Two of the leading green tea producers globally are China and Japan. The Chinese introduced tea to Japan in the seventh century, and since then, tea has become a significant part of Japanese culture and traditions.
Over the centuries, the Japanese developed their ways of producing and preparing the tea, which led to creating two sub-categories of green tea; Chinese and Japanese. In my previous post about tea, I mentioned the different types of tea and how Chinese teas, in general, are made.
The Japanese green teas tend to be more mild and floral as the leaves are dried through a steaming process, which causes green tea to have mildly floral and umami flavors with hints of seaweed, grass, and herbs notes.
Some of the most well-known types are Sencha, Matcha, and Gyokuro. With their specific flavors and textures, they became appreciated worldwide, and currently, Japan is the number two green tea exporter in the world, after China, with approx. $67 million US dollars in exports in 20191.
Japanese green tea and some of its categories.
Almost 80% of tea harvested in Japan is used for Sencha tea. The plant is typically cultivated in the southern parts of Japan, predominantly in the Shizuoka, Kyushu, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima provinces. It is the most popular tea type in Japan and usually is enjoyed during and after meals.
Japan uses many different cultivars of the plant Camellia sinensis; the cultivars have different characteristics and flavor profiles. The most popular of them is Yabukita, used for most green tea production.
Another important factor to consider is the soil conditions used for growing tea. Ideally, the soil should be well-draining, have good aeration and moisture retention, and allow enough space for the roots to grow.
The tea leaves are harvested only young new leaves between late April and early May. After that, they are withered and dried naturally. The leaves do not undergo any process of oxidation, which is similar to the Chinese way of making green tea, but with one significant difference.
The Chinese pan-fire the leaves to prevent oxidation. The Japanese primarily use the steaming process – 15 sec to about 2 minutes, resulting in different flavor profiles, with more floral, seaweed, grass, and umami aromas.
For instance, a lightly steamed Sencha – known as asamushi – is usually pale in color and has a light, delicate taste. Fukamushi, deep steamed Sencha, 1 to 2 minutes, often has a richer flavor and color.
After the leaves are steamed, they are rolled into fine needle shapes, which is typical for Japanese teas2.
Sencha serving method
The preferred way to serve Sencha is by using boiling water.
We need a cup(s) and empty teapot – kyusu, pour the water a few times back and forth between them, so ideally, the temperature can drop to 70°C to 80°C (162F – 180F). The reason for that is that it makes the water temperature more stable, lowers the temperature, brings more oxygen into the water, and warms the brewing and drinking vessels as well – that will allow them to maintain the suggested brewing and serving temperatures.
After the teacup and the water reached the right temperature, add the tea to the teapot, the suggested amount per 100 ml water is 1 tablespoon.
Cover it with hot water.
Brewing time – Deep steamed Sencha requires shorter brewing time – 0.40 sec – 1.20 min., and lightly steamed – 1.00 – 1.30 minutes.
Sencha can be re-steeped 3-5 times, for the 3rd time or more, increase the brewing time between 3-5 minutes, and increase the water temperature by 5-10 degrees.
Stain, pour, and enjoy!
Hohin method of brewing green tea.
Types of Sencha teas
Sencha teas are categorized based on origin and time of harvest, and all of them are different in some way, but probably the one that stands on its own because of the unique preparation and brewing; it is the well-known matcha tea.
Matcha is an unoxidized green tea with earthy, savory aromas and a distinct umami flavor. It is a sub-category of green tea. It differs in the unique way of cultivating – high-grade matcha is grown in almost complete darkness, manufacturing, and preparation.
Matcha grows only in four specific geographic regions in Japan, Uji, Fukuoka, Nishio, and Shizuoka.
Specifically, the matcha from Nishio city in Aichi prefecture and Uji city in Kyoto prefecture are generally considered the top producing areas, accounting for 80% of all the matcha produced in Japan today. China and Taiwan also have matcha, but Japan’s made one is generally preferred.
In growing tea, a unique method of shading the plants from the sun is used during the last three weeks before harvest. It is a critical first step of producing matcha, and it accomplishes two important things:
- It increases the amount of chlorophyll in the leaves, giving them their deep, green color by slowing down photosynthesis, which increases the chlorophyll content and the amino acid content, giving quality matcha its distinct flavor.
- It stops the plant from producing the Catechin chemical – which is responsible for the astringency of the tea and as a result we are able to consume the tea in powdered form. If we are to ground regular leaves into a powder we will see increased astringency aftertaste.
Interestingly enough, this method is believed to have been discovered by accident when Japanese tea farmers covered up the tea leaves to prevent them from freezing in the winter.
Picking the leaves is a laborious process done by experienced pickers. Only the youngest two leaves at the top are picked, the two leaves at the very tip of the shoot.
To prevent leaves oxidation, they are steamed to preserve color and nutrients; after they go through these two processes, the stems and veins are removed, and what we have left with are dry tea leaves, called “Tencha” – unground matcha.
These leaves are then ground by specialized granite grinding wheels, which is a relatively slow process, and it takes about an hour to ground the leaves and done in the dark to protect the nutrients.
By definition, only using a stone mill during the manufacturing process can lead to authentic matcha. If any other method is used, the final product is not considered a Matcha.
Note: matcha is a blend of varietals of the tea plant, as higher grades have fewer varietals. When you buy matcha, look for the bright green- bright lime-like color.
The grinding of the leaves contributes to us being able to drink the whole leaf, as opposed to infusing the water with tea leaves. This is also one of the reasons, besides the cultivating method, matcha to have relatively higher caffeine than other green teas and a high level of antioxidants such as polyphenols.
Another important part of the chemical composition of matcha is the combination of Caffeine and L-theanine. One is a stimulant in the other green teas, and the other is an amino acid with a calming effect. Meaning the combination of the two produces the energy effect without the jitters of the caffeine3.
Another important factor to consider of the caffeine effect on us is the water temperature. If we look at the chart, we will see that the caffeine is extracted much faster at a higher temperature.
The FDA puts the amount of caffeine that doesn’t generally cause adverse side effects at around 400 mg/day. They don’t have recommended level for children! The less, the better, I guess. Sorry kids!
This is only a suggested caffeine level, and its effects depend on other factors (body weight, personal tolerance, medications, etc.
Typically, it can take 4 to 6 hours for your body to metabolize half of what you consume.
Ceremonial Grade – highest quality and the most expensive one.
Premium Grade – medium quality used and more reasonably priced one.
Culinary/ Cooking Grade – for cooking and baking, the cheapest of all.
|Traditional tools used in Matcha preparation|
• Bamboo whisk (chasen) – for frothing or milk frother
• Ceramic Bowl (Chawan) – Deep cups used to keep the tea hot – latte cup
• Teapot (Kyusu) – Made up of cast iron. It is used to keep the purity of the brew or regular teapot used in combination with a thermometer
• Sifter (Furui) – Made up of mesh metal and is used to make a smoother and frothier bowl of tea
• Bamboo Spoon (Chashaku) – a wooden spoon used for stirring
• Tea Container (Netsume) – A small, lidded jar
• Thermometer – For determining the right temperature 4.
An easy way of making matcha at home, without the traditional tools.
You will need:
Teacup – like for latte
Milk frother or bamboo whisk, small strainer, wooden spoon for stirring.
2 tsp matcha
2 tsp cool water
Put matcha in a teacup
Pour the cool water and whisk until frothy and smooth
Add 1 cup of boiling water
Note: if you want matcha to be frothier, use a sifter before putting it into the teacup.
Check also Angel’s Wong YouTube video on how to make matcha.
Gyokuro is a Japanese green tea known as jewel dew tea or precious dew tea and is technically considered a Sencha tea by many experts. It is mainly produced in Uji – Kyoto Prefecture and Yame – Kyushu area. The green tea leaves are covered for three weeks before harvest, which results in a tea with a high level of umami, lower astringency, rich taste, and distinctive aroma similar to nori seaweed.
The tea has a sweet flavor and brews into a light green hue. This tea should be brewed using one and a half times the average tea per serving. Tea should be steeped in water no higher than 140 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid bitter flavors.
For the best results, warm your teacup with hot water before steeping the tea to maintain a proper drinking temperature.
It has 120mg caffeine – one of the highest caffeine teas, higher than coffee, contains L-tianmine – amino acid, buffering some of the adverse effects of caffeine.
Note: The plants use caffeine as a defensive mechanism; it is produced mainly by younger leaves and not by older ones.
That’s one of the reasons, depending on the stage of the leaves, the green teas have different levels of caffeine, like bancha.
Tencha used to be only the first step in making matcha, but these days it is also consumed as tea on its own. In the past, it was only a step in producing matcha tea.
Shincha(new tea) is the first harvest of the season. It has a refreshing taste and low catechin and caffeine levels, making it less bitter.
As per old tradition, if one drinks tea picked up on February 04, the 88th day from the beginning of the spring, one will enjoy good health and spirits throughout the year.
Bancha Sencha is harvested during the second flush of the season from more mature leaves, which typically occur in summer and early fall.
Usually has a more robust flavor and less caffeine.
Genmaicha green tea is a Japanese creation that blends green tea leaves with brown rice. The reason was the preserve the tea and made it last longer.
The result is savory green tea with nutty and mild coffee notes. The popped rice kernels also benefit from balancing out any bitter notes if you steep the tea too long. The grains also create a fuller body and mildly creamy texture.
Kabusecha is sencha grown in the shade, similar to Gyokuro, but it is covered only 7 days before the harvest. Since the plants are covered, that leads to increased amino acids and contributes to its distinctive flavor.
Kabusecha Sencha has a mellower flavor and a more subtle color than sencha has grown in direct sunlight.
Kamairicha is pan-fried red tea.
Hojicha – made by roasting sencha or any other green tea. Roasted on a pan at 200° and cooled immediately. The roasting process causes the caffeine to change to a gaseous form, significantly reducing its content in the final product.
Fukamushi – steamed twice as long as sencha, stronger flavor, and darker color.
Chinese green teas
Jasmine Green Tea
Jasmine green tea is a flavored tea that blends green tea leaves with delicate jasmine flowers. The flower petals add a sweet aroma to the tea and the floral bouquet. You can find these teas scented with jasmine oils or real jasmine flowers. Look for Jasmine Pearl Green Tea for the prettiest green tea — the leaves and flower petals are delicately rolled into balls that unfurl when brewing.
Most jasmine green teas come from the Fujian Province in China and have sweet, floral notes. These notes contrast nicely with the vegetal and herbaceous flavors of the green tea leaves. Since these are generally Chinese green teas, they have stronger earthy notes and less umami flavor.
Gunpowder Green Tea
Gunpowder Green Tea is a Chinese tea named for its appearance. The green tea leaves are tightly rolled into balls that give off a gunpowder-like appearance. The benefit of this packaging method is that these teas can be stored longer than other green tea types. The dense pellets also bloom like flowers when steeped in water and can be re-steeped several times. The flavor is robust with earthy notes and roasted flavor.
This green tea is also known as Dragon Well tea, boasting roasted flavors, a popular Chinese variety. There are six different grades of Longjing green tea, which are rated using a number system, with one being the highest quality. High-quality Longjing teas are packed with amino acids that lend great flavor as well as chlorophyll. The flavor of Longjing is sweet and rounded and can be described as mild or mellow. Depending on the quality of the Longjing tea, you will find vegetal flavors with nut and buttery hints. In order to be accepted as authentic, Longjing has to come from the Zhejiang province in China.5.
Brewing difference between Chinese and Japanese green teas
Both types of green tea have a light body that brews into a pale yellow or light green color. Teas have a complex flavor profile produced during the interaction of their chemical composition ( catechin, polyphenols, and tannins) with high-temperature water. Still, this process also introduces a level of bitterness in the final result. One way to diminish the astringency effect is to use the proper water temperatures to brew the tea.
For the Chinese teas, the suggested temperature is between 170 and 180°F, and for the Japanese is between 140 – 180°F.
Steeping time varies based on the type but generally is between1 to 3 minutes.
Another thing we can do to improve the flavor of our cup of tea is to avoid brewing the green tea with tap water. Tap water contains chemicals and preservatives like chlorine that can affect the flavor of the tea.
2 thoughts on “Japanese Green Tea – Matcha and More…”
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