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Green Tea, Health, Tea Culture  |  8.19.2021  |  By Senbird Tea

Ultimate Guide to Japanese Green Tea


Green tea is one of the most popular teas among tea drinkers. Originating from China as a key component of traditional medicine, green tea has been widely recognized for its health benefits and enjoyed for its natural energy boost and refreshing, delicious taste. Now green tea is one of the most commonly consumed beverages in the world, especially in Japan. 

Green tea history in Japan

For the most part, Sencha green tea is the most popular tea in Japan that is available in nearly every restaurant, store, vending machine, and in most homes. However, Japan’s love for green tea started with matcha green tea powder, which was introduced during the Kamakura period (1185-1333) and consumed by the upper class during Japanese matcha tea ceremonies, known as Chanoyu (茶の湯) or Chado (茶道). Today, Japan has become the second-largest green tea producing country, known for producing some of the most unique and highest quality green tea. 

freshly picked tea leaves from the tea farms in shizuoka japan on a sunny day

Discover how green tea is made, the health benefits, the varieties of flavors from Japan, and how to brew the perfect cup. Learn all about Japanese green tea with our ultimate guide:

What is green tea? 

tea farmer inspecting quality of fresh fukamushicha sencha green tea leaves

Green tea uses the leaves of the tea plant, Camellia Sinensis. Additionally, the leaves from this plant make other teas as well, including black tea, oolong tea, pu-erh, and white tea. These are called “true teas” since they are the only types of tea using the actual leaves of the tea plant. Other types of tea often use stems, flowers, roots, and leaves of other botanicals and plants, creating blends or herbal teas that vary in flavor, aroma, texture, and benefits. 

How is green tea made? 

shizuoka tea farmers working in the tea fields to pick ichibancha

Due to the climate and geographical conditions, the top regions in Japan for producing high-quality green tea are Shizuoka, Kagoshima, Mie, and Kyoto. In particular, most of Japan’s expensive premium teas are still from Uji, Kyoto. But Shizuoka Prefecture, home to Mount Fuji, is still the largest tea-producing area, which accounts for 40% of all of Japan’s sencha production.

To make the classic Japanese green tea, the tea leaves are first harvested from the Camellia Sinensis plant, then steamed to prevent further oxidation and fermentation. After all, this ensures that the tea leaves retain their green color, nutrients, and fresh flavor. After steaming, the tea leaves go through cooling to remove excess water, followed by a first rolling and drying using strong pressure from hot air. Lastly, the tea leaves are pressed and rolled with more heat until it takes on a thin needle-like shape, ending with drying. 

What does green tea taste like? 

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Depending on the origin and production process, the taste of green tea is often described as vegetal, grassy, and mild. In fact, Japanese green tea is famous for its wide variety and range in astringency and bitterness. Generally, most green teas brew a light yellow to pale green color but depending on the variety of the green tea, it can brew a deep emerald green to light brown color. However, matcha green tea powder is distinct in color, taste, and texture. High-quality matcha brews an opaque bright and vibrant green hue and is known for its rich and bitter umami taste.

What are the health benefits of green tea?

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In general, Green tea is popular for its remarkable health benefits. Coupled with numerous studies, research claims that regular green tea consumption with healthy exercising and eating habits support a longer life expectancy. Research finds that green tea improves blood flow, lowers cholesterol, improves brain function, lowers the risk of heart disease, and more. Healthy compounds found in green tea include polyphenols, which reduce inflammation, catechins called EGCG, which prevent cell damage, and amino acid, l-theanine, which aids in brain function.

In addition, not only is green tea rich in antioxidants, nutrients, and minerals, but other general health benefits associated with green tea also include:

  • Anti-inflammatory properties
  • Anti-bacterial properties
  • Anti-aging properties
  • Protect against cancer
  • Prevention of neurodegenerative diseases
  • Prevention of virus infections
  • Aid in weight-loss
  • Prevention of tooth decay

Read more about the health benefits of each variety of Japanese green tea below:

How much caffeine is in green tea?

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Ultimately, the caffeine level varies depending on the type of green tea, but overall one serving of loose leaf green tea or matcha (30-80mg) is less caffeinated than a cup of coffee (95-165 mg of caffeine). On the other hand, Gyokuro shade-grown green tea has nearly double the caffeine content of a cup of regular coffee. The natural caffeine in green tea is a powerful stimulant for mental clarity to keep you alert and focused. Coupled with the amino acid, l-theanine which boosts dopamine and alpha wave production in the brain, research shows that green tea is a particularly powerful brain booster with anti-anxiety effects, minimizing the jitteriness that may occur from drinking coffee. Many green tea drinkers report more stable energy and productivity levels, compared with coffee. 

Read more: 

What are the types of green tea?

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Sencha – Classic green tea

Sencha is the most common classic green tea with a bright green color. Green tea is now an important part of Japanese culture, where it is present in almost every home, restaurant, or office. With a moderate amount of caffeine, a cup of hot or cold sencha is perfect to start your day with or to enjoy during or after meals to cleanse your palate. 

Fukamushi Sencha – Deep steamed green tea

Fukamushicha or Fukamushi (深蒸し) sencha is a deep steamed green tea, the signature style of green tea in Shizuoka. In other words, while typical sencha is steamed for 60 seconds, fukamushicha is steamed for longer, usually 90-120 seconds. As a result, the tea leaves break down into smaller pieces with some fine powder, brewing a dark vibrant green hue with a deep, rich taste with no astringency. 

Kukicha / Boucha – Twig green tea

Kukicha (茎茶) or bōcha (棒茶) is a Japanese tea blend of stems, stalks, and twigs and tea leaves that come from the remaining production of sencha or matcha. In general, kukicha has a mild nutty and subtly sweet flavor and is low in caffeine. 

Genmaicha – Brown rice green tea

Genmaicha (玄米茶) is a Japanese tea blend made from mixing green tea leaves with roasted brown rice. Genmaicha is often made with sencha or bancha green tea and roasted rice. Some blends may mix in matcha green tea for a boost in flavor, nutrients, and color, known as matcha iri genmaicha (抹茶入り玄米茶). This mild green tea is popular for its toasty flavor and fragrant rice aroma from the popped roasted brown rice, which mellows out any astringency or bitterness from the green tea. 

Hojicha – Roasted green tea

Hojicha (ほうじ茶) or houjicha is a roasted green tea, made by slowly roasting dried green tea leaves, stems, stalks, or twigs. As a result, the high heat roasting process changes the leaf color from green to reddish-brown, which results in a toasty green tea that is low in caffeine. Generally, hojicha flavor ranges from toasty, nutty, and earthy to lightly sweet and caramel undertones. Hojicha powder is also popular since preparation is simply whisking into water. 

Gyokuro – Shade-grown green tea

Gyokuro (玉露) is a rare, delicate, and premium quality green that is grown in the shade. Gyokuro translates to “jade dew”, named after the pale green liquor that is buttery smooth with a delicate sweetness. Each yearly harvest yields small quantities of this fragrant high-quality green tea. The shading process oGyokuro tea leaves increases the theanine, caffeine, chlorophyll, and nutrients in the tea leaves. In fact, this results in an energizing green tea that is naturally sweeter, grassier, and rich in umami. 

Read more: Why Is Gyokuro Green Tea So Expensive?

Matcha – Green tea powder

Matcha (抹茶) is a finely ground green tea powder from tencha tea leaves grown in the shade for three to four weeks. Since matcha uses shade-grown tea leaves, it is rich in amino acid theanine and naturally high in caffeine. Traditional Japanese tea ceremonies serve matcha green tea and focus on the meditative preparation, serving, and drinking of matcha. “Ceremonial grade” indicates that the matcha powder is of a high enough quality for the tea ceremony practice. Nowadays, matcha is in desserts such as mochi and baked goods, food such as soba noodles and ice cream, and popular drinks such as matcha lattes and cocktails. Matcha is popular for its rich consistency and grassy umami taste. 

Read more: 

How to brew loose leaf green tea?

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Since green tea is delicate, most varieties taste best when steeped for one minute or less. In particular, over-steeping or steeping too hot results in a bitter and astringent brew. Indeed, to brew a perfect cup of loose leaf green tea, you’ll need a teapot or fine mesh tea strainer. Now, most tea varieties are conveniently available in tea bags too. Just look for tea shops that fill the teabags with whole leaf tea. At Senbird, we use sustainable and eco-friendly biodegradable corn fiber tea bags filled with organic whole leaf tea from Japanese tea farms.

We recommend using a traditional Japanese kyusu teapot since they are designed for green tea. The shape of a kyusu teapot provides enough room for the delicately rolled green tea leaves to expand, releasing more flavor and nutrients into every cup. 

How to brew Sencha – Classic green tea

  • Color – Light yellowish-green
  • Flavor – Fresh vegetal, aromatic, and mildly sweet
  • Brew time – 45 seconds to 1 minute
  • Brew Temperature – Tempered hot water (not boiling) at 70-80 °C (158-176 °F)
  • Tea Leaves Amount: 1 teaspoon per cup

Read more: How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Sencha Green Tea

How to brew Genmaicha – Brown rice green tea

  • Color – Light yellowish-green
  • Flavor – Toasty, vegetal, and mildly sweet with rice aroma
  • Brew time – 1 to 1.5 minutes
  • Brew Temperature – Tempered hot water at 82°C (180°F)
  • Tea Leaves Amount: 1 teaspoon per cup

How to brew Hojicha – Roasted green tea

  • Color – Golden brown to dark brown
  • Flavor – Roasty, earthy, toasty aroma
  • Brew time – 1 to 1.5 minutes
  • Brew Temperature – Boiling water at 95°C (180°F)
  • Tea Leaves Amount: 1 tablespoon per cup

How to brew Gyokuro – Shade-grown green tea

  • Color – Pale green to bright jade green
  • Flavor – Delicate, grassy, smooth umami
  • Brew time – 2 to 3 minutes
  • Brew Temperature – Tempered warm water at 50°C to 60°C (122°F to 140 °F)
  • Tea Leaves Amount: 1 teaspoon per cup

Read more: How to Make Kooridashi Ice Brewed Gyokuro

How to brew Matcha – Green tea powder

  • Color – Emerald green to vibrant green
  • Flavor – Rich grassy, umami
  • Brew time – 1 to 1.5 minutes
  • Brew Temperature – Tempered hot water (not boiling): 80 °C (176 °F)
  • Tea Amount: 1 teaspoon (3g) per serving 

Read more: 3 Ways to Make Matcha Without a Whisk

Overall, you can brew all loose leaf green tea up to three times. Sip slowly and enjoy the subtle changes in texture and flavor in each steep. Do you want to enjoy your green tea iced or as a cold brew? Learn more in our guide to cold brew and iced Japanese teas. For more detailed instructions on how to brew each variety, learn more about the types of Japanese tea here

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Green Tea Gift Box
グリーンティーギフトボックス
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Taste a selection of our best selling Japanese green teas in one box. This organic tea box is especially perfect as a gift for any tea lover or for sampling different Japanese tea flavors. Each gift box includes three of our signature tea tins, including Sencha, Hojicha and Genmaicha.

Our mission at Senbird is to you high-quality organic green tea and herbal tea from local tea farms in Japan. We hope you experience a moment in every cup. 

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