What’s “Japanese Tea”?
“Japanese Tea” means the tea produced in Japan as it literally means.
It has many varieties and types. I guess most of you remind Sencha(green tea), Hojicha(roasted green tea) or Matcha when you heard about “Japanese tea”, but surprisingly, black tea and oolong tea are also produced in Japan.
Did you know that these tea are all produced from same plant? The difference in these types of tea is caused only by cultivation methods and processing.
In this article, I will introduce the types and differences of Japanese tea, and makes you more familiar with it!
What makes difference in types of Japanese tea?
The answer to this question is fermentation(oxidation) of tea leaves.
Accurately, the “fermentation” here is not a chemical change by yeast or microorganisms, but an oxidation of the tea leaves. Only Pu’er tea and some types of tea are created by actual fermentation, and many others are created by oxidation.
It is really confusing, but in the tea industry, the word “fermentation” has been used commonly for some reasons.) To distinguish both of them, we will explain them as an “oxidation” in this article.
The oxidation of tea leaves starts soon after the harvest, and the changes of the color, taste and scent are all caused by this. Depends on how the tea leaves are oxdized, the types of the tea differs.
Tea leaves with almost no oxidation become Sencha(green tea), and full oxidation become black tea. Oolong tea and some chinese tea are the middle of them.
Of course, there is an aptitude for types of tea depends on tea tree variety, but we can produce any types of tea from same tea tree.
Let’s look at the types of Japanese tea one by one.
Types of Green tea
As I talked before, green tea is produced without oxidation. Farmers steam the tea leaves soon after harvest to stop oxidation of the leaves. By preventing oxidation, tea leaves keep its beautiful color and umami ingredients.
Sencha is the most popular and produced tea in Japan.
The flavor of Sencha is usually expressed in terms of umami, sweetness, astringency(shibumi), and bitterness, just like food. Sencha has a good balance of astringency and sweetness and is characterized by a clear green color.
This is the most standard “Japanese Tea” to japanese people.
Fukamushi (Deep Steamed) Sencha
Fukamushi Sencha is one of the types of Sencha with 2~3 times longer steamed time compared to normal Sencha. Steaming process prevents tea leaves from oxidation and softens the leaves and makes it easy to process. Currently, about 70% of sencha is produced as this type.
Longer steaming time makes the tea leaves softer and finer, it means the color and the taste can be come out easier than normal sencha.
That’s why Fukamushi Sencha is characterized by a deep green color and rich taste.
Rich umami and refreshing aroma. Gyokuro is the finest tea in Japanese tea.
To create Gyokuro, farmers cover the tea leaves to block the sunlight off from about 20 days before the harvest.
“Theanine”, the umami ingredient of tea leaves, changes to “Catechin”, a bitter ingredient, due to sunlight. Avoiding the sunlight prevents Theanine from turning into Catechin, and a tea with a mild astringency and rich umami will be produced.
This covered culture also adds a laver-like scent to the tea leaves. It is also a characteristic scent of Gyokuro and Matcha
Light blue color, aroma, rich taste. It can be said that the best green tea is taken.
The photo above is the Gyokuro stem tea, the color is more bluish than normal stem tea.
Gyokuro is created by covering the tea leaves for more than 20days, whereas only 3~10days for Kabusecha. Therefore, Kabusecha has a both characters of Gyokuro and Sencha in terms of taste and its ingredients. (To be accurate, the way of covering tea leaves are slightly different with Gyokuro and Kabusecha.)
You can feel the rich taste like Gyokuro when you make a tea with 50~60℃ water, and nice balance of sweetness and bitterness when higher than 70℃.
It is a good choice when you want a fine tea with reasonable price.
Recently, Matcha is pretty popular in France, the US and many other country.
Matcha is made by grinding the raw tea (Teacha) with a stone mill, and same as Gyokuro, Matcha is made by covered culture for over 20days.
Matcha is usually used in the tea ceremony, and characterised by its ceremonial beauty. Also, it has the advantage that it can incorporate all water-insoluble ingredients that do not dissolve in hot water.
It is also made in Shizuoka and Mie, starting with Uji in Kyoto.
Kukicha, Bocha(Stem tea)
Kukicha is the tea not using leaves but stems. In some areas, it is sometimes called Boucha.
In particular, stems of high-quality Sencha and Gyokuro are called “Shiraore”, and in Kyoto, Gyokuro stem is called “Karigane”.
Actually, tea stems contains more rich umami ingredients than leaves. Also stems don’t photosynthesize as much as leaves. It means Teanine doesn’t turn into Catechine, therefore stems can keep a large part of Theanine in it.
Rich umami and sweetness, and fresh scent. Tea stems are as nice as leaves.
Instead of steaming the leaves, Kamairicha is made by roasting in Kama(metal pot) to stop the oxidation of the tea leaves. The roasting aroma is called “Kamaka”, and it makes light and clear taste.
Unlike Sencha, there is no process of adjusting the shapes of the tea leaves, so the leaves are curled, this is also one of the characteristics of Kamairicha.
In Japan, it is made around Saga Ureshino City in Kyushu.
After the 1st flash is harvested in May, 2nd and 3rd flash is picked in June-July and autumn/winter tea picked in September, they are called Bancha. Not only tea leaves but also stems may be used.
Tea leaves grown under the strong sunlight in the summer time have a lot of Catechins, and conversely, low content of Theanine. Unlike Sencha or Gyokuro, it features a clear taste and easy-to-drink with nice balance of astringency and bitterness.
Recently, it is also used for plastic bottle tea because of its low price.
The photo above is a tea roasted bancha stem.
Houjicha is roasted tea, and characterised by the roasting aroma.
When roasted, Catechin turns into an insoluble ingredient and Caffeine also sublimes. That makes a Houjicha with less bitterness and astringency and less irritation to the body.
The price is cheaper because Bancha and Kukicha is usually used for Houjicha,
In Japan, sometimes Houjicha is used in sweets like Matcha.
Genmaicha is the tea made from the blend of tea and roasted rice. The biggest feature is the roasting aroma of the rice.
Same as Houjicha, because it is made with added scent, Bancha is usually used for Genmaicha
Black tea is created with the highest degree of oxidation. While oxidation process, color and aroma of tea leaves change, and becomes a tea stand out with nice aroma, bitterness and astringency.
In contrast to Sencha which is made with no oxidation, Black tea is made after full oxidation.
Currently, 60% of the black tea is produced in Darjeeling(India), Keemun(China) and Uva(Sri Lankan).
We only deal in Japanese black tea. The production of the black tea in Japan is quite small, but the taste is enough competitive with world’s famous black tea.
Types of Semi-Fermented tea
Semi-fermented tea is mainly produced in China and Taiwan, brings out a unique aroma by oxidation. Depending on the degree of oxidation, it can be White tea, Yellow tea, Oolong tea.
If the Sencha is assumed as the degree of oxidation of 0 and Black tea is 100, 30-70 will be classified as Semi-Fermented tea
In the above example, Oolong tea is made with a degree of oxidation of about 70.
Mainly, Oolong tea is produced in China and Taiwan, and some are close to green tea and others close to black tea depending on the degree of oxidation.
Types of Fermented Tea
As I talked before, green tea, black tea and semi-fermented tea are created by oxidation of the tea leaves. The teas created by real “fermentation” are called fermented teas, these teas are created by the yeast or microorganism.
Pu’er tea is the most popular one, and there are some varieties in Japan such as Goishicha(Kouchi prefecture), Awa-bancha(Tokushima prefecture) and so on.
If you know the type of the Japanese tea, tea can be more enjoyable
Today, we have introduced only the tea with large volume of production in Japan, but there are many types of the tea exist other than them. The produced method differs, of course, the fun of tea is also different.
Even though fine tea leaves, the taste will be so bad with 100-degree hot water.
Gyokuro is not a tea that you can drink like beer even if you are thirsty.
Please come to know tea and find the best way to enjoy it.