Japanese Tea Types

Tea holds great cultural significance in Japan and has been a part of the country’s traditions for centuries. Known as “Cha” in Japanese, tea was first introduced by the Chinese Empire during the Nara period in the 8th century. It was then cultivated in Zen temples, serving as a means of relaxation and meditation. Similarly, in China, tea held great cultural significance before becoming an iconic drink in Japan through the tea ceremony. The most famous tea in Japan is the unique and frothy matcha, which is now consumed at any time of day.

Discover Japanese Tea Types:

What are the different types of tea?

Japanese Tea Types

Tea is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture and has been for centuries, tea in Japan is grown in distinct regions and boasts unique flavors. With an annual production of 82,000 tons, Japanese tea outstrips Chinese production. However, only 3% of Japanese tea is exported, leaving much of the world unfamiliar with its diverse offerings. The western market has traditionally favored black tea, making it difficult for Japanese green tea to gain traction. Nonetheless, the popularity of Japanese culture has spurred a renewed interest in Japanese tea.

Japan’s love for tea is reflected in its 300,000 tea shops and impressive consumption rate of 910 grams per person per year. That’s equivalent to 455 cups of tea, or one and a half cups per day! Tea in Japan is categorized by color: green, white, and black. While the majority of production is green tea, black tea is also quite popular.

What are the best Japanese green teas?

Green Tea Japanese Tea Types

Matcha

Matcha is regarded as one of Japan’s finest green teas and is used in tea ceremonies and various tea-based pastries. Matcha is made from tencha leaves that are dried and ground into fine particles before being mixed with water. Originally from China, matcha was used as medicine before being introduced to Japan. Grinding 50 grams of matcha takes at least one hour. Matcha is typically consumed in the morning and afternoon.

Sencha

Sencha tea, on the other hand, is easy to consume and accounts for almost 80% of Japanese green tea consumption. Sencha is picked during the first harvest and the leaves are subjected to steam jets to stop oxidation before being dried and rolled. Unlike matcha, sencha does not require powder and can be consumed simply by infusing its leaves. Sencha is typically consumed at noon.

Oolongcha

Oolongcha is a Chinese tea that falls between green and black tea because its oxidation is incomplete. Also called blue tea, oolongcha is a good starting point for those who want to try green tea, as its taste is less distinctive. It is generally consumed in the evening.

Bancha is rich in minerals and is used for medicinal purposes such as repairing intestinal flora or treating stomach aches. It is made from the less tender, lower leaves that are less exposed to the sun, much like sencha. Bancha is acidic and is typically consumed in the evening.

Gyokuro, which means “jade dew,” is one of the most precious and noble Japanese teas. Its taste is sweet, subtle, and fresh due to its early harvest and its camouflaged exposure to the sun, which prevents bitterness from settling in the leaves. Gyokuro is typically consumed in the morning.

Kukicha is a blend of different Japanese green teas that is easily recognizable by the presence of stems during infusion. Its taste is fresh and light, making it a good choice for any time of the day. Kukicha is typically consumed in the morning and afternoon.

Hojicha is a blend of bancha, sencha, or toasted kukicha that is cooled, giving it a caramelized taste and a red color. It is the cheapest tea on the market, as it contains very little theine. It is often found in self-service in Japanese restaurants and is known for its digestive properties. Hojicha is typically consumed at noon.

Genmaicha green tea is mixed with puffed brown rice, giving it a sweet and nutty flavor. It is popular and is often served in Japanese restaurants. It was originally the drink of the working classes and has since become a part of everyday life.

There are several less well-known green teas, including aracha, tamaryokucha, kabusecha, fukamushicha, funmatsucha, tencha, mecha, konacha, and kamairicha. They each have distinctive flavors and properties that may appeal to some drinkers.

What is the difference between green tea and black tea?

Japanese Tea Types

Did you know that all types of teas, including black and green teas, come from the same type of shrub called the Camellia sinensis, or Chinese camellia? The difference lies in the manufacturing process and codes, which determine the tea’s taste and color.

Green tea is delicate and needs to be processed rapidly after picking to prevent oxidation, which can accelerate the aging process. This is undesirable because green tea is often marketed as an “antioxidant,” “rejuvenating,” “slimming,” and “toning” product. To preserve these properties, the tea is steamed at 50 degrees Celsius in circular vats before being rolled and dried.

Black tea, on the other hand, is intentionally oxidized by withering and rolling its leaves and then fermenting them at a controlled humidity level. Unlike green tea, black tea contains less antioxidants but more theaflavins, which aid digestion and reduce stress. This may explain why black tea is typically consumed in the afternoon while green tea is preferred in the morning.

What are the methods of making tea?

Japanese Tea Types

The tea-making process can vary depending on the desired color and taste, but all teas come from the same initial tea leaf, the Camellia sinensis plant. To ensure that the tea leaves retain their antioxidant properties, there are specific steps that must be followed.

The tea-making process consists of five essential steps, which are generally applied differently depending on the type of tea being produced. Firstly, the tea leaves are withered to soften and dry them. For black tea, the next step is rolling, which leads to fermentation of the leaves. To stop oxidation of the leaves, the crucial step of fixing is carried out before the leaves are dried. The tea leaves are then put into bags before the final step, during which the flavors are released and fermentation is completed. Finally, the tea is kept free of oxygen to prevent microorganisms from developing, ensuring that the taste remains fresh and vibrant.

Why do people drink so much tea in Japan?

In Japan, tea is the quintessential drink of choice. Similar to how Coke is a staple in the United States, tea is readily available on every table in Japan, often replacing water (without sugar, of course). Beverage dispensers offer an assortment of cold teas with various flavors and innovative designs. Tea is omnipresent in Japan, not only in beverages but also in food, particularly in desserts such as matcha mochi, matcha bubble tea, matcha cheesecake, and many more.

Japanese people hold tea in high regard for its exquisite taste and numerous health benefits, particularly Sencha tea. It not only provides a refreshing sensation but also contains several essential nutrients that are beneficial for health, such as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Given that Japan experiences cold winters and hot, humid summers, it is imperative to stay hydrated, making tea an ideal drink of choice.

What is the tea ceremony?

Matcha Japanese Tea Types

In Japan, depending on where you are, your tea can be prepared and consumed in a totally different way and be the subject of a real ceremony. As previously explained, tea was originally consumed mainly in Zen spaces, the tea ceremony being added as a traditional art inspired in part by Zen Buddhism.

How is the tea ceremony performed?

Japanese Tea Types

The ceremony is something very calm and zen to watch and the preparation can last about twenty minutes before tasting this sweet beverage of green tea. Green tea presented in powder form, often referred to as matcha tea. The preparation consists of beating the powder and hot water using a small bamboo utensil and transferring the different passages of the preparation into different elements until the finality of the preparation is reached and shared with its guests: this is called the tea path or chado in Japanese. Only an experienced practitioner can perform the tea ceremony and there are real certifications to obtain the certification.