Japanese Green Tea
Green tea, which was first introduced to Japan one thousand years ago, is the most consumed beverage in the country. It was initially only enjoyed by the religious and elite classes of society but as tea cultivation became more commonplace, an increasing number of the general population began drinking it too. It eventually became deeply ingrained within their culture as one can see in their tea ceremony.
Below you will find a list of the most popular green tea types consumed within Japan.
Aracha, also known as ‘unrefined’ or ‘crude tea’ is generally grown by small farmers who harvest the entire leaf – complete with leaf blades, hair, stem and other particles before getting processed. The processing procedure involves steaming, rolling and drying the leafs before being sold off to wholesale brokers and tea companies.
The buyer will then use his own method to sort, grade, size and blend the aracha leaves to produce his or her own brand of Japanese green tea. Pure aracha, without blending, can be recognized by its very dark green color and strong taste.
Gyokuro, which translates to ‘jade dew’, is one of the highest grades in the world; so much so that its considered by many to be the apex of Japanese green tea. It’s shaded for 20 days before harvest which increases its caffeine and amino acid production. It’s naturally sweet tasting, is one of the most expensive varieties in Japan and follows a different brewing method than other types of green tea. Learn how to brew it perfectly at o-cha.com.
Hojicha is a popular health tea among the young and elderly alike thanks to its mildness, health benefits and low caffeine content. At first glance, it looks like a black tea but its composed of various green teas which have been blended together. The actual brewing process was developed in Kyoto during the 1920’s and involves heating the leaves to a scorching 200 ºC, followed by a rapid cooling process. This particular brewing method ensures a mild taste because it drastically lowers the caffeine and catechin levels – both which contribute greatly to a bitter and astringent taste.
Konacha are small leftover leafs from the filtering process used in the production of sencha and gyokuro. It can therefore be referred to as an economical high quality Japanese green tea. Konacha is known for its dark green color, strong taste and is often a popular ingredient in a variety of Japanese dishes. It’s also one of the most common teas served at sushi restaurants.
A Japanese Buddhist monk bought matcha tea from China to Japan and helped popularize it. It wouldn’t be until the 16th century for this tea to be deeply ingrained in Japanese culture when it became used for traditional tea ceremonies. Matcha is made from high quality tencha leaves which are shaded for a period of one month before harvest. Upon harvesting they are steamed and dried out before being flattened and having the stems and veins removed. The leaves are turned into a very fine powder by undergoing a rather lengthy milling process. Interestingly, it takes about an hour to produce a mere 40 grams.
It’s renowned for its immense health benefits thanks to its richness in vitamins and L-theanine. It’s also naturally contains caffeine.
Mecha is regarded as a type of very high quality sencha tea. The actual name mecha translates to ‘buds and tips’ because the leaves are harvested while they are still in their infancy stages. You are most likely to come across mecha in sushi restaurants across Japan because its bitter aftertaste is ideal for cleansing your palate.
Many people are under the impression that matcha is the most commonly consumed tea in Japan but the title goes to sencha. As a matter of fact, it makes up a staggering 80% of all tea produced and consumed within the borders of Japan. The flavor of sencha varies from region to region and also depends on the season. The very first harvest of the year is known as shincha (‘new tea’) and is regarded by many as the best tasting. Water temperature also plays an important role in the taste. For example, the hotter the water the more dry and astringent the taste while the colder the water the more mellow it is.
Another variety of sencha is kabusecha. What sets kabusecha apart is that its grown in the shade to naturally increase amino acid production resulting in a distinctive mild taste.
Tamaryokucha, which translates to ‘coiled tea’ has a beautiful golden color and is grown on Kyushu island. This high grade Japanese green tea has a refreshing berry and citrus aroma and tastes similar to berries and almonds. Tamaryokucha is not really known outside of Japan and is rarely enjoyed outside of Kyushu island. Some choose to pan fry the leaves as a processing method but most prefer steaming because its better for preserving the antioxidants and vitamins.