Japan’s history with tea goes back more than 1,000 years to when tea drinking was first introduced to Japan from China by Buddhist monks.
Touted for its excellent flavor and benefits to health and wellbeing, tea soon became popular with court nobility and the samurai class, and the tradition of the tea ceremony, called by various names such as “chanoyu”, “chado”, and “sado”, was formed.
Tea eventually became widely available to the masses and with different preparation techniques, and new types of tea were developed.
Green tea is the main type of tea that is produced and consumed in Japan. There are many kinds of green tea produced in Japan, and they are generally classified according to their type of cultivation & processing method.
SENCHA (translates to decocted/extracted tea): the most popular kind of tea in Japan and the tea that a guest is most likely to be served when visiting a Japanese home. It is the 1st & 2nd flush (harvest season) of green tea plants grown in FULL SUN, which gives it a dark color and a mild astringency. It is noted for its delicate sweetness and flowery-green aroma. While many people may think of green tea as only a hot drink, in Japan unsweetened iced green tea is one of the most widely consumed beverages.
BANCHA (translates to common tea): the 3rd & 4th flush (harvest) of green tea making it a lower grade of Sencha. It usually contains larger leaves and upper stems, which are discarded during the production of Sencha. Compared to sencha, it is less aromatic and more astringent. Nevertheless, bancha is much appreciated in Japan for its robust flavor. Because of its strong character, it makes an excellent accompaniment to meals.
GENMAICHA: made by adding GENMAI (roasted unpolished rice) to SENCHA. The additional nutty, roasted flavor of the rice reduces the bitterness of the green tea. An ideal after-dinner tea because of its low caffeine content, it can also be combined with other kinds of tea for additional flavor, such as hojicha and matcha. Especially good iced.
HOJICHA (translates to roasted tea): made by pan-roasting SENCHA & BANCHA at a high temperature, which gives the leaves their characteristic reddish-brown color, and when brewed looks like a dark draft beer.
The heat from the roasting results in a savory tea with a warm, nutty flavor similar to roasted coffee beans, with virtually no bitterness. It has a strong distinct aroma that is sweet & slightly caramel-like. Roasting also decaffeinates it, making hojicha a popular options as an after dinner tea.
KUKICHA (translates to twig tea): consists of a blend of stalks and twigs, which are normally discarded in the production of SENCHA and GYOKURO. The flavor profile is light and refreshing with a mild sweetness, nutty, & creamy flavor.
GYOKURO (translates to Jade Dew, referring to the pale green color of the infusion): is regarded as the highest grade of tea made in Japan. It is made only with the first flush (harvest season) leaf & differs from Sencha in that it is grown under the SHADE, rather than the full sun, for approximately 20 days, giving rise to a smooth, sweet taste.
- MATCHA (translates to powdered tea): A fine ground tea. It has a very similar cultivation process as Gyokuro. It is expensive and is used primarily in the Japanese Tea ceremony. Matcha is also a popular flavor in ice cream, smoothies, and other sweets.