About Japanese Teas [+]
Japanese teas are renowned worldwide for being both delicious and healthy. The country's history with tea goes back to the 12th century when tea drinking was first introduced to Japan from China by Buddhist monks. Praised for the excellent flavor and its benefits to health and wellbeing, tea soon became popular with court nobility and the samurai class. Soon enough, people formed the tradition of the tea ceremony. Eventually, tea became widely available to the masses, and farmers developed new types of tea with different preparation techniques. Today Japan is the country that produces the world-renowned matcha, delicious sencha, exquisite gyokuro, roasted-nutty genmaicha, and many other different kinds of green tea that make the Japanese tea-world unique from any other country.
The Different Types Of Japanese Loose Leaf Tea
Ryokucha — is the word we use to describe all Japanese green tea. Most teas from Japan are a variety of ryokucha. Other Japanese words to describe tea are ocha (tea) and Nihoncha (Japanese tea).
Matcha — is a traditional Japanese green tea powder. Farmers produce this tea using a stone mill to grind the shade-grown green tea leaves into a fine tea powder. Matcha is the quintessential part of the Zen-inspired, highly artistic Japanese tea ceremony, the cornerstone of the Japanese tea culture.
Sencha — is the most prevalent variety of Japanese green tea. Sencha is a lightly steamed green tea with a fresh and pleasantly grassy taste. Furthermore, people worldwide enjoy drinking sencha for its delicate sweetness and mild astringency, as well as its flowery-green aroma.
Sencha is the most widespread tea in Japan, taking 80% of all tea production. Today, we can find sencha in nearly every home in Japan, every office, restaurant, and vending machine! However, it wasn't always this way. For centuries Japanese people would drink matcha exclusively. However, it was an elite tea. Only the royalty could afford to drink it, or otherwise, the Buddhist monks who grew it. In the 18th century, people began drinking sencha, and it became a commoners tea, much-beloved ever since.
Genmaicha — this soothing tea is a blend of sencha with toasted brown rice. Thanks to the rice, the tea has a comforting nutty taste. In Japan, genmaicha is an ideal after-dinner tea, thanks to its light flavor and low caffeine content. Many years ago, people considered genmaicha a "poor man's tea" because people would add the roasted rice to stretch the once scarce tea leaves.
Gyokuro — is the top tea when it comes to green teas from Japan. Farmers make it exclusively with the first flush leaves. Furthermore, its particular processing results in a tea with a mild, sweet flavor, a distinctly fresh, flowery-green aroma, and a burst of umami. Tea farmers shade gyokuro green tea bushes from direct sunlight for 20 days before harvest. As a result, the tea bushes stacks up on theanine, which gives gyokuro green tea its delightful sweetness.
Shincha — is the year's first green tea harvest. Tea enthusiasts praise this tea for its fresh and lively flavor, naturally sweet finish, and smooth umami character. The season's most refined flavors reflect in the much anticipated first harvest. Shincha is available for a very short time every year. Fans of Japanese teas make sure to pre-order this tea before each year's harvest.
Shincha usually commands higher prices due to the limited availability of this tea in combination with its exquisite taste.
Hojicha — is a green tea that farmers produce by roasting tea (usually kukicha or bancha). The result is a comforting, mellow tea with no bitterness and a woody char taste. Hojicha is unique in its distinct reddish-brown color when brewed. Thanks to its low caffeine content, Hojicha makes a great after-dinner tea and is often given to small children. Enjoy drinking tea before bed? Hojicha is an excellent option for you!
Wakoucha — wakoucha is Japanese black tea. In Japan, people call western black tea koucha, while black tea that farmers grow and produce specifically in Japan is wakoucha. Indeed, it has a striking difference from western-style black tea. Wakoucha is more similar to Chinese black tea (hongcha). Wakoucha is light, smooth, sweet, a tad sour, and lacking any bitter notes. It often has a pleasant lingering floral taste with notes of warm spices. No more milk tea! We encourage you to drink Japanese black tea straight, without milk or sugar. Its naturally sweet taste will enthrall you!
Japanese Tea Brewing Methods
Hot tea — is the most common way of brewing Japanese teas. To brew the tea hot, we usually use a traditional Japanese tea kettle like a kyusu. A kyusu is a clay teapot with a side handle. The Japanese teacups are also different from those used in Gong Fu tea ceremonies. Japanese tea cups are bigger and bulkier, with a Wabi-Sabi feel to them. Popular cups for Japanese teas are yunomi teacups.
We brew most Japanese green tea at a low temperature of 165℉ / 75℃.
Iced — to make iced Japanese green tea, we brew the tea using hot water then cool it with a lot of ice. This is a great way to make many Japanese tea drinks like iced matcha, iced matcha latte, and matcha lemonade. Iced Japanese green tea is very popular in Japan and is sold in every vending machine and convenience store as a refreshing beverage.
Mizudashi — mizudashi is the Japanese word for cold brew. It is not only used for cold brew tea but also for coffee. When making mizudashi tea, we steep a high proportion of tea leaves in chilled water.
Mizudashi tea is the taste of tea in its purest form. When you brew the tea using cold water, you will get a mellow, sweet taste with plenty of umami. On the other hand, heat helps tea leaves release tannins, catechins, and caffeine, all of which influence the bitter notes in the tea.
Koridashi — koridashi is tea brewed with ice. To make koridashi green tea, we place tea leaves directly over ice and then wait for the ice to melt completely. While this process takes longer than Mizudashi, the ice is even better at extracting all those sweet tea notes. We particularly like to reserve the ice brewing method for the Japanese green tea king — gyokuro.
Japanese green teas are ideal for making cold brews. Since the leaves are much smaller than full-leaf Chinese teas, you can have a refreshing cold brew tea in less than an hour.
Does Tea Go Bad?
All teas eventually go stale. The thing is — Japanese green teas go stale the fastest of them all. Most tea enthusiasts will tell you to drink your Japanese green tea within a year without sacrificing taste or aroma. After that, the tea won't go bad. However, it will significantly lose its fresh taste and the tea health benefits.
People love Japanese green tea for its freshness. Especially the first harvest of the year, shincha, is often sold out before it even has a chance to hit the markets.
While we can buy certain tea varieties, like pu-erh, in bulk and store them for long periods, we encourage doing the complete opposite with Japanese green teas (and all green teas in general).
We recommend storing Japanese green tea in a vessel that is:
- not clear or made out of glass
- perfect for the amount of tea (to avoid any extra space and air)
Once they come in contact with variables like temperature, oxygen, humidity, and light, the tea leaves quickly lose their freshness.
We suggest keeping your unopened Japanese teas in the fridge. However, after opening, keep them in a cool, dark place outside of the refrigerator.
When taking a new tea package out of the fridge, it is best to allow some time to get back to average room temperature to avoid condensation. Unopened Japanese green tea kept in the refrigerator will stay fresh for about one year since the packaging date.
The top three rules for keeping your Japanese tea fresh, vibrant, and full of umami are:
- Refrigerate unopened Japanese green teas until ready to consume (up to 1 year)
- Keep them away from light, heat, odors, and moisture; in an airtight container
- Enjoy within three months
The Best Energizing Tea — Japanese Green Tea!
Many ask about the caffeine content of Japanese green tea. The truth is, many of these teas have a higher caffeine content compared to other tea types. This can be due to a variety of things. For example, farmers shade many Japanese green teas. Furthermore, they grow the tea bushes in soil that's rich in nitrogen. Both of these factors play a role in the caffeine content being higher.
Out of all Japanese teas, matcha has the highest caffeine content, primarily because matcha tea is a powder, so we consume the entire tea leaf when we drink it. The caffeine content of matcha is close to half of a cup of coffee. However, thanks to the L-theanine present in tea, the effect of Japanese teas is much smoother than from coffee. We become focused, creative, and well-energized without getting caffeine crashes or jitters. Indeed, Japanese green tea is an excellent energizing tea!