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A brief guide to Japanese Teas

Posted by Martin Birkhead on


Gyokuro is a rolled form of shaded Japanese green tea leaf. What makes the Gyokuro tea leaf unique is that, for the final month before harvesting it is covered by shade. This shade prevents most of the L-Theanine, an amino acid, from converting into Catechins, the polyphenols responsible for most of the bitterness in lower-quality teas. As a result, Gyokuro tea has a sweet, unique taste that is very favorably compared to the sun-grown Sencha grade of teas.


Matcha is a finely-ground green tea powder, made using the finest Tencha tea leaves. These rare leaves are covered by shade in the last month before harvesting. After harvesting, the leaves are steamed and dried, allowing them to remain flat while they are stripped of their veins and stems. The stripped leaves are then ground in slow-turning stone mills. Everything, from the harvesting to the milling is done to produce the very best Matcha possible. Delicious and healthy, Matcha is used in everything from the traditional hot drink, to wonderful lattes and smoothies, and a hundred uses yet besides. Though Matcha and Gyokuro share the same cultivation process, and many of the same benefits, Matcha definitely has the edge in nutritional value. Since you drink the whole ground leaf, you take in all the nutrients of the tea including the maximum L-Theanine and caffeine content that you could have in a cup of tea. This powdered form also allows you to take in the nutrients usually missed, including beta-carotene (which converts into Vitamin A upon ingestion), Vitamin E and dietary fibre. These are non-water soluble, so are only ingested when you drink the powdered leaves. Matcha is very good for your health. By the Oxygen Radical Absorbency Capacity (ORAC) test, Matcha has 1300 units of antioxidants per gram. Compared to pomegranates and blueberries, which are well known for their antioxidant properties, Matcha has nearly 14x the antioxidants. Matcha is also very good for losing weight and for keeping your heart healthy. Vitamin E has been shown to act as an antioxidant that works to protect lipids within the body from oxidizing. Cells are made up of fat-soluble and water-soluble parts, and Vitamin E works in the fat-soluble part of the cell. Matcha contains around 32 times the Vitamin E found in spinach and around two times that found in chilli peppers, and hardly any foods have it in higher concentration. However, as Vitamin E does not dissolve in water, it is best taken through powdered green tea or Matcha.


Sencha tea is the fully sun-grown variety of Japanese green tea. It is the most common and popular variety of green tea in Japan. There are many cultivators and grades of Sencha, which leads to a large spectrum of taste, quality and pricing. There are a number of factors that influence the final taste of Sencha. These include the quality of the raw tea leaves, the location of the plantation and the final processing method. Because the first two factors are so variable, most tea is graded by its final processing method. The processing method is categorized by how long the tea is steamed for, as most Japanese green tea is steamed. The grades are Asamushi, which is steamed for the shortest time, followed by Chumushi and Fukumushi, which is steamed for nearly twice as long as Asamushi. These three grades of tea help one to have a general idea of how the tea will taste before they purchase it.


With the Asamushi process, the tea leaves are steamed for the shortest amount of time, which follows the traditional method of processing tea. As the Asamushi process is more delicate, this process is commonly used for the higher grades of raw tea. In appearance, it has large needle-like leaves, and when brew it appears as a light-golden green liquor. It has a full-bodied earthy taste and an exquisite aroma. Note: The colour of the brew does not always tell one how deep or complex the taste of the tea will be. Asamushi has an exquisite taste, and many of the highest quality teas are processed using the Asamushi method.


With the Fukumushi process, the tea is steamed for the longest time.Compared to the traditional Asamushi process, Fukumushi nearly doubles the time it is steamed for. A more modern method of processing tea, it is often used for leaves that are not suitable for the Asamushi process. Compared to the Asamushi teas, its appearance is less like needles and more like a coarse powder. This powder dissolves when the tea is brewed, giving the liquor a dark-green color. Fukamushi teas are easier to brew, and less bitter. Much like Matcha, a lot of the nutrients remain in the tea after brewing, due to some of the powder dissolving in the tea. Matcha, however, still holds the crown for nutritional content and taste. Many years of experience has gone into creating the Fukumushi method, and the results have come to be highly appreciated and very popular in the modern day.


A nutty, toasted Japanese comfort tea Genmaicha is defined as any Sencha tea combined with roasted brown rice. Originally, it began as the “people’s tea”, a less expensive and much more available tea, priced so that anyone could purchase it. Today, however, it is popular for its unique look and flavor. Also known as “Popcorn Tea”, as the rice kernels occasionally pop while roasting, it has a unique flavor. With the rice, it tastes nutty, with a toasted flavor and a hint of sweetness. Genmaicha is a great tea during and after every meal, as it cleanses the palate. We suggest using higher temperature water for brewing Genmaicha than you use for brewing Sencha tea, around 85°C. This is essential, as the rice releases its flavors at this temperature.


A rare, unique Japanese tea Guricha, also known as Tamaryokucha, is a famously rare tea, well known for its sweet smell and taste. This tea is rare, accounting for only 5% of the total tea production in Japan, and is mainly produced in Ureshino, on the island of Kyushu. Though there are many teas that claim sweetness, Guricha is unique in that its sweetness is derived from its processing method. As it skips the final kneading process, the dried tea is left with a unique comma shape, and a sweet, beautiful liquor. All in all, this is a rare, exceptional tea that should not be missed.


A mild, gentle roasted green tea Hojicha is a roasted Japanese green, notable for its low amounts of caffeine. The major difference between this tea and others is that, instead of being steamed, it has been pan-fried.This process creates a unique tasting profile. It gives it a nutty, toasty flavour, and aroma. Unlike most other Japanese teas, the colour of the liquor is brown due to it being toasted. This pan-frying process reduces the caffeine and tannin content, creating a mild, lower caffeine alternative for children, the elderly and those who are sensitive to caffeine. For Hojicha, it is recommended that you use close to boiling water (95°C) and a short brewing time. Ready in 15 seconds, this tea has a nutty flavor, and a pleasant aroma. This tea is usually the first tea that Japanese babies drink. This is a good, tasty tea that must be tasted.


A light, refreshing flavor Kukicha is a type of tea made using the tea tree’s stems, stalks and twigs. Also known as Bocha (stick tea), Kuckicha is derived from the production of Sencha and Gyokuro. It uses four kinds of stems, stalks and twigs. Kukicha has a creamy, nutty flavour, and a light coloured brew. For the best results, use water at 85°C (185°F), as higher temperatures make the tea too strong. Kukicha is one of the teas that is preferred for those on the macrobiotic diet, as it helps calm the stomach and the nerves. Kukicha is unique in that it is very low in caffeine – naturally, without any industrial decaffeination.

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