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3 Japanese Green Teas: Learn the Types + Some Tips

Green tea is a popular drink both in Japan and overseas. Of course there are the health benefits, the easiness of being able to get it bottled or in a can and it’s even incorporated in snacks and alcoholic drinks – everyone loves it. So we all say “green tea” but did you know that within this category of tea there are different varieties, and not only that, the best way to steep and enjoy each variety? Today we’d like to introduce you to the varieties of green tea and while we’re at it, we’ll show you how it should be stored and even how you can use the tea leaves after you have had your cup of tea! Ref: Photo

 

3 Most Major Teas of Japan

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There are 3 major brands of tea that represent Japan. The three are the “Shizuoka-cha” from the famous tea producing area Shizuoka, the “Uji-cha” known for the high quality, and the “Sayama-cha” known for its rarity. Cha, by the way means tea in Japanese.

1. The Shizuoka Cha

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As you can tell from the name, this is a tea produced in the Shizuoka prefecture. Shizuoka is Japan’s largest producer of tea- a proud producer of 40% of the market. The history of Shizuoka tea is said to have started in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) with the monk Shoichi-kokushi. He brought the seeds back from China and planted them in this area.

What’s characteristic about the Shizuoka tea is that it is steamed longer than other tea varieties. Because it is steamed for longer, the tea leaves are finer and the flavors become more condensed in the leaves. The appearance of the leaves is crushed and more powdery. But hidden in these crushed leaves and powder are the mild and rich flavors of the tea waiting to be extracted with the hot water.

Generally, pouring water that’s so hot its boiling, over tea leaves can cause it to lose its flavors. However, most types of Shizuoka tea are unique that it can stand the boiling water being poured over them and retain its flavors.

Green Tea and Longevity
So when a particular area is a large producer of something, we naturally assume that they are large consumers as well. Well, interestingly, when we rank the prefectures by its residents’ life span, Shizuoka prefecture ranks second in Japan for male and number 1 for women. It is said that there is a relation between the longevity of their residents and the amount of green tea they consume.

2. The Uji Cha

The Uji tea’s characteristic is the clear and deep yellow color. It’s clear enough that you can see through to the bottom of your tea cup. When you take a sip, you taste the refreshing and bitter flavor of the tea. As you swallow, you start to taste the sweet flavors. While Shizuoka tea is steamed for longer, the Uji tea is called “Asamushi” which means that it is steamed for a shorter time. This keeps the tea leaves contracted. The powder and stems are also removed and so when the tea is steeped and poured, you don’t see any tea leaves remaining at the bottom of your cup.

Uji tea leaves are mainly produced in Uji city, the southern part of Kyoto as well as the neighboring Nara, Shiga and Mie. It is processed using a secret method traditionally passed down in the region. The particular region sees a lot of mist at night due to the fluctuating temperatures and they see a lot of rainfall, which makes the perfect environment for high quality tea leaves.

Using high quality tea leaves and a secret processing method, the tea is known as a premium tea with a rich, sophisticated fragrance.

Production of tea in Uji had started in the Kamakura Period. In the Muromachi Period (1336-1392), it is said that they had the nation’s support in growing tea in the area. And in the Warring States Period (1493-1573) Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi enjoyed drinking this tea too.

3. The Sayama Cha

Sayama cha is grown in the Sayama city area which is the southwestern area of Saitama prefecture. It is grown in a cooler climate than the Shizuoka tea and the Uji tea. Being exposed to the cold, it grows at a slower rate making the leaves thicker. Due to the thicker leaves the flavors of this tea are sweeter and richer. It is said to have a lot of nutrients and is known to be very flavorful.

Generally, tea leaves are harvested about 3 or 4 times a year. However, the Sayama tea is only harvested twice a year. Therefore, the amount of harvest is less. Also, for the Sayama tea, the growing, processing and selling are often handled by individual vendors and not larger corporations. Therefore, you do not see it very often in supermarkets or department stores; making it a rare item.

[label style=”2″]In Conclusion[/label]

So, do you see now, the difference between the 3 major brands of tea? To make it simple…the Shizuoka Tea is known for being mild and deep, Uji Tea for being beautiful in color and smooth aftertaste, and Sayama Tea for being rich and deep in flavors.

 

Types of Tea

The majority of tea produced in Japan is green tea. But depending on how it’s grown, when it’s harvested, how it’s processed, it turns in to various types of tea.

1. Sencha

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Sencha is the most common type of tea amongst the green tea category. Tea leaves start to change (fermentation) as soon as they are picked. However, green tea is a type of unfermented tea because the fresh leaves are processed in heat (steam, roast). The Sencha is a type of green tea in which the tea leaves are processed in the most common way of processing, which is steaming.

Tips on Brewing Good Sencha (For 2)
Amount of Tea Leaves: 4 grams
Temperature of Water: 80 degrees C for Premium Sencha, 90 degrees C to boiling for Regular
Amount of Water: 200mL
Steeping Time: 30 seconds

2. Matcha

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This is the type of tea you see in Japanese tea ceremonies. The ingredient for matcha is different from other standard types of tea. It uses tea leaves which are not processed in heat, but dried and then ground using a stone mortar.

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So I’m sure you’ve seen this being used in cooking and sweets other than drinking.

3. Gyokuro

This is a type of tea where the new buds are grown shaded from the rays of the sun for 20 days. This process takes away the bitter flavor while keeping its flavors.

Tips on Brewing Good Gyokuro (For 2)
Amount of Tea Leaves: 6grams
Temperature of Water: 60 degrees C
Amount of Water: 100mL
Steeping Time: 2 seconds
This type of tea uses low temperature water, and it’s steeped for a longer time to extract its good flavor.

4. Genmai Cha

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This type of tea uses Genmai or brown rice which is soaked in water, then steamed and roasted. The rice is then mixed in with almost equal parts of tea leaves such as Sencha. The light flavor is characteristic of this type of tea. Because it is mixed with brown rice and uses less tea leaves, there is less caffeine which is why it can be recommended for the elderly and for children.

Tips on Brewing Good Genmai cha (For 2)
Amount of Tea Leaves: 4 grams
Temperature of Water: 95 degrees C
Amount of Water: 200mL
Steeping Time: 30 seconds

5. Houji Cha

This is a type of tea that takes the Sencha and roast (houji means roast) in high heat to make a toasty flavor. It also includes larger leaves and stems that are roasted. The toasty refreshing flavor is characteristic of this tea.

Tips on Brewing Good Houji cha (For 2)
Amount of Tea Leaves: 4 grams
Temperature of Water: 95 degrees C
Amount of Water: 200mL
Steeping Time: 30 seconds

 

Preserving Tea

It is often thought that tea has a long shelf life because it is already dried. In actuality, it can lose its flavors and aroma very quickly if it is not stored in the proper way. It does not keep well in heat or humidity and can easily be affected by oxygen and light. As you can see, it is actually quite delicate. It is best to purchase in small quantities, in amounts that you can use up in about 2 weeks or 1 months time.
 
If a package of tea is unopened, you can store in the refrigerator (or freezer). However, you must return it to room temperature before using it. If you open the package when it is still cold, the tea leaves will absorb the water condensation that develops from the temperature difference, thus having affecting the fresh flavors and aroma of the tea.

Once the package is opened, place the contents in an air tight container that does not let light through. Store it in a dark, cool place. Placing in the fridge once the air-tight package is opened is not recommended because the tea leaves can absorb the odors from the refrigerator. Also, the fluctuation of the temperatures when you take it in and out of the refrigerator can expose the tea leaves to too much moisture.

 

When Tea Leaves Lose Its Flavors

If it’s simply that the tea leaves lost its flavor, you can heat the leaves in a frying pan and roast it over low heat to create your own home-made houji-cha. Heating it in the microwave can give you the same results. Just gotta make sure you don’t burn it!

 

What to do with Old Tea Leaves

You can dry the leaves and put them in a tea bag (pantyhose will work as well) so that the contents don’t spill out, put them in the shoes closet or under the sink. It has a deodorizing effect.

 

What to do with Tea Leaves When You’ve Finished Your Cup of Tea

You can wrap the tea leaves in a gauze or tea bag and use it as a dish washing sponge. As long as your dishes aren’t too greasy, the green tea can help clean your dishes. This is also an eco-friendly solution to dirty dishes.

 

We know that you can get green tea at the convenience stores, but once you learn about all these different types, it’s difficult to be satisfied with something that’s bottled. How about some green tea packed in an air-tight package for your souvenir back home? It should be really nice to have a relaxing tea time back home and let the aroma of the tea bring back memories of your trip in Japan!

Related: 3 Famous Matcha Stores in Uji, Kyoto: A Great Choice for a Souvenir

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Kimi

About the author

Kimi is a Japanese living in Tokyo. She has spent half her life living overseas in New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong. Her hobbies are traveling, eating, drinking and beautifying. She enjoys yoga and has a daily goal of running 6.5 km to offset her love of beer and junk food.

View all articles by Kimi
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