Japan is renowned for its high-quality green teas. At first glance, it may seem that Japanese teas are fairly uniform because most (but not all) of them are green teas. However, there is a wealth of diversity in these jade brews. In part one of this two-part exploration of Japanese green teas, we’ll share some of the key differences that separate the main types of Japanese green teas, including origins, tea plants, shade growing and harvest times.
The main specialty tea-producing regions of Japan are Uji, Shizuoka and Kyushu.
Shizuoka is known for its Sencha and, especially, its light, sweet Shincha.
Kyushu tea is generally lower quality than Uji and Shizuoka tea. However, some Kyushu tea farmers are planting new and interesting varietals, and there are many organic tea farms in the region.
The varietal of tea plant and the parts of the tea plant that are used to make tea also determine how a green tea will look, smell and taste.
Japan’s most common tea varietal is known as Yabukita, or “North of the Bamboo Forest.” Around Uji City, the Kyotowanabe is popular. And, of course, Kyushu is experimenting with new tea varietals. Each has a unique appearance, aroma and flavor when processed.
Many Japanese green teas use two leaves and one bud. However, some traditional Japanese teas are intentionally made of stems for a lower caffeine level and milder flavor. Our Green Kukicha, Kukicha Twig Tea and Houjicha de la Crème are all examples of Japanese twig teas.
Most Japanese green teas are grown in ample sunshine. However, a few are partially shade-grown to mimic the mists of high-elevation Chinese green teas. These teas include Gyokuro and Matcha (which are shade grown for 20 days or more before harvest), as well as Kabusecha (which is shade-grown for about two weeks before harvest).
Sencha that is harvested in early spring is known as “Shincha” (or “new tea” or “first-flush Sencha”). Summer and fall pluckings of Sencha are often referred to as Bancha, a type of “everyday green tea” that’s commonly served after meals in Japan.
Depending on the region and the weather patterns of the year, Gyokuro (a type of shade-grown green tea) and Matcha (a shade-grown, powdered green tea) may also be plucked slightly later in the spring than Shincha.
More on Japanese Green Teas
In next week’s blog post, we’ll talk about the differences in processing and blending that distinguish Japanese green teas from one another.