Welcome to our Guide to Japanese Teas! Japanese tea culture goes back to the 9th century. The first recorded instance of people in Japan drinking tea was in 815 CE. Today, people know different types of Japanese tea for their unique tastes, smell, and the many health benefits they offer.
Japanese tea can be divided into two main categories: green tea and herbal tea. Understanding Japanese tea culture is incomplete without exploring its diverse range of tea varieties. In this guide, we'll discuss 10 most common varieties of Japanese tea, and their production and preparation process.
1. Sencha - Classic Japanese Green Tea
Sencha (煎茶), emblematic of Japanese tea culture, the most popular type of Japanese green tea. Accounting for about 80% of the country's total tea production. Farmers make it from the young leaves of the tea plant, which they steam, roll, and dry. Sencha's flavor is refreshing and grassy, with a hint of bitterness and a sweet finish. It is rich in antioxidants and has numerous health benefits.
There are several different grades of sencha, ranging from the highest quality, which is known as gyokuro (玉露), to the more common grades of fukamushi (深蒸し, deep steaming) and asamushi (浅蒸し, light steaming).
Farmers grow Gyokuro in shaded areas to increase the concentration of amino acids, giving it a sweeter, smoother flavor.
They steam Fukamushi and asamushi for different lengths of time, with fukamushi being steamed longer to produce a deeper color and richer flavor.
Traditionally, Sencha is enjoyed in Japan by brewing the leaves in a teapot or kyusu (a small Japanese teapot) with hot water at about 70-80°C (158-176°F) for 30-60 seconds. Subseuently, they pour the tea into small cups and serve it.
2. Matcha - Japanese Green Tea Powder
Farmers make Matcha (抹茶) by grinding the tea leaves into a fine powder, creating a type of powdered green tea. Outside Japan, Matcha is the most well-known Japanese tea, increased its popularity for its unique flavor and numerous health benefits. They make Matcha from shade-grown tea leaves, which they carefully select and grind using traditional stone mills.
Matcha is a distinctive, bright green color and has a rich, creamy flavor with a slightly bitter aftertaste. It is high in antioxidants and contains caffeine, a popular choice for those looking for a natural energy boost.
Traditionally, matcha is prepared by whisking the powder in a bowl with hot water using a bamboo whisk called a chasen. The resulting tea is frothy and creamy, with a smooth and rich, umami flavor. Matcha can also be used as an ingredient in cooking and baking recipes, such as in matcha lattes, ice cream, and desserts.
3. Genmaicha - Japanese Brown Rice Tea
Farmers mix roasted brown rice with Japanese green tea to create Genmaicha (玄米茶). It has a nutty and toasty flavor with a slightly sweet aroma.
Genmaicha was originally developed as a way to stretch the tea leaves during times of scarcity, but become a popular tea in its own right. The roasted brown rice in genmaicha gives it a unique flavor that is different from other Japanese green teas. Along with a slightly brownish color, earning a nickname "popcorn tea" for its resemblance to popcorn.
People traditionally brew Genmaicha by steeping the leaves in hot water at about 80°C (176°F) for 30-60 seconds.They can enjoy the tea on its own or pair it with food, such as sushi or other Japanese dishes. For those looking for a caffeine-free brew, there is also Genmaicha without green tea.
4. Hojicha - Japanese Roasted Green Tea
Hojicha is a roasted Japanese green tea that has a distinctive smoky flavor and aroma. Farmers make it from roasted stems and older leaves of the tea plant, producing a reddish-brown color and unique taste.
Low in caffeine compared to other Japanese green teas, It's a popular choice for those sensitive to caffeine or who enjoy evening tea.
People typically brew Hojicha using hotter water than other Japanese teas, at around 90°C (194°F) for 30-60 seconds. They can enjoy it on its own or pair it with savory dishes, such as grilled meats or vegetables.
5. Gyokuro - Shade-grown Japanese Green Tea
Farmers grow Gyokuro (玉露) a premium Japanese shade-grown green tea in shaded areas. This process increases the concentration of amino acids and gives it a sweeter, smoother flavor. They use the same tea leaves as sencha but is harvest them later and process differently.
They shade the tea leaves used to make gyokuro for several weeks before harvest. This process slows down their growth and increases the concentration of chlorophyll and amino acids. Then, they steam, roll, and dry the leaves like sencha, but handle processing more meticulously to preserve it's delicate flavor. Embodying the essence of Japanese tea culture.
Gyokuro has a distinctive umami flavor and a bright green color. It is one of the most expensive and sought-after Japanese teas due to its complex flavor and production process, as well as impressive health benefits.
Traditionally, people brew Gyokuro using lower water temperatures than other Japanese teas, at around 50-60°C (122-140°F) for 1-2 minutes. They can enjoy the tea on its own or pair it with delicate foods, such as sashimi or steamed seafood.
6. Kukicha / Boucha – Twig Green Tea
Farmers make Kukicha (茎茶) or bōcha (棒茶), known as "twig tea," from the stems and twigs of the tea plant. It has a mild, nutty flavor and a slightly sweet aroma.
They often blend Kukicha with other teas, such as sencha or gyokuro, to create a unique flavor profile. Kukicha' lower caffeine content compared to other Japanese green teas makes it a popular choice for those who want to enjoy a cup of tea without disrupting their sleep. Its high antioxidant levels have been shown to offer numerous health benefits.
Traditionally, people brew Kukicha using water that is around 80°C (176°F) for 30-60 seconds. They can be enjoy the tea on its own or pair it with light, delicate foods such as salads or vegetable dishes.
7. Sobacha - Buckwheat Tea
Farmers produce Sobacha, a type of Japanese herbal tea, by roasting buckwheat kernels, resulting in a brew with golden yellow color. It has a nutty, earthy flavor and is caffeine-free, making it a popular choice for those looking for a soothing and relaxing tea.
Sobacha is traditionally brewed by steeping the roasted buckwheat kernels in hot water for 3-5 minutes. The tea can be enjoyed on its own or paired with sweet desserts or savory dishes, such as roasted vegetables or grilled meats.
8. Kuromamecha - Black Soybean Tea
Farmers produce Kuromamecha, a type of Japanese herbal tea, by roasting black soybeans. It has a rich, nutty flavor and often used in traditional Japanese medicine to promote digestive health and regulate blood sugar levels.
Traditionally, people brew Kuromamecha by steeping the roasted black soybeans in hot water for 3-5 minutes. They can enjoy the tea on its own or pair it with light, savory foods such as rice dishes or soups.
9. Yuzu Cha - Yuzu Fruit Tea
Crafters make Yuzu Cha, a Japanese herbal tea, from the yuzu fruit, a citrus fruit similar to a lemon, giving it a tangy, citrusy flavor. Its high vitamin C content makes it a popular remedy for cold and flu symptoms.
Similar to other impressive and healthy caffeine-free teas, Yuzu tea is reputed to have calming properties, making it a dlightful choice for a relaxing evening tea.
Traditionally, people make Yuzu Cha by steeping dried yuzu slices in hot water for 3-5 minutes. They can enjoy the tea on its own or pair it with sweet desserts or savory dishes, such as grilled fish or chicken.
10. Bancha - Coarser “Every day” Tea
Bancha is a type of Japanese green tea uses the larger, coarser leaves of the tea plant. Farmers harvest it after the main sencha harvest. While sometimes regarded as a lower-quality tea, it remains popular in Japan due to its unique flavor and aroma.
People enjoy Bancha for its milder, less astringent flavor than sencha, often enjoyed as an everyday tea.
Traditionally, people brew Bancha using water that is around 80-90°C (176-194°F) for 30-60 seconds. They can enjoy the tea on its own or pair it with light, savory foods such as rice dishes or sushi.
Embrace the Essence of Japanese Tea Culture
Japanese green tea offers a diverse range of flavors and health benefits. Herbal teas such as Sobacha and Kuromamecha offer unique and soothing flavors, while Yuzu Cha provides a refreshing burst of citrus.
Whether enjoyed on their own or paired with food, Japanese teas offer a unique and delicious experience that is both healthy and enjoyable.
Embrace the essence of Japanese tea culture and indulge in the art of tea appreciation with our Guide to Japanese Teas.
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