Japan’s Green Teas – Where Less is More

Unlike Chinese green teas that have thousands of type and style variations,
with Japan’s green teas, less is definitely more.  All Japan’s teas are manufactur-
ed green, with ten main types produced, along with a few specialty teas. Almost
all of their teas are steamed during processing, although a handful of specialty
teas are 
pan fired Chinese style.
The method of steaming and
rolling fresh leaf was invented in the 18th
century by a 
Uji producer, Soen Nagatani.
The standard steaming process lasts about
sixty seconds and softens the leaf, preserv-
ing the natural enzymes, and fixing the leaf’s
dark emerald color.
Steaming also locks in the strong vegetal
flavors characteristic of Japanese green tea.
Some teas receive a lengthier steaming giv-
ing the tea a stronger flavor and darker leaf

Some teas are “reprocessed,” which basic-
ally means something has been changed,
either being added, such as roasted rice to

genmaicha, or has been removed, like the deveining of the tencha leaf used to make matcha.

There are two distinct growing classifications for Japanese green
teas, one being shade grown tea, and the other sun grown tea.
Gyokuro (or Jade Dew), tencha (for production of matcha), and
kabuse cha are all examples of shade grown teas.

Teas that are sun grown are bancha, a common class of tea, lower
than sencha, genmaicha, guricha, konacha, and sencha, the most
common and popular tea drunk in Japan.

Rounding out Japan’s list of teas produced are their roasted and twig teas:  houjicha, ire
bancha, and kamairi-cha (also kamairicha or tamaryokucha), are roasted teas, and karigane
cha, and kukicha, Japanese twig teas.

Let’s take a brief look at each one, starting
with the three shade grown teas, gyokuro,
kabuse cha, and tencha.  Shading the tea
from the sun helps reduce or eliminate the
astringent qualities and increase the strong
vegetal flavors Japanese teas are known

Gyokuro (or Jade Dew) is a spring first flush
tea, with only one plucking and is grown
under full shade until it is ready to be pick-
ed.  Gyokuro is a specialty leaf tea, meant
to be slowly sipped and enjoyed.

Tencha leaf is also shade grown.  It
is ground down and stone milled and
used exclusively to produce matcha, the bright emerald green powder that is whisked
into a frothy drink.  It is also used in the Japanese tea ceremony, Chanoyu. There are
several grades of 
matcha, from the very expensive ceremonial grade, to the lower
priced production grade used for baked goods, and sold for Western style 
hot and iced

          The last shade grown tea we’ll look at is kabuse cha.  Grown
 Japan, kabuse cha is essentially shade grown sencha
leaf.  This tea contains the fresh flavor of sencha with the more
pungent, vegetal  flavor of gyokuro.

Now we’ll look at the sun grown teas, starting with bancha. Ban-
cha leaf is plucked right after the first or second flush of each pluck-
ing season, after sencha production is finished.  It is lower in qual-
ity than sencha and considered a common or mediocre quality tea.

Genmaicha is made from sencha leaf and is a reprocessed tea to
which toasted and puffed brown rice is added.  The rice balances
out and cuts down the slight bitterness of the sencha leaf.

Konacha is another sun grown tea that is powdered like matcha,
but without the quality or high price associated with it.  Konacha
is made from small leaves and pieces of leaves left over after
sencha processing.

Guricha is also a sun grown, steamed green tea made from small
leaves that is shaped like a comma (reminiscent of China’s
          “eyebrow teas”), rather than the traditional needle shape.

Sencha is Japan’s most popular tea, drunk in most house-
holds and served in most restaurants.  Sencha leaf is pluck-
ed three to four times a year and makes up about 80% of
Japan’s total tea production.  There are several quality
grades of sencha produced, including handmade artisan
teas, made in small batches.

Lastly comes Japan’s roasted and twig teas.  Houjicha is a
roasted tea made from sencha leaf and kukicha twig tea, roasted together to make a
pleasant toasty 
flavored tea.

Ire bancha is also roasted but in an unusual manner, with large flat leaves that are roasted flat and open.  It has a
delicious smoky flavor and is a great tea just for sipping.

Kamairi-cha (or kamairicha or tamaryokucha) is a specialty tea from the island of Kyushu, processed in the Chinese
style of pan firing and hand rolling the leaves in iron pans or woks.

The next two are twig teas, with karigane cha made from the stems and twigs of gyokuro.
Occassionally sencha leaf is added and the tea is then called karigane sencha.

Last, but not at all least is kukicha, also a specialty tea made from carefully prepared leaf
and stalk cuttings of the sencha harvest.  The tea leaf and stalks are first processed
separately and then combined and cut, to form an even, precise tea.  Kukicha is only made
in the early spring.

As you can see, Japan’s teas are grown, harvested, and processed in a very precise
manner, making them uniquely Japanese.  Most all of these teas are exported and can be
found in and outside of the U.S., and online.  If you haven’t yet, I urge you to try them.  I
think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.