Most people who are into tea and especially those who are into Japanese culture (or at least those who have been to a Japanese restaurant) will most likely know of the most popular types of green teas consumed in Japan: sencha, genmaicha, gyokuro, and matcha.
These are but only the most commonly consumed teas which you might find in most places you visit, both in Japan and abroad. Whether you are planning a trip to Japan or just wish to learn more about the teas produced in Japan, there are indeed many more tea types to discover!
The Main Types of Japanese Tea:
Ryokucha — this is simply the word for green tea used in Japan. Most Japanese teas are a variation of ryokucha. Other words used can be ocha (tea) and Nihoncha (Japanese tea).
Genmaicha – this is a blend of sencha with toasted brown rice. The rice adds a very pleasing nutty taste. The light flavor and low caffeine content make it an ideal after-dinner tea. Many years ago Genmaicha used to be considered a “poor man’s tea” as the rice was initially added to stretch the use of the scarce tea leaves.
Gyokuro – this tea is regarded as the highest grade of Japanese green tea. Made only with the first flush leaves, its particular processing results in a tea with a mild, sweet flavor and distinct fresh, flowery-green aroma. Gyokuro bushes are shaded from direct sunlight for 20 days before harvest. As a result, the tea plant stacks up on theanine, giving Gyokuro leaves their delightful sweetness.
Shincha – the year’s first green tea harvest. This tea is praised for its fresh and lively flavor, naturally sweet finish, and smooth umami character. Available for a very short period of time, the much anticipated first harvest captures the season’s most refined flavors.
The limited availability of this tea in combination with its exquisite taste usually command higher prices.
Sencha – this is the most common variety of Japanese green tea. Translated as "roasted tea", this term refers to an old style of Japanese green tea processing that was once influenced by Chinese tea processing methods. Nowadays, most sencha is steamed instead of being pan-roasted.
Sencha is favored for its delicate sweetness and mild astringency. As well as its flowery-green aroma. Sencha's quality varies depending on origin, time of harvest and leaf processing techniques.
It is also the most wide-spread tea in Japan, taking 70% of all tea production.
Matcha – a traditional Japanese green tea powder. This tea is produced by stone-milling shade-grown green tea into a fine powder. Matcha is the masterpiece of the Zen-inspired, highly artistic Japanese tea ceremony. The cornerstone of the Japanese tea culture. Lately, matcha has also gained popularity in confectionaries, both in Japan and abroad.
Other Types of Teas Grown and Consumed in Japan:
- Aracha — unprocessed green tea using the entire tea leaf.
- 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.
- Aki Bancha (Fall Bancha) — this bancha is the last flush of the year (last harvest).
- Hachijuhachiya Sencha — 88th Day Sencha. This type of sencha is usually harvested on the 88th day of the traditional Japanese calendar, which falls around May 2nd. Following a long-standing tradition of many decades, sencha harvested on this day is considered auspicious and brings good luck and good health. 8 is a lucky number in Japan and the 88th day represents the start of the Spring harvest.
- Hojicha – Japanese green tea that is produced by roasting bancha or kukicha. The result is a tea with no bitterness and a woody char taste. There can be both lighter and 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 and is often given to small children.
- Kabusecha — this tea variety is processed in the same way as gyokuro, although the quality is a little lower. Unlike gyokuro, the tea bushes are shaded from the sun using a straw screen only for a few days.
- Kamairicha — this tea is pan-fried using a traditional technique, while most Japanese teas are steamed. It is also distinctly sweeter.
Konacha — the lowest grade of Japanese teas, also the cheapest.
Konacha, sometimes also referred to as “sushi restaurant tea”, the term is quite self-explanatory. Konacha is essentially tea dust from sencha and gyokuro processing. It looks quite similar to matcha but should not be mistaken for it!
- Kukicha — twig tea. Kukicha is a blend of leaves, stems, and stalks that are typically discarded during the production of gyokuro and sencha. The flavor of green kukicha is light and refreshing with a mild sweetness, and its aroma is fresh and vegetal. Roasted kukicha, on the other hand, has a distinct calming and nutty flavor.
- Mecha — a rolled green tea made from early spring buds and leaves. The grades can vary from high to low.
- Tamaryokucha — a tea that is most popular in Kyushu. Its taste is distinctly citrusy, fruity, tangy, and grassy.
- Ujicha — green tea produced specifically in the Uji area of Kyoto. This area has a long-standing history of tea production dating back hundreds of years. Up until the Meiji era, tea was transported in a ceremonial matter from Uji to Edo (present-day Tokyo). Nowadays many enthusiasts travel to Uji to feel the history and get a taste of the famed tea. Walking around Uji, the whole town has the pleasantly sweet smell of tea.
- Yamecha — a tea produced in Fukuoka Prefecture and regarded for its high quality. Yamecha accounts for 45% of all gyokuro production in Japan.
Don't forget to check in this week for part 2!
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