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. Japanese teas are generally classified according to their type of cultivation, processing method and regional origin.
Sencha is the most common variety of Japanese green tea and the tea that a guest is most likely to be served when visiting a Japanese home. Sencha can be translated as “roasted tea”. This term refers to an older style of processing Japanese green tea that was influenced by Chinese tea processing methods. Today, most sencha is steamed instead of pan-roasted in its initial stage to prevent oxidation of the leaf.
Sencha is noted for its delicate sweetness, mild astringency and flowery-green aroma. The quality of Sencha will vary depending on origin, time of harvest and leaf processing techniques. The early spring harvests, or first picking of the tea bush (known as ichi-ban cha), are considered to produce the highest quality sencha. The first harvest generally occurs in April and May and produces sencha of bright, luminescent green color, strong aroma and pronounced sweetness. After a long period of dormancy during the winter, the spring crops are enriched with nutrients, especially amino acids, sugars and catechins, which enhance the flavor and aroma of spring-picked tea.
Kabuse-cha is a type of sencha that is shaded for about 2 weeks prior to harvest. Most sencha is grown in unshaded gardens exposed to direct sunlight. The kabuse sencha tend to have a mellower flavor and subtler color than sencha grown in direct sunlight.
Gyokuro is regarded as the highest grade of tea made in Japan. It is made only with the first flush leaf and its special processing results in a tea with a sweet, mild flavor and fresh, flowery-green aroma. Gyokuro’s sweetness is due to the high levels of theanine, an amino acid that is generated by shading the tea bushes from direct sunlight for 20 days prior to harvesting.
Bancha means common tea and refers to a lower grade of sencha that is harvested during the second and third crops in the summer and autumn. Bancha usually contains larger leaves and upper stems, which are discarded during the production of sencha. Compared to sencha, bancha is less aromatic and more astringent. Nevertheless, bancha is much appreciated in Japan for its more robust flavor. Because of its strong character, it goes well with food.
Kukicha is known as twig tea or stalk tea. It consists of a blend of leaves with the stems and stalks normally discarded in the production of sencha and gyokuro. The flavor profile is light and refreshing with a mild sweetness and the aroma is fresh and green.
Hojicha is produced by roasting bancha or kukicha over high heat. The result is a savory tea with a refreshing and roasty taste and virtually no bitterness. The degree of roastiness in the aroma and flavor will depend on whether the tea is lightly or more deeply roasted. Unlike other Japanese teas, hojicha has a distinct reddish-brown appearance in the cup. Lower in caffeine, it makes a great after-dinner tea.
Genmaicha is a blend of bancha with well-toasted brown rice (genmai). The rice adds a slightly nutty taste. The mild flavor of Genmaicha and its low caffeine content make it an ideal after-dinner tea.
JAPAN’S TEA PRODUCING REGIONS
Shizuoka is the largest production center in Japan, producing more than 40% of Japan’s tea. Most of the tea produced here is Sencha. Honyama is a well-known tea producing region that includes many tea gardens. Kawane, Tenryu and the Abe River area in the north produce premium tea with the characteristics of a refreshing aroma and mild taste peculiar to the production area in the mountains.
Kagoshima, located on the southern island of Kyushu, is the second largest production area after Shizuoka. The region produces the broadest variety of green teas, with a taste that is full of strength and richness. The climate in Kagoshima is regarded as ideal for tea: warm & humid for much of the year. This allows five harvests to be collected from early April until mid October.
The Uji region is said to be the origin of Japanese tea and is a historical production area. Uji produces high-quality Gyokuro, Matcha, and Sencha.
Yame is a famous production area for Gyokuro and produces the largest amount of quality Gyokuro in Japan. The area enjoys well-drained soil and cool temperatures, which produce high-quality tea. The taste is rich and sweet and full of aroma.
With gardens situated in a mountainous region, Kumamoto is well-known for its light, aromatic and delicately flavored Sencha.
The town of Ureshino is known for its quality Sencha but is particularly famous for its Kamairi-cha. Kamairi tea is not steamed like most Japanese teas; instead, it is roasted and rolled, using production methods similar to Chinese green tea.It has a less astringent, refreshing, and mild taste.