All teas come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. Japanese green teas are characterized by a “kill-green” process of steaming to stop oxidation inside the leaf. Even amongst Japanese greens, the post-harvest processing, part of the tea plant, season of harvest, and even pre-harvest tending play a role in determining which tea variety is produced.
MOST COMMON VARIETIES
Produced from 1st and 2nd harvest leaves, this is the classic Japanese loose leaf tea and constitutes over 80% of tea consumption in Japan. It’s characterized by a grassy aroma and a mild sweet taste balanced with underlying bitterness. The biggest factors determining the flavor and appearance of sencha are the harvest and steaming time.
Blend of tea leaves and roasted rice. The nutty and bright flavor of this tea makes it an American favorite. Matcha is often added to smooth out the flavor and give the cup a rich, green color.
Powdered Japanese green tea produced from tencha leaves. Premium matcha is made from leaves that have been shaded roughly three weeks prior to harvesting and have had all the leaves de-stemmed and de-veined. This is the tea of the Japanese tea ceremony and has the longest history amongst Japanese teas, dating back over 800 years.
Roasted green tea leaves and/or stems, producing a caramel-colored tea. The grassy flavor of the leaves is converted into an earthy, woody flavor with a strong toasty aroma. A low caffeine content makes this a choice tea in Japan for children and the elderly.
Green tea stems. Kukicha has a much sweeter aroma and lower caffeine content than a leaf tea, such as sencha.
LESS COMMON VARIETIES
The finest Japanese loose leaf tea. Gyokuro leaves are shaded at least three weeks prior to harvest, in the same way as matcha. However, post-harvest processing is identical to sencha. The resulting tea has a deep green color, translucent emerald-like liquor, and rich flavor. The characteristic flavor of gyokuro is a pronounced umami highlighted with sweet overtones.
Late-harvest leaves. Bancha brews a pale-yellow cup with a smooth flavor, without much of the bitterness or astringency of many other Japanese greens.
Small leaf and stem bits sifted out during sencha production. This is an economical tea that became known as the tea of sushi restaurants in Japan. Konacha releases its flavor almost instantly upon steeping and packs an intense punch, rich in antioxidants and other nutrients.