Varied and formal, Japanese green tea is steeped in history.
Text by Tiffany Chan, photos by Samantha Sin
Special thanks to city’super, Francfranc and Kaorisabo
Perhaps the most commonly drunk green tea, sencha is made using typical processing methods, where leaves are steamed and rolled. Sencha comes in several grades, depending on where they are grown and when they are harvested.
Known also as twig tea, kukicha is created from the stems, stalks and twigs of the tea plant. Because these parts of the leaf are typically excluded in most green teas, it has a rather unusual nutty and sweet flavour.
Aracha is unrefined or crude tea, produced from the entire leaf of the tea plant, including the stem, blade and fine leaf hair. Generally, aracha has a bolder taste because the whole leaf is used, but the flavour can vary depending on region and other processing methods.
Also called shadow tea, gyokuro tea bushes are shaded from sunlight for 20 days before the leaves are picked. The limited exposure to sunlight gives the tea a deep, rich flavour and without the typical bitterness of most tea. The aroma has a certain umami, not unlike seaweed, which makes it unusual and one of the more expensive green teas on the market.
This bright green powder is made from stoneground tencha, which is harvested the same way as gyokuro (shaded), but instead of being kneaded, it is rolled and ground into matcha. Matcha, unlike other green tea made brewed from tea leaves, is dissolved in water. Because the leaf is fully consumed in the drink, almost all of the active components and benefits are absorbed. Matcha is also used in Japanese tea ceremonies.
6. Fukamushi Sencha
Fukamushi sencha is steamed twice as long as regular sencha; fukamushi means “steamed for a long time”. Owing to the longer exposure to steam, the leaves are finer, more powdery and darker. The tea has a higher content, which means more is absorbed in the body even if the leaves are not consumed.
Hojicha, also called baby tea, is roasted sencha, and is roasted at about 200°C. The roasting makes it less bitter and reduces the caffeine levels. For this reason, hojicha is often drunk by babies and the elderly, or enjoyed before bed.
Konacha are essentially made of the specks, dust and small tea leaves of left over gyokuro or sencha after processing. It is much finer and less expensive than sencha. Because it carries a much stronger flavour, it is often served at sushi bars, and thus called sushi tea.
Bancha is the lowest grade of sencha and is typically picked during second, third or fourth flush. Because it is picked later than sencha, it is less expensive and considered lower quality. Bancha is enjoyed as an everyday tea in Japan and has a unique straw taste.
Genmaicha is sencha mixed with streamed brown rice that has been popped, usually in a ratio of 50:50. The roasted rice contrasts with the light aroma of the sencha for an interesting flavour combination. The lower caffeine content also makes it suitable for children and the elderly.