Japanese Tea (All You Need to Know)
We’ve all heard the saying “for all the Tea in China”. But what about Japan? As it turns out, Japanese Tea may not be as famous as Chinese Tea, but it’s just as delicious! The country’s history and culture surrounding Tea are likewise rich and expansive.
It dates back many hundreds of years, with each century leading to the further development of Japan’s Tea Industry, so that today, one can enjoy some of the tastiest brews found anywhere in the world from a country that knows what it’s talking about when it comes to your morning cup.
Nevertheless, why choose Tea from Japan when one can have Tea from China, or India, or Sri Lanka (Ceylon)? What makes Tea from Japan so unique, so desirable?
What is Japanese Tea?
Tea (お茶, ocha) makes up a sizable part of the bedrock of Japanese culture. Its importance can be found in all elements of society from the mundane to the extravagant. Tea, hot or cold, is a much-loved drink in restaurants across Japan. In fact, food establishments often provide Tea for free after a meal. One can also find it in supermarkets, convenient stores, kiosks and yes, even vending machines!
At some public gardens and temples, Tea is again given out for free to locals and tourists alike. But perhaps most famous of all is the Japanese Tea Ceremony (we’ll talk about this later).
Most types of Tea found in Japan are Green Teas; that’s not to say they’re the only Types of Tea, with others including Black Tea, White Tea, Oolong Tea and Herbal Tea, but Green Teas are the most common. Japanese Green Tea has become increasingly popular around the world in recent years, especially as Tea connoisseurs begin to break free from convention (“convention” arguably being China Green Tea).
Green Tea from Japan has a lot to offer, but what makes it different? An essential factor to account for when answering that question is its processing.
History of Tea in Japan
With all these incredible Japanese Teas to choose from, one can’t help but wonder: when did it all begin? In many respects, the history of Tea from Japan has two beginnings. It was first introduced to the country by two Buddhist monks, Saicho and Kukai, who bought young Tea trees from China during the 8th Century CE. Most famously, Emperor Shomu (聖 武) served Tea at a special Buddhist ceremony in 729 CE; however, from 815 CE, records suggest that Japan forgot about Tea for around 400 years.
The second time Tea arrived in Japan had an everlasting impact, one that wouldn’t be forgotten so quickly. Again, it was introduced through Buddhism, this time through a renowned Buddhist monk named Eisai (栄西; 1141-1215 CE) who, in 1191 CE, popularised the idea of drinking Green Tea for good health.
Years later, Eisai wrote a book entitled “Kissa Yojoki - How to Stay Healthy by Drinking Tea”. The two-volume book was published in 1211 CE, highlighting many of the benefits of Green Tea. In one extract, it read:
“Tea is the ultimate mental and medical remedy and has the ability to make one’s life more full and complete”.
He wasn’t wrong, of course; and what followed was an intense wave of popularity in Green Tea consumption across Japan.
Nevertheless, for hundreds of years after Eisai, Tea was seldom associated with the common people. Instead, Tea was used as a kind of medicine, as well as in upper social class affairs. Only after Senno-Rikyuu (千利休; 1521-1591) who essentially created the art of the Japanese Tea ceremony, was the custom of Tea drinking conveyed from the upper classes to the society of Bushi (武士), and then gradually to the common people.
Some cite the opening of the Yokohama trading port in 1859 as the moment Tea became a commodity of daily use. During this time and beyond, Tea production increased dramatically, amounting to about 24 million kg by the closing year of the 19th Century. The expansion of Imperial Japan throughout Southeast Asia, most notably during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) and the Second World War (1939-1945), likewise saw Tea production increase within the Empire.
Setbacks in the industry came about from the country’s defeat against the Allies following the end of the Second World War, which concluded with the atomic bomb detonations over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But over the course of the last 75 years, the country has recovered and now boasts a booming Tea Industry.
Japan, in some ways, “adopted” Tea as its own. It reinvented the brew, expanded its horizons, and built upon its foundations.
Here at The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company, we are proud of all the country has achieved and continues to achieve. Our selection of Japanese Tea grows with each passing year. Which one is for you?
Japanese Green Tea Processing
When it comes to Japanese Green Tea, things are done a little bit differently, or at least broadly speaking. The process whereby most Japanese Green Teas are made differs in a small yet significant way to China Green Tea: the leaves, instead of being “pan-fired” as they are in China, they are steamed. It may sound minor, but it offers a distinct take on Green Tea.
And, of course, there are other factors to account for, factors seldom utilised when making, say, China Green Tea or Ceylon Green Tea. The process of making Japanese Green Tea (or, at least, many types of Japanese Green Tea; not all) is as follows:
Like all Teas, regardless of the type or location, the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant (Tea plant) must be harvested. Taking place between April and September, this often involves experienced and dutiful Tea pickers carefully plucking the individual leaves, or sometimes a machine is used with steadfast efficiency.
Whether it is pickers or machinery used depends on the particular estate, but the result is always the same: freshly picked raw Tea leaves which are still alive and breathing, and giving off heat.
Once brought back to the factory, the heat given off from the leaves needs stopping to make quality Green Tea. If the freshly picked leaves are left untouched, they immediately begin to ferment.
This is to prevent loss of quality, as well as to maintain freshness, the raw leaves are fanned with damp air to help maintain their moisture content and to dissipate the heat given off by the still-fresh, raw Tea.
Here is when things start to get interesting. Like with the making of all Green Teas, the oxidation and fermentation of the leaf must be stopped to preserve its characteristically “green” flavour and aroma, which is often described as grassy and/or herbaceous.
Steaming the leaves as opposed to pan-firing them has a significant effect on the overall profile of the Tea. The longer the steaming time, the more efficiently the Tea leaves’ cellular membrane breaks down during later processing.
Longer-steamed leaves have a brighter lustre while reducing astringency. It’s a vital stage when it comes to deciding the type of Green Tea being made.
After the leaves have been steamed and eventually cooled to room temperature, they still require further attention. Either specially-designed machinery or individual workers break up the structure of the leaves and roll them into the desired shape and size.
Sometimes the leaves are twisted, sometimes the leaves are rolled into balls, and sometimes the leaves are manipulated very little. It again depends on the Types of Green Tea being made. And there are many.
All that’s left after the leaves have been shaped adequately is for them to be dried. The average moisture content of leaves following the rolling/twisting process is 10-13%, which is then reduced further to 5% after hot-air drying. The drying process is at least partly responsible for the many flavour compounds found in Japanese Green Tea.
So, is it fair to say that all Japanese Green Teas undergo this method? No. Absolutely not. While being a widespread processing method applied to Teas throughout Japan, it is not the only one.
Take Matcha Tea, for example, a distinctive beverage made from shade-grown Tea leaves which are then picked, dried and ground into a fine powder. Matcha Tea is one of many types of Japanese Green Tea.
Types of Japanese Tea
It’s time now to delve deeper into the world of Japanese Tea. We already know that Japan is famous for its Tea production, but what types of Tea is it producing?
To put all Japanese Tea into one category would be a disservice, especially as it goes much further than the four main types of Tea (Green, Black, White, Oolong). In the world of Japanese Green Tea alone, there is a multitude of options, each as unique as the last.
Let’s explore our selection of Japanese Teas and what each one can offer
Sencha Green Tea
An argument has ensued between Japan and China for years: who created Sencha Green Tea? While some historical records suggest it was China, there has long been a legend in Japan that Sencha Green Tea was the invention of a humble Japanese Tea farmer named Nagatani Soen (sometimes called Soen Nagatani). According to this legend, Nagatani first created Sencha Green Tea in Uji, near Kyoto, in 1738, while experimenting with different processing techniques; the result was a beverage very similar to modern-day Sencha.
At the age of 58, Nagatani was a very experienced farmer who had an excellent understanding of how the Japanese Tea industry worked. He knew it wouldn’t sell in Kyoto, its residents conservative and traditional, so instead he travelled to Edo (present-day Tokyo).
There, Nagatani visited a local Tea shop, its owner captivated by his creation. The owner asked Nagatani to return the following year with more of his Tea, dubbing it “tenka ichi” (‘天下一’), meaning “first under the heavens”.
Regardless of its origins, Sencha Green Tea is today one of the most popular types of Tea found in Japan, with it accounting for 78% of the country’s Tea consumption. It consists of a bitter-sweet balance in flavour with, like most Green Teas, grassy undertones.
We have numerous Japanese Sencha Green Teas to choose from. There is Uchiyama Sencha Japanese Organic Green Tea, which is a beautifully manufactured Loose Leaf Tea from the Tenryu district of the Shizuoka prefecture, Japan.
We also have our Yamato Sencha Japanese Green Tea, which comes from the Nara district of Japan, lying to the south of Osaka, and is a Tea harvested in the autumn months when the leaves become more mature following the more rapid summer growth. Autumn-harvested Teas such as Yamato Sencha Japanese Green Tea offer stronger tastes and more opulent aromas.
And that’s not all, with other Japanese Senchas including Japanese Kakagawa Sencha Green Tea and Japanese Makoto Sencha Green Tea.
Matcha Green Tea
We’ve briefly mentioned Matcha Tea already, so what else do you need to know? The answer is plenty! The interest surrounding Matcha Tea doesn’t stop at its processing. In fact, it has its own ceremony for its consumption!
First created in the 17th Century, the Japanese Matcha Tea Ceremony was developed for spiritual purposes aimed at cleansing the mind, body and soul.
To conduct this ceremony, one must have in their possession numerous ceremonial utensils including a chawan (a bowl), a chashaku (a bamboo scoop), a chaki (a caddy) and, of course, a Matcha Bamboo Whisk.
Before the ceremony, all objects, as well as the room itself (called a Machiai) must be cleaned. Once the Japanese Tea Ceremony begins, guests are greeted with a single bow from the host and then asked to advance. Both the host and the guests must then wash their hands and face in a stone basin for the art of purification.
Once these preliminary measures have been undertaken, formalities may commence further with the host adding one to three scoops of Matcha Green Tea Powder per guest into a group bowl. At this stage, hot (not boiling) water is added to the bowl while the host stirs the beverage with a Matcha whisk until the bright green liquor is almost (but not quite) ready to drink.
When the brew reaches the right consistency, additional hot water is added, and the infusion is whisked again, producing a rich, thick Matcha Tea. All that’s then left is to enjoy its divine astringent taste with complex characteristics.
If you fancy taking part in this ceremony, or simply want to enjoy Matcha Tea in your own time, then we have our own Matcha Green Tea Powder. With this Tea, it’s also important to note that the shading of the leaf and the subsequent processing method produce larger quantities of amino acids and chlorophyll, which in turn offers outstanding Match Tea Benefits when consumed as part of an already healthy and active lifestyle.
Bancha Green Tea
Contrary to popular belief, Bancha Green Teas, though processed in the same way as Sencha Green Teas, are not the same. Unlike Sencha Green Teas, Bancha is uses large, mature leaves. The younger Sencha leaves tend to be more delicate, richer and more complex in their vegetal flavours.
Bancha Green Teas, meanwhile, offer defined notes of astringency and bitterness, which is to the taste of many.
It is also a common misconception that Bancha Green Teas are of lower quality. It might be the case with at least some Banchas, but certainly not Banchas from The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company. We have four Bancha Green Teas to choose from, which are Japanese Bancha Green Tea, Japanese Bancha Organic Green Tea, Japanese Bancha Houghi Cha and Japanese Bancha Blend.
Japanese Bancha Green Tea, as the name likely suggests, is our House Bancha. It is traditionally drunk after eating and is a perfect introduction to not just the world of Bancha Green Teas, not just the world of Japanese Green Teas, but Green Teas as a whole. Japanese Bancha Organic Green Tea is similar in many ways while also having the guarantee of being produced without the use of synthetic fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides.
Japanese Bancha Houghi Cha, meanwhile, is a high-quality Bancha that has been toasted to give a brown loose leaf finish. It is a notably sweet and delicate Tea with no astringency. And finally, we have our Japanese Bancha Blend, which is another example of a toasted Tea made from, again as the name suggests, a blend of Bancha Green Teas of the highest quality. It boasts a nutty, caramelised flavour while remaining a rounded, delicate Tea.
Genmaicha Green Tea is no secret that while Green Tea is a popular drink in Japan, rice is a popular food. Would you believe that Genmaicha Green Tea combines two together? That’s right, Genmaicha Green Teas are blends that include not only Tea leaves, but also brown rice! It sounds strange, but these two ingredients are a match made in heaven.
The idea of this Tea originates from the Japanese working class. In old Kyoto, Genmaicha was a drink for poor farmers and city dwellers who couldn’t afford expensive blends. Its nutritious qualities meant that even people who were malnourished drank this brew owing to it seemingly being as filling as some foods.
Monks who were fasting, soldiers with scant rations and ill folk unable to eat all turned to Genmaicha Green Tea for inexpensive liquor nutrition in times of need. And since then, Genmaicha is consumed less for these reasons and more for its taste, which is a combination of grassy notes from the Green Tea and toastiness from the rice.
We have three Genmaicha Green Teas to choose from: Japanese Sencha Genmai Cha, Matcha Genmai Cha and Strawberry Genmaicha Green Tea. With our Japanese Sencha Genmai Cha, not only do we combine rice with Green Tea, but also two types of Green Tea. The Sencha Green Tea leaves used with this brew offer exemplary flavour notes with every sip, so much so that you’ll be brewing up another cup in no time at all.
Then, with our Matcha Genmai Cha, we combine not just two, but three different types of Green Tea: Matcha, Sencha and, of course, Genmaicha, The result when brewed is a cloudy green liquid with an unmistakably sweet and nutty taste.
Last but not least, there’s our Strawberry Genmaicha Green Tea, a Flavoured Tea using toasted rice and sweet, juicy strawberry pieces. It creates a full and smooth cup which is buttery and nutty while also having, naturally so, a sweet, fruity note which balances the slight bitterness of the Green Tea leaves. It is a satisfying brew for the experimental.
Japanese Gyokuro Green Tea
This Tea is considered one of the noblest of all the Teas in Japan. The secret lies in its processing, whereby the leaf is shaded for some weeks before harvesting takes place.
The shading defines the character of Gyokuro Green Tea by reducing the photosynthesis process and so increasing the chlorophyll content, similar to Matcha Tea.
The shade-growing of Gyokuro Green Tea results in the leaf becoming dark green with a reduced tannin content. Ultimately, the process offers a sweeter and less astringent Tea.
Like many Japanese Green Teas, Gyokuro Green Tea undergoes the steaming process as well as other commonplace production techniques.
However, unlike many Japanese Teas, this Tea must mature for several months before packaging and shipping, which requires dedication, patience and skillfulness. Nevertheless, it’s worth the wait!
But waiting is one element you do not need to worry about with The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company, as we already have two Gyokuro Green Teas in stock: Japanese Gyokuro Asahi Green Tea and also an organic option. The former originates from Shizuoka, Japan, and is a great everyday Green Tea, while the latter. Similar to Japanese Bancha Organic Green Tea, has our guarantee of being produced without the use of synthetic fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides for those looking to be more eco-friendly.
Japanese Kukicha Green Tea
You must be thinking by now that Japanese Green Tea can’t get any more different. Think again! Kukicha Green Tea isn’t a loose leaf tea in the most conventional sense. Why? Because “leaf” has nothing to do with it! In fact, one makes Kukicha Green Tea from the stems and stalks of the plant as opposed to the Tea leaves.
Also known as “Twig Tea” or “Bōcha”, Kukicha Green Tea takes extraordinary to the limits of the imagination. It can be made from Sencha, Bancha or Gyokuro and is an excellent choice for those looking to cut down their caffeine intake as the stems and stalks are naturally low in caffeine. The taste, meanwhile, boasts a nutty quality like no other.
We have two types of Kukicha, one named Kukicha Tea and one called Ko Kie Cha. Our Kukicha is a more traditional take on the beverage while Ko Kie Cha is made by grinding raw leaf and steam into a powder, mixing with water and passing it through a mesh, creating what is essentially “strands” of Tea.
In reality, Ko Kie Cha is a product of Matcha manufacturing, making it even more unique to supposedly “regular” Kukicha. Nevertheless, there is nothing, in reality, “regular” about either brew, as you’ll soon find out for yourself!
Japanese Turmeric Root Tea
Less of a Japanese Tea per se, and more of a Tea immensely popular in Japan, Turmeric Tea is a herbal infusion of unparalleled taste and health benefits. It is known as “the spice of life” for more than one reason, but on the Japanese island of Okinawa, in particular, the nickname takes on a literal meaning.
Spices are not as closely associated with Japanese culture as they are in, say, Indian culture; however, turmeric reached Okinawa many hundreds of years ago, and since then, has grown in great abundance across the 70 miles long and average 7 miles wide island.
The frequent consumption of Turmeric Root Tea is now thought to play a vital role in the lives of Okinawans, with many residents enjoying excellent health well into their 100’s! Some have even gone as far as to suggest that Turmeric is the key to longevity on the island, while others are sceptical. Regardless, Turmeric Tea is a crucial part of Okinawan culture.
When it comes to The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company, one can choose either a standalone Turmeric Tea such as Turmeric Root Tea or branch out with a blend such as Turmeric Herbal Tea, Spicy Turmeric Chai Tea, Turmeric Lemon and Ginger Tea, Turmeric with Orange Peel Tea or Ayurveda Turmeric and Mace Tea. Who knows - like the Okinawans, these Teas may have you becoming a centenarian one day!