Japanese Tea Leaves and Pots Guide

A complete guide to japanese tea, tea pots, history and ceremony.



eisaiThe custom of drinking tea spread from China to Japan during the 700's, when a series of diplomats from Japan visited the Chinese capital of today's Xi-An.

Over the next few centuries, the diplomats returned to Japan with tea from China.

In the 12th century, Myoan Eisai, founder of the Rinsai school of Buddhism, brought back seeds and distributed them to other monks, and Japan had its own tea gardens.

Since then, Japan has evolved its own unique methods of growing, processing and drinking tea.

This guide will help you navigate the rich, flavorful world of tea in Japan:

Sencha

Sencha is the most commonly drunk beverage in Japan. If there is only one Japanese tea you want to explore, I highly recommend you start with sencha.

Like most Japanese tea, it is fixated by steaming, then rolled into a needle shape before drying.

sencha

This is different from the Chinese method of pan-firing, and it helps give sencha its distinctively intense green color and flavor.

Of Japan's 47 prefectures (provinces), Shizuoka, Kagoshima and Mie are the three major tea-producing regions.

Other important tea-growing regions include the areas of the ancient capitals—Nara and Kyoto—where Japanese Buddhism has its roots, and various parts of Kyushu, with its comparatively mild climes.

Sencha - An Enigma of Japanese Loose-Leaf Green Tea?

Sencha Green Tea Health Benefits - How to Brew Hot and Iced

Gyokuro

gyokuro

Literally translated as "Jade Dew" for its pale green infusion, gyokuro is famous for being the most expensive of Japanese tea.

While sencha grows in full sun, gyokuro grows in shade.

About 20 days before harvesting begins, they are shrouded in black cloth that lets in only a small amount of sunlight.

Limiting the sunlight prevents theanine from converting to catechins and that results in lower astringency, more sweetness and a richer flavor.

An oika aroma, similar to nori seaweed, is a unique characteristics of gyokuro.

When brewed correctly, it has a complicated flavor that is intensely vegetal, mellow and sweet, all at the same time.

Gyokuro Green Tea A Real Challenge? A Brewing Guide

Kabusecha

Kabusecha is similar to gyokuro, but the shading only takes place one week prior to picking.

The result is somewhere in between gyokuro and sencha in flavor.

Compared to sencha, it is darker green, more full bodied and less astringent.

Tencha and Matcha

Tencha is used mainly to make matcha - the ceremonial Japanese tea powder.

Similar to gyokuro, the tencha tea plants are grown in shade. The finer tips are used to make gyokuro, while the larger leaves are used to make tencha.

Generally, the tea plant may be covered longer than the standard 20 days used for gyokuro. Unlike gyokuro, the tea leaves are steamed without being rolled. After removing the stalks and veins, the tea leaves become tencha.

To turn tencha into matcha, we need to find a way to powder the tea leaves into bits.

Highest quality matcha is ground into a vibrant green powder using slow-turning granite grinding wheel in small batches. Friction is minimized and tea leaves are not “burned” in the process, allowing the leaves to retain chlorophyll.

This method of grinding matcha has been used for centuries and is continued to this day. It is necessary to preserve matcha's unique colour, flavour and aroma profile.

To learn about the different grades available and how to buy a matcha, read

Matcha Green Tea Guide - Types and Grades

Hojicha

 

hojicha

Hojicha is different from the other Japanese teas we have looked at so far.

Rather than being steamed, hojicha is roasted to a rich brown color. This tea makes an excellent nightcap, as the caffeine levels are low.

Hojicha Green Tea - A Perfect Decaffeinated Drink?

Genmaicha

The word "Genmaicha" means brown rice, rice that retains the bran covering.

It is created by mixing sencha or other teas with roasted brown rice, at a ratio of approximately 50:50. Sometimes matcha powder is added.

You may enjoy the savoriness of the roasted brown rice combined with the refreshing green of sencha.

Since sencha has already been diluted by rice, the caffeine content is low. It is said this tea is suitable for children and the elderly.

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References

Heiss, Mary Lou and Robert J. (2007) The Story of Tea-A Cultural History and Drinking Guide. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA. pp 164-187

Wikipedia. "Green Tea." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_tea#Japanese_green_teas

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Tea Trays - For Ceremony and Everyday Use

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