What shook Japan on March 11th was fatal and catastrophic, but no one knew then that its shocks, in the form of economic drains, wouldn’t cease a bit several months later. In the latest wave of banned items issued by the government, dried tea hits the list in even wider margins.
What does this mean for the tea buyer? Shortages and higher prices and probably not just for tea drinkers in Japan.
The primary problem remains to be the radiation leaks from the greatly affected Fukushima Dai-Ichi power station. However, as of early June, the ban now extends to four surrounding provinces where tainted produce has been found over legal limits: Ibaraki, Chiba, Kanagawa and Tochigi.
What you should know—the ban includes tea leaves that contain over 500 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram. Japan’s largest green tea growing region, Shizuoka, which produced 40 % of the nation’s total output last year, has yet to detect any levels of concern. Of the regions that did, dried leaves are the ones to watch as they can hold up to 5 times the amount of toxins than fresh leaves can.
Even with Japan’s largest province still in the clear to export, a cost increase is certainly predicted. On the island, it’s expected that people will soon switch from green tea, the primary tea produced in those regions, to oolong tea or barley-based drinks to save money.
What’s the risk for the world and tea drinkers from all over? The tea business in Japan yielded $1.3 billion in 2009. Tea no longer produced on this scale is going to disrupt tea availability and possibly shift the market. For how long and how much are the questions to ask.
Pictured: A bag of dark chocolate and green tea Kit-Kats produced in Japan (a gift from my friend currently living there). The shortage of green tea also strikes products that use green tea as a flavor enhancer in Japan, such as these Kit-Kats, ice cream, cookies and more.