Thursday, June 16, 2011

Radiation fears bedevil Japanese tea growers

Who woulda thunk the tea experience one day would include Geiger counters?

World Tea News reported this week that the Japanese government "is testing 100 tea processing factories and has halted shipments from the Warashina district of Shizuoka City." Four prefectures now are under scrutiny. (Also in the WSJ.)

In Japan, the miniscule amount of tea grown in the north is nearly all consumed locally. The green tea that's exported is primarily grown in the south and southern islands, far from any threat of radiation contamination following the March 11 offshore earthquake and resulting nuclear power plant disaster. (See a map of Japan's tea-producing regions in relation to the power plant here.) Still, governments everywhere are setting up testing protocols for Japanese tea to screen for any contamination.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I attended a green tea tasting at Tea Gschwendner. The company's master taster Thomas Holz mentioned that TG has been screening all its Japanese tea just to be safe, and has yet found nothing alarming.

Either way, with shipping halted and some harvests suspended — including this anguish voiced by a tea farmer forced to destroy his early harvest — Japan may suffer a tea shortage this year. There's still no reason to fear drinking Japanese tea, but expect prices to be meddling.

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