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Organic Green Tea Information

Statement on Japanese Green Tea & the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and O-Cha.com 
PART I - The Earthquake, Tsumani, and Nuclear first few weeks...
(See Updated Info in Part II)

Our base of operations, prior to the 9.0 earthquake which occurred on March 11th, 2011 was in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture. All of the tea we stocked was grown and packaged either in Shizuoka, or in prefectures south of it. Prior to the earthquake, we would have tea shipped in to us in Iwaki, and would then ship it out to customers worldwide. All tea we sold was, is, and has always been hermetically sealed.  

O-Cha.com was greatly affected by the earthquake, it practically demolished our office. While all orders prior to March 11th were fulfilled, we ceased selling tea the day of the earthquake.   We cleaned up, expecting to soon continue on as normal. Unfortunately, our office was also located 26 miles (37km) from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Due to concerns for our safety from the worsening situation of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, we left Fukushima.  
Despite the relatively close distance of Iwaki to the nuclear power plant, to date, radiation levels have never been significantly high there, typically in the range of 1 microsevert per hour. This is elevated above normal, but is still rather insignificant. Regardless, due to some hysteria over anything related to Fukushima (or Japan) when it comes to food it became clear that if were were to continue to sell Japanese green tea, there would be no way to continue operations from Fukushima Prefecture. For those reasons, we moved operations to Uji Japan.  We "might"move back to Iwaki in the future if things settle down but for now, we are in Uji.

Regarding the purchase of green teas from Japan, whether it be from us or anyone else - Green tea is grown in the Southern half of Japan. We have heard of no reports of any produce, water, milk, etc, being affected south of Tokyo. That doesn't mean it can't or won't happen in the future (please see Part II), but to date there appears to be zero fallout in the tea growing regions. Even in areas where elevate levels has been detected such as in Tokyo, the amount is insignificantly low. The tea growing regions we get our tea from are much further south of Tokyo, 100's of miles.

We are completely confident in the safety of our products, we drink them ourselves of course. We would rather quit the business entirely than to put anyone else's safety at risk. We have re-opened on a limited basis as of March 28th, 2011 from Uji Japan, near Kyoto.  All teas we ship are freshly obtained, hermetically sealed, and have never been anywhere near the Fukushima power plant.  
(Developments in the months of late May and June, 2011)

We understand this can all be a bit confusing, so we are putting this "Layman's guide to radiation in your green tea"  to help our customers understand what's going on in this regard.

First, a few key words to understand...

"Aracha" - Basically, this is green tea leaves that have been picked, steamed, dried and rolled.  Nearly all of the moisture has been removed.  
"Seicha" - Aracha which is further processed to take out the stems further, roasted one more time - your finished product.
The becquerel (symbol Bq) (pronounced: 'be-kÉ™-rel) is the SI-derived unit of radioactivity. This is basically the unit used to measure radiation contamination in food.

Next, it's important to understand the "standards" involved.  Everyone has different standards. The EU and Japan have rather strict standards, while the USA has a more relaxed standard.

The international standard for radiation in green tea (dried, processed aracha) is a max of 1000 becquerels per kilo of processed tea (aracha).
For the USA, it's actually 1200.
For EU and Japan, it's lower - 500.

How it went down...
Early in the radiation scare, radiation was tested in freshly picked leaves.  No areas of Shizuoka surpassed 500 bq/kg, in fact, none exceeded 300 bq/kg.

Factoid: When a tea leave is processed and dried to make aracha, the concentration increases by about FIVE.

Factoid: When a leaf is infused (when you make tea), it is again reduced by about TEN.

There was a big argument between government agencies in Japan whether to make the standard fresh leaf, or dried leaf. Naturally, the Shizuoka leaning officials wanted fresh leaf, but they lost.

Why was "aracha" made the standard and not "freshly picked" leaf? Because some leaf is ground up into powder to make ice cream, latte's, etc.

When "aracha" became the new standards, contaminated tea exceeding 500 had been found in a few parts of Shizuoka.

Most areas of Shizuoka are still below 500 bq/kg.

Apparently, a batch of 162kg has arrived in Paris which exceeded 1000 bq/kg. If it were the USA, it would have been acceptable.

We understand that you, as the consumer, are probably not wanting to be bothered with having to figure all of this out.  We also find it distracting explaining it over and over to worried consumers. We understand - Even though the level may be safe and within standards, isn't level "ZERO" even better? (Yes!)
Therefore, we decided about a month ago that the best course of action was not to sell 2011 Shizuoka green tea for the rest of the year.  We do have some remaining second harvest Shizuoka tea from 2010 remaining, which of course is unaffected.  This is relatively easy for us now because, what seemed like a handicap way back in the early days of the crisis has now developed into an asset.  We moved to Uji, near Kyoto and have pretty much whatever kind of green tea we need down here that is unaffected by radiation.

The important point, the point which the news media usually forgets to point out, is that there are vast areas of Southern Japan (Uji, Kagoshima, etc) where Japanese green tea is grown that has been tested out at ZERO. Yes, Shizuoka is the largest tea growing region, but it is not the oldest, traditional tea growing region in Japan. 

There is plenty of healthy, completely radiation free green tea being grown in the South of Japan.  For the year 2011, we would recommend that you stick to Uji, Kagoshima and other areas south of Shizuoka.  We hope next year things improve in Shizuoka, we assume they will and when they do, we will offer those teas again. But for the time being - We can continue to supply our customers with first rate, radiation free Japanese green tea from Southern Japan.
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