“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” - C.S. Lewis
You’d be surprised at just how much tea is consumed in Japan.
4.1 million tonnes of tea are produced yearly and China is the main producer. The Japanese tend to consume everything they make. Only 3% of their production is exported. There are dozens of Japanese tea varieties with the main differences occurring during manufacturing and how they’re consumed.
Let’s have a look at the different types of tea in Japan.
Sencha: The Most Common Tea in Japan
Sencha is a green tea that accounts for two-thirds of production in Japan. Leaves are steamed for a minute to stop them oxidising during the drying process. It’s hard to come by outside of Japan and most sencha produced is consumed in Japan.
It’s green and has a slightly bitter taste. It needs to be infused at 80ºC minimum. If you want a stronger taste, you can increase the temperature. It only takes between a minute and 90 seconds to infuse.
There are different levels of quality and the first harvest tends to be of the highest quality and most sought after. This is known as sencha.
Did you know that green tea is a non-oxidised tea?
Learn more about attending a Japanese tea ceremony.
Bancha: Japan’s Second Tea
Bancha is a lower-quality tea whose production is very similar to that of sencha. Bancha is from tougher leaves which are usually harvested from the second flush. As a result, it’s cheaper than sencha.
There are several different types of bancha:
- Hakuta bancha and kyobancha: The leaves are steamed and then sun-dried. This results in large brown leaves.
- Kageboshi bancha: The entire plant is harvested and then hung out to dry in the shade.
- Kancha: This is the bancha harvested in winter.
- Hojicha: The Cheapest Japanese Tea
Invented in Kyoto in the 1920s, this is a green tea that comes from bancha, sencha, or kukicha. It’s roasted at 200ºC before being rapidly cooled. Its leaves take on a red colour and it has caramel flavours.
It barely contains any caffeine and can even be given to children despite its strong taste. It’s served in Japanese restaurants and aids digestion.
Did you know that differences in tea comes from the manufacturing process and harvest not the plant?
Discover what happens in a Japanese tea ceremony.
Gyokuro: Japanese Luxury Tea
The gyokuro, literally “jade dew”, is one of the most luxurious teas in Japan. 20 days before the harvest, the plants (usually yabukita) are put into the shade under a komo to protect them from the sun. The chlorophyll and flavours concentrate in the softest leaves. Afterwards, the process is the same for sencha and bancha tea. The leaves are steamed and then dried. The leaves are then rolled into small pine-coloured needles.
The result is a tea that’s less bitter as there’s less catechin. This production method originated 2 centuries ago in the Uji region while nowadays, gyokuro is cultivated near Kyoto, Nagoya, Okabe, and Yame.
The tea can be infused at a lower temperate (50-55ºC) for two minutes maximum or 60ºC for a minute. It has a very pronounced taste and contains a lot of caffeine. Drink it slowly on account of how strong the taste is.
Matcha: The Tea Used in the Japanese Tea Ceremony
Matcha is made from tencha, which is why you’ll find the two names. The leaves for this tea often come from gyokuro. The unrolled tencha is turned into a powder using a machine that takes up to an hour to make just 50g of matcha.
Matcha originates in China where the tea was used as a medicine once turned into a powder. Nowadays, it’s often used in Japanese tea ceremonies (Chanoyu). You don’t need to infuse matcha as you can just pour 85ºC water over it and whisk it for 30 seconds to create a foam. Matcha is also used in baking.
Learn about the history of the Japanese tea ceremony.
Genmaicha: A Mix of Tea and Roast Popped Rice
Genmaicha is often served in restaurants. This is sencha, bancha, or even gyokuro that’s mixed with puffed rice. In some cases, matcha will be added to create an even more original blend. There’s a very particular taste and the flavours from the tea mix with the flavours from the rice to create notes of dried and roasted fruit. It’s brewed in water at 80-85ºC for between 3-5 minutes.
Tamaryokucha: Fruity Japanese Tea
Other types of green tea use the ancient Chinese method of steaming the leaves just after harvest. Tamaryokucha uses the current Chinese method of drying the leaves out. The result is a fruity and flowery flavour which is unlike the usual flavours you find in Japanese teas.
Other Types of Japanese Tea
Tea lovers will have a great time in Japan! There are so many varieties of tea that you could spend your entire trip trying them. Forget about flavoured teas like Earl Grey and Darjeeling and enjoy Japanese flavours tea:
- Aracha: The term means “unrefined”. The production process is the same but omits the sorting process. This tea is sold in bulk where a third party will often charge to sort or process it. Several teas can be made from these leaves.
- Fukamushicha: This is more a production method than a type of tea. All teas can be fukamushi. The leaves spend between 1 and 2 minutes being steamed. The result is a brittle tea that can dissolve in water.
- Funmatsucha: This is a process that’s similar to matcha but at a much lower quality.
- Kabusecha: Much like gyokuro, the leaves are covered before harvest but only for between 10 and 15 days. The result is a tea that’s halfway between the flavour of gyokuro and sencha. It’s quite a rare variety that only accounts for 4% of Japanese production.
- Kamairicha: Here the leaves aren’t steamed but rather cooked at 45ºC.
- Kocha: From black tea, the leaves are oxidised a lot.
- Konacha: This is made from the dust after processing gyokuro and sencha. It’s a strong-flavoured tea powder.
- Kukicha: This is a tea made from stems, stalks, and twigs. It’s refreshing with a nutty and creamy sweet flavour.
- Mecha: This is made from the early leaf buds.
- Sanpincha: This is a jasmine tea that’s consumed a lot in Okinawa.
The Japanese are also fans of oolong tea that’s harvested in Taiwan and China. It’s a lightly oxidised tea that’s been steamed. Similarly, you can also find pu’er tea which is an affordable dark tea from China.
So which Japanese tea will you try?
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