Over the years, the standard cultivar, making up approximately 70 percent of Japan’s overall tea plantation area, is. Yabukita.
Yabukita was created by Sugiyama Hikosaburō in 1908 (Meiji 41) in pursuit of the highest quality tea plant. Mother tree is a national monument in Shizuoka.
Yabukita is a tea-industry standard often used when comparing the flavor, blending capability, amount of yield and yield stability, ability to stand against the cold, bugs, and tea plant diseases, the timing of harvest, etc. factors of other cultivars.
The tea industry is starting to produce / breed new cultivars that share similar qualities of good yield, adaptability to cold, and ease of production into various types of Japanese tea.
Some “runner-up” cultivars include
Yutakamidori + Saemidori + Okumidori + Sayamakaori + Asatsuyu and so on.
Tea producers and farmers will often multiple cultivars spread out around different tea fields, so as to time well the cultivation period. If we grow cultivars that start budding in the new season at different times, we can manage the cultivation season timing to produce a good yield, rather than frantically trying to harvest only one cultivar at the same time.
Japanese tea cultivar can be largely categorized into types that are
① Popular and spreading around Japan now
② Gaining attention now and being introduced into the mainstream by farmers and producers (in conjunction with market needs)
③ Stand out for some special characteristic + flavor and aroma, etc.
④ Are local per a region and gaining attention
Cultivars are often crossbred to combine the good traits of certain cultivars.
An example from ① group is: Okumidori, a cultivar with accepted good quality, not difficult to cultivate, a late blooming plant, and is easy to produce sencha + Gyokuro + Tencha with. It has a refreshing umami, deep green liquor, is popular as a single cultivar OR in a blend on the market, is stable like Yabukita, and produces a nice amami flavor when mildly roasted.
And example from group ② is Kirari 31
Kirari 31 is a crossbreed of Sakimidori and Saemidori cultivars, produces a good yield as an early blooming plant type, and processes well into sencha + Kabusecha + Gyokuro for its high amino acid content. I hope these factors will help you understand how and why certain cultivars share and compliment each other with certain benefits.
An example from group ③ is Yamakai
An example from group ④ is Kuritawase
Another large benefit is that certain cultivars will process well into different Japanese tea types; there are specific cultivars used when making Sencha, Gyokuro, Tencha, Kamairicha, and Wakoucha.
From conception to creation and registration, each cultivar has its own ongoing “story” and drama if you will- many are involved in the process, and there are various system in place. Many of the new cultivars are being created with variety in mind; in particular, cultivars that can be processed into not only Sencha, but also partly-fermented Oolong, and Tencha (Matcha).
Some more recent cultivars include:
Okuharuka + Nanmei + Nagomiyutaka + Harunonagori, etc.
From there there are the traditional types and Zairai which can be found in different tea producing regions.
As mentioned above regarding cultivars, Japan is putting efforts into utilizing cultivars that can be used well when making Japanese black and oolong types. For example, Benifuuki is known to have a natural “citrus”-like flavor that compliments well when being processed into a fully fermented black tea.