Behind The Leaf: Japanese Green Teas

japanese

Many moons ago I visited Tokyo with Char. I still remember the hustle and bustle of the busy city. When I think of Tokyo I still smell of bowls of ramen, freshly sliced sushi, and endless cups of green tea. The Japanese drink a large amount of tea, and they are very serious about it. Various types of green tea can be found in restaurants, shops, and homes. Of course there is also the meditative tea ceremony that features a mindful preparation of matcha.

Char shared her love of Japanese green teas with Kat, and she has quite a few varieties in her cabinet. Here are a few types of Japanese green teas that Kat and I enjoy at home:

Let’s start off with sencha, the most popular tea in Japan. It is widely consumed and produced. In fact, more than 80% of the green tea processed in Japan is sencha! Once young tea leaves are picked, they are steamed to prevent further oxidation which keeps the leaves bright green and retains their vegetal yet sweet flavor. The leaves are then dried and rolled into a needle shape. Sencha has a wide variety of grades based on when and where it was picked, so the taste may vary. Sencha that has stems, stalks and twigs mixed in is called kukicha. This is a vegetal and nutty tasting tea. Green tea that is combined with roasted brown rice is called genmaicha. The rice kernels occasionally pop and look like popcorn! The roasted rice gives a pleasant smooth roasty, nutty flavor to the sencha. I personally love the look and taste of this tea.

Bancha is made from older leaves and stems picked in the late summer or fall. The leaves are a lower grade than sencha, and picked later in the year. It is processed in the same way as sencha, but it is a lower leaf grade. Then there is Hojicha, where the leaves are roasted for a few minutes and quickly cooled. This is a mild tea with less caffeine. Kat loves hojicha after dinner. The nutty, toasty, smooth flavor is very soothing and since it is lower in caffeine she doesn’t mind drinking it after dinner.

Gyokuro is a very interesting Japanese green tea. It is a very high grade of tea and can get quite expensive. This tea is different from sencha mostly because of how it is grown. The leaves are shaded for about 21 days prior to harvest. The shading reduces the rate of photosynthesis in the leaves which greatly changes the flavor of the tea. The result is a broth-like savory tea unlike anything else I’ve ever tried. It is delicious and surprising. A must try if you’ve never had it before.

The first teas consumed in Japan were actually powdered teas. Most of you are probably familiar with Matcha, which is very popular these days. It is high quality green tea ground into a fine powder. It is also used for the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. There are various grades of matcha which determines the price. Culinary grade is a bit cheaper, and it is good for baking and cooking. The ceremonial grade matcha is is much more expensive, because the quality is high enough to be used in a tea ceremony. To learn more about the quality of your matcha, have a look at this article from The Daily Tea.

When you are brewing a Japanese green tea, you must pay careful attention to the water temperature. Follow the directions you are given on the package. These teas are quite delicate and water that is too hot can essentially cook the tea, making it bitter and unpleasant. This is a main reason why so many people think they don’t like green tea! They aren’t preparing it properly. If treated the right way, these teas are delicate and nuanced.

What do you think? There are even more types Japanese green tea, I cover a few of the basics. So I urge you to get out there and taste, learn, and enjoy! What are your favorite Japanese green teas?

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