There are many different types of Japanese green tea. With this guide, beginner tea drinkers will differentiate between the varieties of teas to pick a favorite.
Below, find details about:
- Types of Japanese Green Tea
- Sencha 緑茶
- Sencha 深蒸し煎茶
- Gyokuro 玉露
- Kabusecha かぶせ茶
- Matcha 抹茶
- Tencha てん茶
- Genmaicha 玄米茶
- Hojicha ほうじ茶
- Shincha 新茶
- Each variety of tea produced in Japan
- Principles of Green Tea Preparation
- Health Benefits of Japanese Green Tea
- The Origin of Tea
- Tea Ceremony Culture
Table of Contents
Types of Green Tea
Sencha Green tea is the most popular tea in Japan, accounting for 80 percent of the teas produced. Sencha is made by infusing the whole tea leaves in hot water.
Naturally, this delicious tea is a favorite of the people of Japan, and most green tea drinkers around the world.
Fukamushi Sencha 深蒸し煎茶
Green teas of the Fukamushi variety are deep steamed for about twice as long as regular Sencha tea.
In actuality, “Fukamushi” translates to “deep steamed.”
The heat of the steam causes the leaves to become powdery and take on a darker green color. Deep steaming tea suppresses the astringency while offering a full-bodied flavor.
Gyokuro tea leaves are kept out of the sun for two weeks before harvesting. This process causes Theanine and alkaloid caffeine levels to increase, bringing a sweeter flavor to the beverage.
Kabusecha tea is a midway tea between Sencha and Gyokuro. After the leaves bud on this particular type of tea, it is shaded for about one week.
This shading limits the sunlight that reaches the leaves and causes them to retain more L-theanine and reduce catechins. This process results in a tea that is rich and savory in flavor.
Matcha tea is a powdered beverage whose plants are shaded three weeks before harvesting. Matcha is commonly used to flavor mocha and soba noodles and confections like green tea ice cream.
Matcha green tea is stone-ground into a fine powder, and when consumed, the user drinks the liquid beverage and the entire leaf.
Tencha tea is tea leaves that are used for Matcha before they are stone-ground into a fine powder.
This particular type of Japanese green tea is brewed in the same manner as Gyokuro tea and produces a unique and elegant flavoring. Tencha bushes are covered to shade them from sunlight longer than twenty days, and after steaming, the leaves are dried.
Genmaicha tea is a green tea that is combined with roasted brown rice. Some refer to this type of tea as “popcorn tea” because of some rice pop grains during the roasting process. Tea steeped from Genmaicha is a light yellow color and has low caffeine content.
Genmaicha has a grassy flavor to it, and it is considered a tea that is suitable for both the elderly and children.
Hojicha tea is unlike other Japanese teas in the manner in which it is prepared. Instead of being steamed, Hojicha is roasted over charcoal in a porcelain pot.
During the roasting process, the tea loses catechins and is less astringent than other teas. This type of tea sublimates the caffeine content, making it less bitter and more suitable for all tea drinkers.
Shincha tea is referred to as “new tea” in that it is the first month’s harvest of Sencha. This is the first tea of the season and is only available for a limited time, usually from late April through May. This is a popular tea in Japan and is lauded for its high content of vitamins.
Shincha also has a low catechin and caffeine content, causing less of a bitter taste. Shincha flavor is highly recognizable as having a grassy quality and strong aroma mixed in with refined sweetness. This tea is recognizable among others due to its emerald green color.
In Japan, this “new tea” is considered the most delicious.
It is believed that consumption of Shincha on the 88th day after Setsubun (usually February 4th) is directly causal to the enjoyment of a new year of good health.
Ichibancha, Nibancha, Sanbancha and Yonbancha
Ichibanca, Nibancha, and Sanbancha all refer to teas that are picked in a specific order.
Ichibanca is the first picking of the new leaves during the year and is picked in the spring. As you travel south, the weather in Japan gets warmer, causing spring harvest times to vary.
The first flush of tea (Ichibancha) is full of nutrients after the winter of hibernation. This makes for the best tea type and is an excellent L-theanine source, which creates a sweetness in the tea.
After the first flush, new buds form again with fresh leaves to be picked in a second harvest season.
This second harvest is called Nibancha, followed by the third harvest, Sanbancha, and the fourth referred to as Yonbancha.
Principles of Green Tea Preparation
There are variations of preparing Japanese green tea that depend on:
- The type of tea
- Your personal preference
- The occasion
- Time of day
- Local customs
Tea leaves are generally placed in a teapot and hot water is added for proper infusion. How long the tea is supposed to infuse is dependent on the type of tea brewed and there are several standard methods of tea preparation which I will discuss below.
Factors of tea preparation include:
- The type of water used
- The water temperature
- The time left for the leaves to infuse
All of these variables comprise a formula for determining the tea’s flavor and aroma.
Choosing the right water for tea preparation is essential to the process of brewing green tea. The type of water that makes for a better cup of tea is usually soft water, which is low in calcium and a little acidic.
The use of bottled water should be avoided because of the high calcium and magnesium content. When using tap water for brewing your favorite tea, it is a good practice to boil the water first in order to remove the chlorine odor. This prevents the tea from taking on a different taste and aroma than desired.
In fact, it is not recommended to use tap water, hard water or distilled water in the brewing process because it can negatively affect the overall taste of the resulting beverage. In all cases, the use of soft water is highly recommended to ensure quality.
There is a high level of importance placed on water temperature when it comes to brewing Japanese green tea.
Different types of tea also require different water temperatures in order to achieve the desired results.
Brewing tea is not a complicated process and ensures that the right amount of tea leaves are used along with the right kind of water and water temperature.
The proper temperature for brewing Japanese tea is usually 80 ºC with most of the teas utilizing this temperature to brew the perfect cup of tea.
Higher grade teas should be brewed at 70 ºC to allow the retention of the L-theanine, creating a sweeter resulting tea. If this brewing method causes a bitter result, you should lower the water temperature and use less tea leaves.
Hojicha uses water that is boiled in order to achieve a full-flavored result.
Prepare the Perfect Cup of Japanese Green Tea
Put your green tea leaves into your teapot
Prepare water at the correct temperature for the different types of tea & pour the water into the tea cups to get it to the right temperature. Then pour it into the teapot.
Wait for the tea leaves to infuse the water.
Wait for the tea leaves to infuse the water.
Utensils Needed for Tea Preparation
There are several essential utensils necessary to the preparation of Japanese green tea.
These include teapots, tea cups, a tea caddy, a tea scoop and tea cup saucers.
In brewing Japanese green tea, the teapot used is the most important utensil.
Choose a proper teapot in accordance with the type of tea being brewed. This enhances the tea’s flavor and aroma, leading to a more pleasurable experience.
It’s a good practice to preheat the teapot prior to use by boiling water which is discarded.
Smaller teapots are best for higher quality teas like Sencha and Gyokuro.
Hojicha and Genmaicha teas are brewed in larger teapots and often have a handle that is arched across the top.
One can’t enjoy Japanese green tea without the aid of a proper tea cup, (I am English, you know!).
This item is just as necessary for the enjoyment of the tea being brewed. Different types of teas call for varied types of tea cups.
Gyokuro tea is served in smaller cups, while small, shallow cups are used for Sencha.
Teas should always be served in cups with a white inside so that the person drinking the tea may enjoy the taste as well as the color of their favorite tea.
Hojicha and Genmaicha teas are typically served in taller cups.
Tea storage is important in keeping various teas out of contact with oxygen and moisture.
Tea caddies are highly recommended for storing your different types of green teas and are usually airtight and made of metal.
When transferring the amount of tea leaves you wish to use from the tea caddy to the teapot, a tea scoop allows the user to properly measure the leaves.
Japanese tea scoops are typically made of wood, metal or bamboo.
Tea Cup Saucers
When serving guests Japanese tea, it is best to place the tea cup on a saucer, which allows for a mess-free delivery and a place to potentially store your spoon.
Ideal Conditions for Growing Tea
In order to grow Japanese green tea, certain specific climatic and geographical conditions need to be met.
Tea usually grows in Shizouka, Mie and Kagoshima and throughout most of Japan, with the exception of Hokkaido in the north. The tea plant originates in subtropical climates and isn’t viable in colder areas.
Sencha Green Tea Processing
After the raw leaves have been picked, they undergo processing into crude tea. From that time, they begin to oxidize and ferment.
Crude tea is tea that has had its oxidizing enzymes stopped, fermentation halted and have had their moisture content reduced. It also goes through a secondary process where it gets turned into a finished product.
At that time; the tea can be sold or be provided as ingredients for other tea related items.
Health Benefits of Japanese Green Tea
Japanese green tea has a number of health benefits and is considered to be one of the healthiest drinks in the world. Green tea contains polyphenols such as catechins and flavanoids which both serve as antioxidants.
Green tea as a whole reduces the free radicals in the human body and can protect molecules and cells from damage. Free radicals are said to play a role in the aging process.
Green tea also contains Epigallocatechin Gallate which studies have shown to treat several diseases. In addition, green tea contains minerals that prove to be important in maintaining good health.
When selecting Japanese green tea for its health benefits, always choose a high quality tea to avoid the consumption of excessive amounts of fluoride.
Green tea is also known to improve brain function, which combined with caffeine, keeps the drinker smarter and more alert. In addition, it helps the drinker to have improved:
The L-theanine contained in green tea has anti-anxiety effects and combined with caffeine, it creates a synergistic effect that leads to improved brain function.
Unlike coffee, green tea causes the drinker to have a more stable amount of energy and be more productive. Not only that, but there is no crash associated with the consumption of green tea. If you are anything like me then this is good news!
Another added benefit is that the antioxidants in Japanese green tea can lower the risk of breast, prostate and colorectal cancers.
Catechins are natural antioxidants found in green tea and daily consumption of them can prevent and even improve weight related illnesses such as obesity.
Containing 12 to 14 percent catechins is ichibancha green tea, while Nibancha green tea contains a percentage of 14 to 15 percent.
Young shoots provide higher catechin content than their mature counterparts.
Japanese green teas contain a certain level of caffeine that make the drinker alert without the jittery factor.
Caffeine has been shown to leave a person feeling refreshed and also has a bit of a diuretic effect. When consumed, caffeine contained in tea can stimulate the central nervous system, warding off tiredness while increasing mental capacity.
In addition, tea is reported to have a positive effect on hangover prevention due to its ability to metabolize alcohol rapidly.
Of the amino acids in green tea; 60% are Theanine, which is something unique to green tea. It offers a relaxing effect on the drinker and offers a rich flavor combined with sweetness.
Combined with caffeine, Theanine increases a feeling of relaxation that causes a feeling of relaxed alertness and increased concentration in the drinker.
Vitamins in Japanese Green Tea
Vitamins can’t be produced in the human body, but the good news is that Japanese green tea contains quite a few vitamins help us become healthier, including:
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Beta Carotene
- Folic Acid
A deficiency among the various vitamins, can lead to:
- Skin disorders
- Numbness in hands and feet
Green tea has concentrated levels of these healthy vitamins – more so than any other food item.
Vitamin C works as an antioxidant and to get the right amount, one should consider consumption of the tea leaves as a whole. Of any tea, Sencha green tea contains the highest amount of Vitamin C which is also necessary in the production of collagen.
Vitamin B2 is also referred to as Riboflavin and plays a role in the metabolism of energy in the body. Deficiency in Vitamin B2 affects the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and proteins within the human body.
Folic Acid synthesizes and repairs DNA.
Studies suggest a link between the consumption of Folic Acid and the prevention of:
- Arterial sclerosis
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Colon cancer
Both Matcha and Sencha contain five times the Folic Acid content of spinach and parsley.
Beta Carotene is a precursor of Vitamin A, but isn’t water soluble. Expect results when drinking Matcha – thus improving skin and vision.
Saponins and Other Green Tea Components
Saponins offer a foaming froth on top of teas like Matcha and have a strong bitterness and astringency. In addition, Saponins provide properties that lower blood pressure and prevent obesity.
Saponins also lower the absorption of cholesterol and it is a key component in ginseng.
Fluoride contained in green tea is essential for maintaining healthy gums and strong teeth. Regular fluoride intake results in the protection of your teeth from cavities.
Fragrance Components of Teas
Green teas contain roughly 200 fragrance components and when harvested, enzymes cause the fragrance components to be released. Tea fragrances are developed entirely through the heating process where the saccharides and amino acids work to form the tea’s fragrance.
Tea is a great form of aromatherapy in that it eases drinkers into relaxation along with providing relief from stress.
The Origin of Tea
The origin of tea covers thousands of years and is reported to have begun in the Shang dynasty when used as a medicinal drink. A popular Chinese legend attributes the discovery of tea and its medicinal properties to a legendary emperor of China named Shennong.
The story claims that tea’s roots go back to 2700 B.C., which is the era of which Shennong is believed to have lived.
A book attributed to Shennong called “The Divine Farmer’s Herb-Root Classic”, includes a reference to tea and was written during the Western Han dynasty.
By then, it is believed that there was already a great deal of information about tea.
The first written book about the use of utensils with green tea dates back to 59 B.C. Wang Bao wrote a book about utensils used along with the consumption of tea called, “A Contract with a Servant”.
This book detailed how tea was commonly traded and an important part of the diet. At this point in history, it is important to note that only those in the upper echelon of society were drinking tea – as it was considered a luxury item at the time.
It is believed that the first tea grown in Japan came from Seburisan, Saga Prefecture after Eisai brought over seeds from China. Soon after the growth of Uji tea, the growing of tea spread all through Japan.
During this era, tea was steamed and dried.
In the 14th century, tea growing moved to Okukuji, Ibaraki which is considered to be the limit in the north for the practice.
Tea Ceremony Culture
In the Kamakura period, tea drinkers participated in tea drinking competitions, which is a practice called Tocha.
Tea gatherings became a common occurrence at this time and the tea ceremonies spread quickly – including Chakabuki. For the uninformed, Chakabuki refers to blind tea tastings that were popularized roughly 700 years ago.
After blind tasting five drinks, drinkers were required to name the various types of tea and then repeat the same thing over again five more times.
Tea Processing, Distribution and Export
In the varied regions of Japan, there were different methods of processing tea.
Kyoto boasted the Tencha method of steaming tea, while Soen Nagatani of Ujitawarakyo developed Sencha in the year 1738. In 1835, Kahei Yamamoto invented the “Uji method” of making tea, which is now known for making Gyokuro.
Tea was first exported from Japan in the year 1610 by the Dutch East India Company from Nagasaki, Japan. The year 1859 saw various Japanese ports opening to trade, causing tea to become one of Japan’s biggest exports.
The Modern Tea Industry
In the early Meiji period, the new government instituted various measures that led to the formation of tea plantations. After distribution systems were put in place, mechanization advanced and created a reliable quality of tea.
These days, novices are able to grow tea with the aid of newer technology. Hand rolling tea is now a thing of the past and is used only as a reference at tourist attractions.
So there you have my massive, super extensive guide to the different types of Japanese Green Tea!
I really hope that you enjoyed it and as you can see, there are really a ton of different varieties and methods of brewing and drinking it.
I really urge you to go out and get yourself a fresh pack of tea and have a go at brewing your own Japanese green tea and seeing the benefits yourself.
Also, this took a really, really long time to research & write so I would appreciate it a lot if you press one of the big share buttons below and let all of your friends know about it so they can benefit too!