Posted by Jeremy @ Arbor Teas on March 25, 2015
There are so many exciting varieties of Japanese green tea, from the deeply grassy and vegetal Gyokuro to the light and toasty Hojicha. Whether you already have your favorite Japanese green, or are looking to expand your horizons, consider this post your invitation into the amazing world of Japanese green teas.
What Makes Japanese Teas Different?
All green tea requires the application of heat at a particular point in the manufacturing process to ward off oxidation and keep the leaves nice and green. Unlike Chinese teas, which receive dry heat to stop the oxidation process (via pan-firing, kiln-firing, etc.), Japanese teas are steamed. This contributes to the notes of kelp and spinach common to many Japanese teas, reminding one of the sea. In addition, Japan is the only major growing region that grows some of their teas under shade. This results in the exceptionally deep green color and rich umami flavor of some Japanese green teas, namely Gyokuro and Matcha.
Shade Grown Teas – Gyokuro and Matcha
Two of the most prized Japanese green teas – Gyokuro, and its stone-ground cousin, Matcha, are covered with shade cloth for a few weeks before harvest. Covering the tea bushes stresses the plants and causes them to draw more nutrients from the earth. Ultimately, this results in deep green leaves with elevated levels of things like chlorophyll and L-theanine, the amino acid known to increase the production of serotonin, dopamine, and GABA in the brain.
As you can imagine, any tea with such a pronounced green color must have a flavor to match. Gyokuro is downright grassy, and tastes remarkably vegetal and lightly bitter. Matcha, which is central to the Japanese tea ceremony, has an even deeper vegetal flavor, and tastes even richer and more bitter yet. If you like brisk, bitter flavors – or are looking for a fun new way to get your greens – you should definitely give Matcha a go.
Sencha – the Quintessential Japanese Green Tea
Sencha is Japan’s “everyday” green tea, amounting to nearly 80% of Japan's tea production. It’s the tea you’re likely to have with lunch in Japan, or in a Japanese restaurant here in the U.S. Sencha typically includes mixed grades of tealeaves, which contributes to its rich, full-bodied infusion. Our Sencha offers a finer leaf grade than some, and includes fewer stems than other Senchas. This makes for a tea with more body, a richer infusion, and somewhat more robust flavor profile.
Kukicha – Japanese Twig Tea
Kukicha is typically referred to as “twig” tea because it includes both tealeaves and stems from the tea plant. Our Kukicha yields a bright, light-bodied infusion that is less vegetal and more moderately-bitter than other Japanese green teas. If Gyokuro or Sencha are occasionally "too green" for you, give Kukicha a try.
Genmaicha – Green Tea with Toasted Rice
Genmaicha is a traditional-style Japanese green tea combined with toasted rice. The addition of toasted rice layers a warm, rich, toasted flavor over the lightly vegetal flavor of the tea. We offer two styles of Genmaicha here at Arbor Teas – a traditional Genmaicha, and our Genmaicha "Extra Green", which is dusted with organic Matcha, which and creates a deeper, more vegetal infusion.
Bancha & Hojicha – the Less Vegetal Japanese Green Teas
The final two varieties of Japanese green tea we should talk about are Bancha and Hojicha. Bancha is harvested later in the year, which results in its larger, coarser leaves. Although it is a green tea, and steamed like other Japanese green teas, Bancha has a mellow, somewhat savory flavor profile that is fairly unique among Japanese teas.
Hojicha (also spelled "Houjicha"), is the only Japanese green tea that is roasted during manufacture. Hojicha begins as Bancha, Kukicha or a low-grade Sencha, and is roasted over charcoal until it reaches a lovely reddish-brown color. The resulting tea yields an amber infusion with notes of toasted grain and honey, and a pleasant buckwheat aroma, completely different from other Japanese teas.