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From Garden to Cup: The Art of Tea in Colombia and Japan


Tea culture serves as a captivating mirror of a society's traditions, customs, and values. Among the myriad of unique traditions worldwide, Colombia and Japan emerge as notable examples despite their geographical distance and cultural differences.

By: Daniela Ortegón, Community Manager CCJCI-Universidad de la Sabana


Photo: iStock


Both nations share a profound reverence for hot beverages, profoundly influencing their social interactions, lifestyles, and economies. Exploring the divergences, convergences, and economic aspects of tea culture in Colombia and Japan offers a fascinating journey into the heart of these distinct societies.


In Colombia, although known primarily for its coffee culture, tea is steadily gaining traction, primarily due to the country's diverse climate and landscape. Influenced by indigenous traditions, Spanish heritage, and modern trends, Colombian tea culture thrives on herbal teas made from local ingredients like lemongrass, lulo fruit and coca leaves, known as “tisanes” or “infusiones”. The tradition of "onces," similar to British afternoon tea, promotes social bonding over hot beverages and snacks, with herbal teas becoming more and more prominent largely due to their array of flavours and perceived health benefits. Despite challenges such as limited production and competition from coffee, Colombia's tea industry, although relatively new, shows promising potential, as global demand for specialty teas and health-conscious beverages rises.



In Japan, tea is deeply ingrained in cultural practices and centuries-old traditions, with the iconic matcha being a centrepiece of the traditional tea ceremony known as "chanoyu" or "sado." This ritual emphasises harmony, respect, purity, and tranquillity, showcasing precise movements, etiquette, and aesthetics, each aspect infused with symbolism. Everyday life in Japan also features various teas, with prominent varieties such as sencha, genmaicha, and hojicha.



They’re enjoyed at home, work, and social gatherings, and each has its own flavour profile and method of brewing. With a rich history dating back to the 9th century, Japan's tea industry, particularly in regions like Uji, Shizuoka, and Kagoshima, produces high-quality teas prized for their freshness and umami flavour. Economically, Japan is a significant exporter of green tea, catering to markets across Asia, North America, and Europe. Additionally, tea tourism has surged, with visitors flocking to tea-growing regions to indulge in tastings, ceremonies, and scenic plantations.

 

While Colombian and Japanese tea cultures may seem worlds apart, there are notable differences and surprising similarities between the two:


Differences:

  • Varieties: Colombia primarily focuses on herbal teas and blends, whereas Japan is renowned for its green teas, particularly matcha.

  •  Ceremonial Practices: The formal Japanese tea ceremony contrasts with the informal Colombian tradition of "onces."

  •  Cultural Significance: Tea holds different cultural meanings in each country, reflecting their unique histories and values.



Similarities:

  •  Social Rituals: Both Colombian "onces" and Japanese tea gatherings emphasise social connections and hospitality.

  •  Health Benefits: Tea is valued for its health-promoting properties in both cultures, whether as a soothing herbal infusion or antioxidant-rich green tea.

  •  Economic Opportunities: Both countries recognize the economic potential of their tea industries and are exploring ways to capitalise on domestic and international markets.



While comprehensive data on the tea industries of Colombia and Japan may vary, some key economic indicators provide insights into their significance:

 

Production Volume: Japan produces approximately 80,000 to 100,000 metric tons of tea annually, with green tea accounting for the majority of production. In contrast, Colombia's tea production is more modest, around 15 metric tons annually, with a focus on herbal teas and specialty blends.

 

Export Markets: Japan exports tea to numerous countries worldwide, with major markets including the United States, China, and the European Union. Colombia is also expanding its export reach, targeting markets in North America, Europe, and Asia.

 

Revenue Generation: The tea industry contributes significantly to the economies of both countries, generating revenue from domestic consumption, exports, tourism, and related industries such as tea ware manufacturing and hospitality.

 

Investment and Innovation: Both Colombia and Japan are investing in research and development to enhance tea quality, sustainability, and marketability. Initiatives such as organic certification, fair trade practices, and value-added processing are gaining traction in both countries.

 


Despite Colombia and Japan having distinct tea cultures, shaped by their unique histories, climates, and traditions, they share a common appreciation for tea as a source of comfort, community, and cultural identity. As both countries navigate the opportunities and challenges of the global tea market, their tea industries continue to evolve, reflecting shifting consumer preferences, technological advancements, and a renewed appreciation for the art and science of tea cultivation and consumption.

 

Macroeconomic Data:

  • Japan:

Import Market Value: $2.3 billion (estimated, 2022)

Market Share of Green Tea: Over 80% of total tea consumption

Per Capita Tea Consumption: 2 kg (approximately 4.4 lbs) per year (average)

Number of Tea Ceremonies Held Annually: Over 1.5 million (estimated)


  • Colombia:

Domestic Tea Production: 4,000 - 5,000 tons per year (estimated, 2023)

Market Share of Tea vs. Coffee: Approximately 5% (tea) vs. 95% (coffee)

Growth Rate of Tea Exports: 20% - 25% annually (estimated)



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