Japanese Green Tea Categories and Differences
Cultivation and processing of Japanese Green Tea
This article was last modified July 4th, 2022. by Yuki
In a previous article, we've already introduced the 13 major types of Japanese green tea. If you're looking for a quick rundown, you can go back and check Choosing the Japanese Tea type.
In this article, we'll go in a little deeper.
We'll categorize the different types of Japanese green tea based on their cultivation and manufacturing methods.
Why is this important?
Understanding this will give you a sound understanding of why different teas taste similar and why other teas taste different.
It will give you cues on what to look out for when tasting Japanese green tea.
Let's start with our first parameter - Oxidation.
Fascinatingly, all Japanese green tea comes from the same plant.
It's the tea tree, or more specifically, the Camellia Sinensis.
Green tea is not the only type of drink that this unique plant produces. Even other types of tea, such as Black tea or Oolong tea, are made from this same plant.
Although there are differences in the cultivars of the plant used to produce the different beverages, the main differences lie in how it is grown and processed.
Let's dive into the first significant variable - Whether the tea leaf is oxidized or not.
So, what is oxidation?
Oxidation is a process where the leaves of the tea become brown.
This browning process is the same thing that happens when a banana turns brown. Once you peel the skin of a banana, it will start to oxidize and change colors due to the enzymes it contains.
As you may guess, this has an immense effect on the taste of the banana itself.
Tea is the same!
Whether this oxidation takes place or not entirely changes the taste of the tea.
Green tea is a tea where heat is applied to kill the enzymes and intentionally stop oxidation. The oxidation of the leaves starts right after the leaves are plucked from the tea tree. However, this heating process takes place right after the harvesting of the leaves, allowing minimal time for the leaves to oxidize.
This is why green tea is an "unoxidized" tea.
By stopping the oxidation, the leaves can preserve more nutrients. This step is the secret behind green tea, one of the world's healthiest drinks.
You can see in the chart below that all the Japanese green tea comes under this category.
Black tea and Oolong tea are different as they undergo oxidation before processing.
For white tea such as Puer Tea, fermentation is applied after oxidation.
Chart: Categorization of Tea
As we mentioned, the difference in oxidation doesn't help us categorize Japanese green tea. This is because all Japanese green teas are Unoxidized.
We'll start to branch out to the different types of Japanese tea from here!
Generally speaking, there are two different methods to stop the oxidation of leaves.
Roasting or firing of the leaves is a standard method worldwide. This method is also what Japan imported from China when green tea was first introduced.
However, Japan has evolved uniquely, and the steaming methodology to stop oxidation has become highly popular.
Steaming is applied for most types of Japanese green tea to stop oxidation. Only Kamairi-cha is the major type of tea that goes through roasting to prevent oxidation, and the total production is only a few percent of Japan's total.
All other major Japanese tea types, such as Sencha, Gyokuro, or Matcha, go through a steaming process to stop the oxidation.
The effect on the taste is quite apparent. The steaming methodology preserves the umami and flavor at a much higher rate, while the roasting or firing tends to change those substances into the aroma.
That's why Japanese green tea is a unique tea that values the flavor to the tongue rather than the aroma to the nose.
Shading from the Sun
In the evolution of Japanese green tea, farmers noticed that tea leaves shaded from the sun taste better.
Therefore, some high-grade green tea is cultivated by shading the leaves from the sun before harvesting.
By definition, Sencha does not require shading. However, high-quality Sencha production these days undergoes some shading as well.
The leaves are shaded from the sun to enhance the umami taste of the tea while reducing the astringency.
A Theanine nutrient in the tea is responsible for the Umami taste, and the sunlight will transform this into Catechin, the nutrient responsible for the astringent taste.
Shading is a cultivation method that requires skill. It also drastically reduces the amount of tea produced. These are why these teas are much more expensive than others.
Houjicha is a tea that goes through an additional roasting process until the leaves turn brown. As the umami substances are roasted, they transform into a more aromatic substance and entirely change the tea.
Genmaicha is the only flavored Japanese green tea I call a major type of Japanese green tea. I call it so because this tea has been widely loved and accepted into the Japanese culture.
The Genmaicha adds roasted brown rice kernels, or "Genmai," to the regular Japanese green tea, usually a sencha. It adds a rich nutty aroma.
Lastly, the most famous type of Japanese green tea, Matcha, is also a product of additional processing.
Matcha takes only shaded leaves and grounds them in powder form that dissolves in
Understanding the different production processes of the tea can also help identify the taste differences. I hope this article helped enrich your tea experience and appreciation even further!
Are there other flavored tea in Japan other than Genmaicha?
Yes, there are. You can find Japanese tea made with other fruits and flavors such as Yuzu, oranges, mango, ginger, and even sakura. They are fantastic choices as well, so do have a try!
Is there any Japanese tea that is fermented?
Yes, there is Japanese tea that is fermented as well. One of the most famous types of fermented tea is the Goishi-cha. This tea has a sweet honey-like taste and almost a sour after-taste.
However, overall fermented tea in Japan is very rare.
Yuki is the Editor-in-Chief AND Community Manager at Tealife. He bleeds Japanese Tea and loves being a part of the Japanese Tea journey of others. Writes, does events, conducts tasting sessions, drinks, drinks and drinks tea! Easily accessible - hit him up on whatsapp (+65) 85882980.