Over the last few years, I have had more opportunities to see Japanese tea in Europe and the United States. I’m very happy that I don’t have to bring Japanese green tea products from Japan, and the price isn’t too high.
There are many opportunities for friends around me to say that they like Japanese tea. (and still Vice versa.)
If you want to drink Japanese tea as a trigger to Japanese culture, or if you like tea and want to try Japanese tea, or if you already like Japanese tea, I would like you to refer to this page.
Would you like to step into the world of Japanese tea a little more?
The unique charm of Japanese tea; It doesn’t take long to become a captive of the refreshing scent reminiscent of umami, astringency, and shoots.
There are many charms of my culture and tea that I want to introduce. Japanese tea, which is attracting attention for its relaxing effect and low caffeine (depending on the type.)
Today, I would like to tell you about the many types of tea that you just call “Japanese tea.” I hope you can use it as a reference for your next shopping.
Before jump into the topic, read here to learn the powerful Japanese green tea health benefits as well.
- Tamaryoku-Cha Aka Guri-Cha
- Other Types Of Sen-Cha
- What’s Ichiban-Cha, Niban-Cha, And Ban-Cha
- The Quick Caffeine Level Chart
- The Bottom Line
Japanese green tea that usually called is the actual name (type) is “Sencha.” Briefly, the tea leaves are just harvested, steamed while they are fresh, kneaded, repeated the process, and dried. Fermentation is stopped during the first steaming process.
Due to prevent tea leaves oxidative fermentation, apply high-temperature steam and inactivates the action of the enzyme before fermentation starts.
Therefore, Sencha is a non-fermentation tea.
There are other types of green tea besides sencha, such as steamed Tamaryokucha (aka Guricha). Tencha, which is the raw material for Gyokuro and Matcha, is also classified as green tea.
Gyokuro is well-known for a high ceremonial tea grade. Tea trees in the Gyokuro plantation are quite high, unlike ordinary tea fields.
The tea plantation will be covered for about 3 weeks before harvesting. By blocking sunlight prevents the umami ingredient theanine from transforming to catechin, and makes the tea full of flavor. Also tea leaves will be carefully picked by experienced farmers.
After harvesting, tea leaves will be finished in the same process as Sen-Cha.
To brew Gyokuro efficiently, steep for about 2 minutes in low-temperature (about 50℃/122F.)
Tamaryoku-Cha Aka Guri-Cha
Tamaryoku-Cha is commonly produced in the central and northern Kyushu region. The leaves of Sen-Cha and the like are elongated and needle-shaped, whereas they are characterized by the shape of a Paisley. The tea often is called “Guri-Cha” especially in the Kyushu region.
Depending on the manufacturing method, it is divided into roasted and steamed.
To brew Guri-Cha, refer to “How to brew Sencha Green tea” in this post.
The raw leaves before they are milled into matcha are called “Tencha”. By covering the tea plantation for making shades, chlorophyll increases in the tea leaves and it becomes a soft bright green. Besides, the astringency is suppressed and the sweetness and umami become stronger.
Fresh leaves just harvested are immediately steamed for prevention oxidation. “Tencha” does not knead the fresh leaves like Sencha, but cools the steamed fresh leaves by blowing them up, removes the moisture, loosens the overlapping of the leaves, and prepares for the next drying process.
The tea leaves are dried at a high temperature in a drying oven. After milling Ten-Cha mill with a stone mill, it will be Matcha powder as you know.
Other Types Of Sen-Cha
Ordinary Sen-Cha & Fukamush-Cha (Deep Steamed-Tea)
Ordinary Sencha, as the name implies, refers to commonly served regular-grade green tea aka “sencha.” In the process, apply steam for about 30 seconds (steamed) and rub steamed leaves to finish.
Yet, there are ceremonial grade products that are rich in aroma and umami, and pleasant astringency.
Ordinary Sen-cha has a light and refreshing taste.
Deep-steamed Sencha called “Fukamushi-Cha” in Japanese is said to have been made after 1955 in Shizuoka prefecture known as the lead tea-producing area in Japan. The deep steaming method was invented to alleviate the astringency and make it easy to drink.
It is steamed for more than twice as long as ordinary Sencha. Extra deep steamed Sencha tea is often called “Tokusei (specially made) Fukamushi-Cha” that is steamed for a longer than even regular deep-steamed Sencha-tea.
By steaming for a long time, more ingredients can be extracted when the tea is brewed.
It has less astringency but rich flavor and sweetness.
Kuki-Cha (Twig Tea)
The raw materials are mainly stems of tea. It has a stronger bluish stalk scent. Due to its reasonable price, it is often considered a “second-class tea”. But, actually, the sweetness, umami, and aroma components are more abundant in the stem than in the leaves.
Especially, Kukicha made from stems of Gyokuro tea trees and ceremonial-grade Sencha tea trees is called Karigane, Shiraore, which are prized for well-balanced with rich green tea flavor and the unique flavor from stems.
Kuki-cha has a refreshing taste and rich aroma, besides, its high amino acid content brings savory umami flavor.
Moreover, speaking of the component levels, when Kukicha is compared with the tea leaves, theanine which is a component of umami and sweetness, is about twice as much, pyrazines which are fragrant scent components, are about 1.5 times, and geraniol linalool which is a flower scent (sweet scent) component is about twice.
Since the stem part hardly photosynthesizes, the loss of theanine and the production of catechin are naturally suppressed without artificially inhibiting photosynthesis such as Gyokuro, and there is little unpleasant taste.
Because of those reasons, there are many connoisseurs who prefer Kukicha.
To brew Kuki-Cha, refer to “How to brew Sencha Green tea” in this post.
Ara-cha is tea leaves itself harvested in the tea plantation, let me explain more. As you know, if the harvested tea leaves are left as they are, they will oxidize and lose their refreshing aroma and fresh green color. Therefore, the harvested fresh leaves are processed in the tea factory and dried to prevent the oxidation of the tea leaves.
The Tea leaves harvested and processed in this way are called Aracha. Generally, the Ara-Cha leaves are transported to a tea wholesaler, secondarily processed, and finally delivered to consumers as green tea products. This is why it’s hard to get it at the store.
“Aracha” has a simple flavor, in other words, the direct tea flavor that you can feel tea farmers’ passion, tea farmers usually drink this “Aracha”.
Kona-Cha, Funmatsu-Cha (Powdered Tea)
Simply, Konacha is fine small pieces of tea leaves that are sifted from Ara-Cha tea leaves.
Although Konacha is a reasonable price, its quality is not inferior to that of Sencha.
Since it is powdery, the components of the tea leaves are easily dissolved, and it is possible to brew tea with bright color and a strong taste. Also, it can be brewed quickly in a short steep time but has a strong taste, you can often see it as the staple green tea at sushi restaurants called “agari.”
Kona-Cha and Funmatsu-Cha often are considered the same products, but Funmatsu-cha is processed into powder against Kona-cha is sifted from Ara-cha.
Powdered tea has a strong flavor, so avoid over-steeping. Ordinary powdered tea can be brewed in 90 ℃/ 194 F boiled water and steep for about 30 seconds.
Powdered tea made from Sencha and Gyokuro, allow them to brew in the same way with Sencha or Gyokuro.
Hoji-Cha (Roasted Green Tea)
Green Tea roasted over high heat until brown.
“Genmai-Cha” is a tea made by roasting steamed rice soaked in water and adding Ban-cha or Sencha in almost the same amount. You can enjoy the aroma of roasted rice and the refreshing taste of Japanese green tea. Since the half amount of tea leaves used compared to ordinal green tea, it has less caffeine and is recommended for children, the elderly.
Genmaicha and Hojicha have few astringent ingredients, brew them to enhance their roasted aroma at high temperatures.
What’s Ichiban-Cha, Niban-Cha, And Ban-Cha
Generally, Japanese green tea is harvested 2-3 times a year. The tea harvested from April to May is called “Ichibancha” because it is the first green tea of the season. (Ichiban literally means “the first”) It is also sold as “Shin-Cha.” (Shin literally means ‘New”.)
With the first-harvested green tea, Ichiban-Cha aka Shin-Cha, especially those picked at an early timing have a soft touch and rich high-quality components. The reason why that green tea is worth money. After May, tea leaves become harder, lighter in the density taste and flavor, and lose their quality compared with Ichiban-Cha. (Also, the harvest amount is increased too.) This is why reasonable “new teas” are coming out one after another in May.
Why Ichibancha (Shin Cha) Is Precious?
Ichiban-Cha is pleased by tea connoisseurs and the main reason is that it has fresh, refreshing, but rich flavor in it. Since tea trees rest firmly between autumn and winter, it stores umami ingredients such as “theanine” in roots.
The shoots contain plenty of tea nutrients and begin to grow in the early spring holding savory components such as theanine. For this reason, Ichiban-Cha is rich in flavor and nutrition, for example, theanine-one of the savory flavor of tea, are contained three times than “Niban-Cha.”
Niban-cha is the tea that is harvested after Ichiban-Cha is harvested, approximately 45 to 50 days later.
(You can already guess, Niban literally means “the second”.)
After June, the temperature rises, and the tea leaves grow faster. Also, because Ichiban-Cha is harvested, the nutritional value is lower, so the quality (flavor) of “Nibancha” is slightly inferior when compared with Ichiban-Cha.。
The umami component, theanine, is less, but the tannin and catechin (bitter and astringent component), and caffeine levels are increased. This is why you may feel Nibancha is bitter.
Harvested green teas after Nibancha are called comprehensively Bancha, there is little theanine, more catechins, and caffeine as I said.
This is the reason why Bancha (harder tea leaves) is brewed at a high temperature because there is less theanine (that can be extracted at low temperatures) but many catechins and caffeine (that are difficult to extract unless it is hot.)
Sanban-Cha, Shuto-Bancha (Yonban-Cha)
“Sanban-Cha” is harvested about a month later (though July and August) than harvesting Niban-cha. (As you know, “Sanban” literally means “the third” in Japanese) As you know already, nutrition and flavor will be reduced every time tea leaves are harvested. The quality of “Sanban-Cha” is inferior to even Niban-Cha.
Tea leaves are harvested four times a year, and among them, Shutou Bancha refers to tea that can be harvested from autumn to early winter. It is also called “Yonban-Cha”, yes, the fourth tea.
(Shutou refers the seasons of autumn and winter.)
Some tea farmers don’t harvest Sanban-cha and let them grow, and harvest them as “Shutou Bancha” from late September to mid-October. It is a refreshing and clear taste.
Tea leaves that have been exposed to plenty of sunlight are low in caffeine and rich in catechins and vitamins. Catherine is known for various effects such as antioxidant action and antibacterial/antiviral action. It also is rich in polysaccharides, which has the effect of suppressing the rise in blood sugar level and so is recommended for those who are concerned about blood sugar level. Polysaccharides are sensitive to heat, so it is effective to cold-brew.
Therefore, it does not make sense to rank them by the order in when they were harvested in terms of nutritional levels. Bancha (Nibancha, Sanbancha, Shuto Bancha) has a refreshing taste and less astringency, so it is also preferred by those who are not good at the unique green tea taste.
By the way, in most cases of Japanese tea products, there is usually no indication of when they are harvested on the package. (Only Ichiban-cha is often shown.)
The Quick Caffeine Level Chart
The Caffeine Level In Each Tea Per 100 ml/3.53 (3 1/2 ) ounces. *This is just a guide. The caffeine levels vary depending on the steeping time and method.
- Oolong tea 20mg
- Matcha 64mg
- Gyokuro 160mg
- Kukicha 10mg
- Brown rice tea 10mg
- Bancha 10mg
- Hojicha 20mg
- Black tea 30mg
- Sencha 20mg
Source: “Standard Tables of Food Composition in Japan” (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology)
As you know, caffeine can increase your brain activity and motivation. Most Japanese green teas (except Gyokuro and Matcha) have lower levels of caffeine than coffee. Do you need to be aware of the side effects of caffeine and other ingredients in tea?
The Bottom Line
Did you get the basic idea of Japanese green tea after reading this?
For those who want to try Japanese tea and those who already like it, let’s try this variety of Japanese tea so that you will not get bored.
I’m often asked, “Which tea is your recommendation?”, But of course it’s hard to answer.
Taste completely different types of tea, such as Sencha, Fukamushi-Cha, Gyokuro, and Hoji-Cha, and ask yourself which one was the most delicious.
You don’t have to decide which tea you like best, just feel that each tea is attractive.
I would like you to taste as many types and production areas of Japanese tea as possible rather than making judgments based on the image of bitter grass-flavored Japanese tea.
Japanese tea varies its taste depends on how to brew, how long it is steeped, and the production areas, but the simple way to grade up the taste is using a Kyusu teapot. Especially, Tokoname Kyusu is well-known for its quality to make the tea tasty.
Barley tea maybe not be categorized as Japanese tea, but it is popular summer tea in Japan. Barley tea is also known for several health benefits and it doesn’t contain caffeine.