

Not just with the preparation of traditional green tea ceremony, drinkers are also getting old. As mentioned earlier, younger generations, because of their busy lives and schedules, would opt to drink PET-bottle green tea or even other beverages like soda or canned juice, and the way to appreciate how green tea leaves are cultivated and prepared is missing. That is why older generations with no commitments tend to appreciate preparing their green tea more than working generations.

With the decline in the demand for Japanese green tea, one should not expect younger tea entrepreneurs to venture out into risky green tea businesses. Because of this, farmers become older and the exhausting labor associated with green tea cultivation is challenging. There are fewer young farmers choosing tea as their crop. The tedious work of producing green tea leaves in a declining market may add to the trend toward Chabanare.

Change of Diet in Japan Affects Tea Consumption

Also, with the change in diet trends these days, rice and grains are no longer as much a staple food as before. Meals are becoming lighter. And, since green tea is traditionally drunk after heavy meals, not as much attention is given to having green tea as an after-meals habit.

Green Tea is Now an Ingredient in Other Products

Many Japanese green tea businesses are already shifting to tea as an ingredient in other food products. For example, green tea is popular as a flavoring in ice cream, chocolates, cakes, and other green tea desserts. But tea is also in great demand in beauty products and as an ingredient in health supplements.

There is also the present trend of producing green tea outside Japan. Of course, one can only expect other countries to import Japanese tea some of the time. Many other countries producing green tea creates a great deal of competition. This is another reason why the appreciation for Japanese green tea has declined in Japan, too as interest in global green tea increases.

With the rise of technology, there are now many more means of communication and catching up with friends. People tend to rely on technology for interactions. Tea time with friends also rapidly declined because of this, and when people have the chance to be outside, they would prefer to meet in more modern places such as cafes rather than traditional tea shops. With face-to-face conversations rapidly fading, the “tea separation” is increasing.

New Variations on Tea Ceremony

It is an enlightening news to know that there was the immersion of Kyūtō-Ryū or a new type of tea ceremony established in 2010, doing the tea preparation either in a kitchenette or a hot water pot and reflects their chosen venue – the office canteen. 

Tea ceremonies are being done not just in traditional tatami floors with wide spaces and open scenery, but already being done in cramped, small office spaces or pantries. Because of this, the Japanese learn to appreciate the relief tea drinking brings when over-stressed from work. This also imparts the need to develop new ways to adjust to the advancement not just in technology but in the rapid activities of every Japanese as well. Likewise, the Japanese government takes measures to reassure that its culture remains intact for younger generations. 

Hope for the Future of Japanese Tea Culture

In 2011, the Japanese government encouraged green tea farmers by giving support to replant more and better tea cultivars through the “Act on Promotion of Tea Industry and Tea Culture” to take various measures such as securing stable business management of tea producers, expanding consumption, promoting food education using tea to contribute to such consumption, promoting export and disseminating knowledge on tea tradition, so as to contribute to the achievement of sound development of tea industry and healthy and affluent lives of nationals. This could create new demands by improving the quality and productivity of Japanese green tea, and there is still hope that younger generations would be able to appreciate the priceless value of drinking Japanese green tea.