Green tea is the primary type of tea that is produced and consumed in Japan. Japanese green teas are generally classified according to their type of cultivation, processing method and regional origin.
Gyokuro – is regarded as the highest grade of Japanese green tea. It is made only with the first flush leaf (see ‘first flush’) and its special processing results in a tea with a mild, sweet flavor and with fresh, flowery-green aroma. Gyokuro tea bushes are shaded from direct sunlight for 20 days prior to harvesting. This makes the tea plant stack on theanine, which gives Gyokuro leaves their sweetness.
Shincha – the year’s very first harvest of green tea, celebrated for its fresh and lively flavor, naturally sweet finish and smooth umami character. Accessible for only a very short period of time, the much anticipated first harvest captures the season’s most refined flavors.
In Japanese, ‘shin’ means new and ‘cha’ means tea. Shincha harvest is in early April, when young green tea leaves contain naturally higher concentrations of nutrients and vibrant flavors, the result of wintertime dormancy.
It’s limited availability and exquisite taste usually commands higher prices.
Sencha – is the most common variety of Japanese green tea. Sencha can be translated as "roasted tea". It comes from an older style of processing Japanese green tea that was influenced by Chinese tea processing methods. Today, most sencha is steamed instead of pan-roasted.
Sencha is acclaimed for its delicate sweetness, mild astringency and flowery-green aroma. The quality of sencha will vary depending on origin, time of harvest and leaf processing techniques.
Tencha – is harvested between May and June, and is grown almost exclusively to make matcha. Tencha tea bushes are shaded for 3–5 weeks prior to harvest, which blocks the tea bushes from the sun's energy. Shading forces the tea bush to draw up nutrients stored in its roots and grow wide, thin, tender tea leaves in a struggle to gather more light. It results in boosted levels of natural plant sugars, amino acids and caffeine, along with decreased levels of catechins, giving high-quality matcha its distinctively sweet, umami-rich flavor with a creamy texture and low bitterness.
After being harvested the tencha leaves are milled. The speed at which tencha is being stone-grounded plays an important role in the flavor and color of the resulting matcha powder. Slower grinding speed reduces the friction and heat applied to the tencha leaf, helping preserve its vivid green color and fresh flavor, whereas faster-grinding speed can "toast" the tencha leaf which causes the bright color to fade to a greenish-yellow.
Matcha – is a traditional Japanese green tea powder produced by stone-milling a shade-grown green tea called tencha into a fine powder. The quality of matcha greatly depends on the tea bush cultivar, shading technique, and picking standard used to produce tencha. The highest quality matchas are milled using traditional granite stone wheels. Stone-milling tencha into matcha results in a richer, smoother, creamier matcha than the more common ball-milling technique.
Matcha is unique among teas in that when we drink matcha, we consume the fresh green tea leaf itself.
Bancha – means “common tea” and refers to a lower grade of Japanese green tea, sencha, that is harvested during the summer and autumn. Bancha usually consists of larger leaves and upper stems, which are discarded during the production of sencha. Compared to sencha, bancha is less aromatic and more astringent. Nonetheless, bancha is much appreciated in Japan for its more robust flavor.
Kukicha – is known as twig tea. Kukicha consists of a blend of leaves with the stems and stalks that are normally discarded during the production of gyokuro and sencha. The flavor of Kukicha is light and refreshing with a mild sweetness and its aroma is fresh and vegetal.
Hojicha – is produced by roasting bancha or kukicha. The result is tea with no bitterness and a refreshing roast taste. There is light as well as more deeply roasted Hojicha. Unlike other Japanese teas, Hojicha has a distinct reddish-brown color when brewed. Lower in caffeine, Hojicha makes a great after-dinner tea.
Genmaicha – is a blend of sencha with well-toasted brown rice (genmai). The rice adds a slightly nutty taste. The mild flavor of genmaicha and its low caffeine content make it an ideal after-dinner tea.
The land on which tea is grown is, of course, one of the most important components for quality tea cultivation. It is the womb of the tea.
Since the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery of Japan issued the Positive System of Agricultural Chemicals in 2006, Japanese farmers have been limited to selective kinds, quantity, and timing of chemicals. They’re even compelled to keep detailed records of their usage. This has resulted in Japan’s crops as having one of the lowest levels of residual agricultural chemicals anywhere in the world!
In the present day, this is very important to us, as it goes for many “big brand” teas, we simply cannot have the knowledge of how it was sourced, which chemicals were used and so on. For many of us, tea is but the equivalent of water. We should always be careful not to put any harmful chemicals in our body by not knowing the source of the tea that we drink.
In order to protect the tea from insects, while not using chemicals to treat the plants, farmers must work by hand, checking the bushes in some cases every day to bring us a top quality product. Often times no machinery is used at all. This is the dedication of the tea farmers across the country.
When drinking any one of our Japanese green teas be ready to get transported into the mountains of Japan. Experience the passion of the farmers, tending to their crops with great care to ensure the most extraordinary umami.
With tea, just like with wine, it is important to know where it was grown, as each specific area is known for its unique environmental conditions that affect tea in positive ways. Below are some of the most important tea producing regions of Japan.
JAPAN'S REGIONS OF TEA PRODUCTION:
Shizuoka is the largest tea producing region in Japan, where over 40% of Japan's tea is being produced. Most of the tea coming from Shizuoka is sencha.
Kagoshima is located on the southern island of Kyushu and is the second largest production area after Shizuoka. The region produces the broadest variety of green teas, with a taste that is full of strength and richness. The climate in Kagoshima is regarded as ideal for tea: warm & humid most of the year. This allows five harvests to be collected from early April until mid-October.
The Uji region in Kyoto prefecture is said to be the origin of Japanese tea and is a historical production area. Uji produces high-quality Gyokuro, matcha, and sencha.
Yame is a famous production area for Gyokuro and produces the largest amount of quality Gyokuro in Japan. The area enjoys well-drained soil and cool temperatures, which produce high-quality tea. The taste profile coming from Fukuoka is full of aroma, rich, and sweet.
Kumamoto is quite mountainous and is well-known for its light, aromatic and delicately flavored sencha.
The town of Ureshino is known for its quality sencha, but is particularly famous for its Kamairi-cha. Kamairi tea is not steamed like most Japanese teas; instead, it is roasted and rolled, using production methods similar to Chinese green tea.It has a less astringent, refreshing, and mild taste.