As a significant part of the Japanese food culture, tea has been the most common type of beverage in Japan. It is widely available in various types and may be served and consumed at any time. Drinking tea is perfect before, during, and after eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Because of its importance in the society, it has become the official drink for religious hierarchy in Japan. According to history, when the very first few Japanese priests and representatives were sent to China to study about the Chinese culture, they came back to Japan bringing some tea.
The most common type of tea is the green tea. In fact, green tea serves as the central element in tea ceremonies, which are one of the most popular Japanese traditions. During casual occasions, on the other hand, it is common for Japanese people to serve green tea if their guests do not ask for a specific type to be served. Tea gatherings can either be held as a chakai, or informal gathering; or a chaji, the more formal type. A chakai is a rather humble course of welcome that serves sweets, thin tea, and conceivably a light meal. Conversely, a chaji is a formal gathering, customarily counting a full-course kaiseki meal tailed by confectioneries, thick or thin tea, and can last up to four hours.
An important factor in tea ceremonies is the season. According to traditions, tea practitioners divide the year into two: the sunken hearth season and the brazier season. The sunken hearth season includes the colder months (November to April), and the latter for the warmer months (May to October). Temae, the manner in which the tea ceremony is performed, and the utensils used, are always in accordance to the season. Kagoshima, Shizuoka, and Uji are considered as three of the most well-known places in Japan that cultivate tea.
Tea, in all of its types, can be served hot or cold. In addition, each type of tea can be served in different ways. For instance, green tea is served free at restaurants whenever a customer orders a meal. Mugicha, or roasted barley tea, is also served for free (on a self-service basis) in some low-class dining places. In low-cost sushi restaurants, however, konacha (bud tea, a type of green tea) is usually served. Kocha, a black kind, is typically offered together with coffee in Western-inspired restaurants and teashops located in Japan. Tea is usually served for free in many Japanese restaurants but typically for sale in kiosks, convenient stores, vending machines and supermarkets.