At Tea Perspective, we try to avoid picking favorites, but we do have to gush about Japanese teas. They are absolutely fantastic in every way. Just like the country itself, the world of Japanese tea is deep, mysterious, historic and full of intrigue. While tea has been a huge piece of Japanese culture for centuries and is used in ceremonies, its popularity has also increased in other countries in recent years.
If you’re new to Japanese green tea and aren’t sure where to begin, then this is the guide for you. We’re going to take a closer look at the different kinds of Japanese green tea, which pots to use, and our usual round of recommendations of products you can start with.
The different types of Japanese green tea
Let’s jump right into the different types of Japanese green tea. If you’re starting out in this world, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the different varieties, as their respective taste profiles can inform which one you try first.
Sencha tea is the most common form of Japanese green tea and is usually served to guests when visiting a Japanese home. When directly translated, the sencha is simply ‘roasted tea’, which is a throwback to how it was produced in the past, based on ancient Chinese methods. Today, the tea leaves are typically steamed instead of roasted, as this helps to prevent oxidation.
Taste profile: Sencha is best known for it’s delicate and light streetness mixed with grassy and vegetal notes. One thing to note is that there are many different sub-varieties of sencha which go through different tea production purposes, therefore affecting their taste. For instance, sencha that has been steamed for less time will have a more delicate and refreshing flavor, while deep-steamed harvests will have a bolder flavor.
Kabuse-cha is a specific form of sencha tea that (like Gyokuro) is put in shade from direct sunlight for up to two weeks before harvesting.
Taste profile: Kabuse sencha teas are known to have a more mellow and subtle flavor than other green teas, which can be quite bitter. Also, the fact that it is put away from sunlight for the final two weeks before harvesting helps produce the soft flavor and aroma.
Bancha typically means ‘common tea’ and is positioned as a lower grade of sencha tea, which is harvested after more premium varieties. Bancha tea usually contains upper stems and larger leaves, which are sometimes discarded during harvesting.
Taste profile: Bancha tea is more bitter and less aromatic than typical sencha blends, but is still popular amongst tea drinkers who prefer a stronger character in their brew.
Genmaicha is a blend of sencha that is combined with roasted brown rice. This is a more unusual blend as it combines the normal loose leaf with another element but is a popular choice nonetheless.
Taste profile: The addition of rice to the genmaicha tea results in a brew that has the aromatic elements of green tea, but with a nutty flavor as well, thanks to the rice. Genmaicha is a mild, rounded choice and good for those who don’t like bitter drinks.
Gyokuro tea is regarded as a premium and popular tea in Japan and is positioned as a high-grade drink. Made from the first flush leaf and processed through specialist methods, gyokuro tea’s flavor profile is the result of its high levels of theanine, an amino acid that is produced when the tea plant is placed in shade for two weeks before harvesting.
Taste profile: Because the tea plant is taken away from direct sunshine before harvesting, gyokuro tea has a mild and sweet flavor which gives the drinker a flowery and fresh cup of tea with a soft aroma.
Also known as ‘stalk tea’ or ‘twig tea’, kukicha is technically not a tea (since it isn’t made from leaves), but since it comes from the same plant as sencha and gyokuro, it still produces an aromatic drink when combined with hot water.
Taste profile: Because this particular drink isn’t made from the tea leaves themselves, the flavor is more light and refreshing than your regular cup of green tea.
Last but not least, we have hojicha tea, which is produced by roasting kukicha or bancha tea over an intense heat. Hojicha is somewhat unique amongst Japanese green teas because it actually has a reddish-brown appearance, instead of green or yellow.
Taste profile: The flavor of hojicha will depend on how long or hot the roasting is. However, if done in a medium way, it strikes a great balance between being sweet and bitter, with a gentle aroma.
The health benefits of Japanese and green tea
Japanese green tea is well known for having a range of health benefits. Here’s a brief rundown:
- With the sheer amount of catechins, vitamins and antioxidants, your overall health will be better, and your immune system will be stronger.
- Japanese teas and green tea variants are known to reduce appetite, which can therefore lead to weight loss or better management when combined with healthy diet and exercise.
- Green teas also contain flavonoids and fluorine – the latter of which is a common ingredient in toothpaste.
- Japanese green tea has low to moderate amounts of caffeine, which is good for those looking for hot drinks to relax and unwind with.
- There are plenty of vitamins in green tea, including:
- Vitamin A – great for the skin and digestive organ health.
- Vitamin C – which is known to help prevent colds and generally helps to support your overall wellbeing.
- Vitamin E – proven anti-ageing benefits in the skin.
- Vitamin B1 & B2 – which help with your general bodily functions, growth and repair.
Before you get brewing – get yourself a tea pot
Drinking Japanese green tea is more than chucking a tea bag into a bug – there’s a ceremony around it, and by getting yourself the proper tea pot you can make sure that you get the taste just perfect.
Clay or porcelain?
Japanese tea pots are usually made with porcelain or clay materials. One benefit of porcelain pots is that they can be used to brew all types of tea, as the vessel won’t absorb the flavor or smell of green tea.
If you want to go for a clay-based pot, there will be more interaction between the drink and the vessel itself. For instance, clay pots generally produce more mellow and rounded teas because the clay itself has a high iron content, which causes a chemical reaction to the tannins found in green tea leaves.
Get a handle on things
In traditional fashion, there are four basic shapes of tea pot, although the main difference lies in the shape and design of the handle. One thing to note is that you can use the name ‘kyusu’ when referring to Japanese tea pots, so if you see this being mentioned, you’ll know what it is. So, the four main shapes are:
The shape of this tea pot is an adaptation of traditional Chinese tea pots, with the handle at the back of the vessel. This one may appear familiar for many people, as a similar shape has been adopted for English teas as well.
Side-handled (yokode )
Instead of the back, yokode kyusu have their handle on the right-hand side of the vessel, allowing the thumb to be placed on top of the lid. This is a more comfortable way of pouring and also helps make sure that the lid stays in place when pouring.
As you may have guessed from the name, the top-handled tea pot adds more visual flair and it’s not unusual to see it used in Japanese restaurants. It is also considered more decorative, with the handle sometimes being made of a different material, such as bamboo.
Hōhin tea pots are typically used for lower-temperature green tea drinks, as you have to hold it in your hand like you would a cup. They are also beautifully decorated and considered as one of the more ‘old-school’ types.
The best Japanese teas to try
Of course, no guide would be complete without the Tea Perspective rundown of the best Japanese teas to sample! Now, this is just a short list of different types to try as a beginner – the world of Japanese green tea is vast and there’s nearly no limit to speciality producers and rare varieties to choose from. But, beginners can’t go wrong with our list! All of the products have been chosen for their popularity and availability from Amazon to make your shopping as easy as possible. So, without further ado, here they are:
No tea recommendation list would be complete with Lipton, so we decided to give them the mention they deserve. This blend of green tea and quality matcha has a smoother finish than straight-up green tea and are great for beginners who don’t like tastes that are too bitter. Coming in handy tea bags and made from 100% alliance certified teas, you can be sure that this product more than lives up to the name.
When it comes to global loose leaf teas, Tealyra are right up there with the best of them. Made from premium Gen Mai Cha and roasted brown rice, this blend treats drinkers with a sweet, rich flavor that’s perfect for any time of the day. With a bold green color and gentle aroma, all of your senses can enjoy this blend that’s packed with antioxidants and all the goodness with green tea.
Here’s an obvious choice – and for good reason! Harney & Sons are known the world over as purveyors of fine teas, and we can confirm that this won’t leave you disappointed. Their Sencha green tea is of the highest-quality and has a light and delicate flavor together with a medium-green color. These are great for beginners because of the famous branding, but also because they come in tea bags, meaning you won’t have to worry about tea pots and cleanup.
This is another fantastic option for organic Genmaicha tea, in case you wanted to see what other brands have to offer. With a vegetal, green and deep flavor from the deep steaming processing of the tea, the flavor sensation rounds off nicely with a nutty taste thanks to the addition of roasted brown rice. This particular blend is said to help with stomach problems and will also deliver a rich spectrum of antioxidants and other health benefits.
You may have had matcha powder at your local coffeehouse or as part of a dessert – but of course we always prefer it on its own! This sweet matcha green tea powder is absolutely delicious and can be prepared in a number of different ways; even with ice! Made with organic tea ingredients from ethically-sourced partnerships, preparing a delicious drink couldn’t be easier with this powder. Rishi teas are big on sustainability, so if you want your tea to be as good for the world as it is for you, then look no further.
Why choose one green tea when you can try three different types in one package! This variety set of teabags from Japanese company, Itoen contains Matcha, Houjicha and Sencha teas which lets you sample the different flavors and aromas of these three popular tea varieties. The green matcha and roasted greens have the signature nutty and mellow flavor while the sencha brings that classic Japanese green tea taste.
What’s the best way to brew Japanese tea?
Everyone will have their own techniques, but if you’re using loose tea leaf green tea, there is some nuance involved in getting things right. Of course, if you’re using a high quality tea bag things will be simpler, but if you prefer to have the full experience of creating authentic tea, here’s what you need to do:
1) Get yourself a kyusu
Any tea made with loose leaves will benefit from being brewed in a vessel that gives it the ideal space in which to swirl and infuse with the water. As opposed to tea bags, using loose leaves has more ceremony and nuance behind it, and really adds to the overall experience of brewing an authentic tea.
As we looked at above, a kyusu is essentially a Japanese tea pot that is made from different materials and comes in a few different shapes. If you’re a beginner, we recommend going for one that’s made of clay and has a handle. That way you can make sure to brew a more mellow tea and won’t have to worry about burning your hands!
2) Prep the tea leaves
If we had the choice, we would also prefer to use loose leaf Japanese tea over tea bags, but we do agree that sometimes tea bags are easier to use. When brewing up your cup of Japanese tea, patience is the most important part of it. To get things just right, we recommend that you should use about one teaspoon of tea leaves for every eight ounces of hot water. Of course, if you prefer stronger tea, use a little bit more.
As we know, different teas all need to be treated a little differently, and when it comes to quantity, it’s just as important. For instance, if you’re having a go at brewing gyokuro leaves, you’ll need to use roughly twice the amount of leaves. This is because gyokuro is a more delicate variety and by using too little, you might miss out on the delicious subtleties.
3) Preparation is everything
To get the most from your cup of Japanese tea, we recommend that you heat up all of your teaware before starting the brewing process. Pour your freshly boiled water into a teacup and repeat the process for a couple of times to bring it up to the right temperature. While this might seem a little pointless, you can consider as part of the ritual of tea preparation.
4) Time to brew
It’s go time! While you might be tempted to pour boiling water over the tea leaves, you’re actually better off using warm water to avoid burning the leaves and producing a bitter flavor. A good rule of thumb is to use water that’s somewhere between 150F and 170F. For the more delicate variants such as gyokuro, it’s best to use water that’s even cooler, sitting at around 120F
If you’re lucky enough to have Gyokuro and other higher-quality variants, you should lower the temperature even further to around 120 F.
Now, you’re in the know!
The world of organic Japanese tea is vast, and this guide is by no means supposed to be an in-depth analysis. It’s more of an introduction for beginners who are interested in exploring the world of Japanese teas, but aren’t quite sure where to start. We recommend that you take a good look at the flavor profiles of the different types that we’ve outlined and see which ones are best suited for your taste. Ask yourself whether or not you like bitter drinks, or more mellow ones.
In terms of our product recommendations, we felt that these are the best entry-level choices that you can make that are easy to purchase online. Also, go ahead and treat yourself to a clay pot, so that you can prepare it in the most authentic way.
If you think we’ve missed out on an essential Japanese tea or you think that there’s some advice that every beginner should know, get in touch!
Last update on 2021-05-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API