Choosing the Japanese Tea type
A Quick Introduction to the 13 major types of Japanese Green tea
This article was last modified July 1st 2022. by Yuki
A Quick Introduction to the 13 major types of Japanese Green tea
The popularity of Japanese tea is seemingly increasing each year. This is not surprising due to the incredible health benefits they bring.
Perhaps this is the exact reason why you ended up at this article as well!
However, it's not always easy to choose the best type of Japanese tea.
There are so many different types of Japanese green tea, but only a few are well-known outside of Japan. To make things worse, these Japanese tea names are tricky and hard to recognize!
If this is the issue you're facing, and you can't decide on the type of Japanese green tea to try, well you've come to the right place.
This article will do a quick introduction to the 13 major types of Japanese green tea.
We'll cover the major teas such as Matcha and Sencha, but also the more niche teas such as Mecha and Iribancha. By the end of the article, you'll have a good idea of which Japanese tea you should try!
- Matcha, the powdered green tea
- Sencha - the standard loose leaves
- Gyokuro, and Kabuse-cha - shaded for umami and richness
- Fukamushi-sencha and Tamaryokucha - Great Sencha Alternatives
- Kukicha, Mecha, and Konacha - the 'byproducts'
- Houjicha and Iribancha - less caffeine
- Genmaicha - flavored with brown rice
- Kamairicha - the origin of Japanese tea
Matcha, the powdered green tea
Matcha is the most famous of Japanese teas, and for good reason. It's the only major type of Japanese tea that is powdered, which means you can absorb the health benefits the most.
The important characteristic of this tea is not just being powered. It's cultivated in a specific way to maximize the umami and reduce its natural astringency.
This is important because the natural astringency of tea leaves is so strong, that it will never do as a satisfactory drink.
Matcha is also incredibly versatile. While the best way to enjoy this tea is Usucha-style preparation, (which is mixing and frothing the powder with water) - it can be used in lattes, smoothies, baking, and even as a savory ingredient!
The downside to Matcha is that the delicious ones will be expensive, and you need some tools to prepare them (such as a matcha bowl and bamboo whisk). The cheap Matcha can quickly become an awful tasting experience. This is the risk of Matcha as well.
This can make it seem daunting to get into matcha, but trust us - it's worth it! (And supporting through your process is why we are here, so don't hesitate to reach out as well!)
You can read more about Matcha here.
Sencha - The Standard Japanese Loose Leaf tea
Sencha is the most common type of Japanese green tea, and the name can be found in several grocery stores in several different countries.
However, a slight caveat here. The Sencha teabags actually do not fall under the proper definition of Sencha. Many of the products in the supermarket basically categorize any type of Japanese green tea as Sencha. Those products can be misleading.
Sencha is prepared with whole leaves that are steamed, rolled, and dried. You'll find that they are rounded into beautiful needle-like shapes. This allows the tea to easily emit the juices of the tea plant into the water.
If you can find quality Sencha, they have fantastic flavors and delicious taste. It's certainly a good introduction to Japanese green tea.
A high-quality Sencha is certainly my first recommendation for anyone who would like to start their Japanese tea journey!
You can read more about Sencha here.
Gyokuro, and Kabuse-cha - shaded for umami and richness
If you're trying to just compare the leaves, the Gyokuro and Kabuse-cha are hard to tell apart from Sencha leaves from how they look.
The actual difference lies in the nutrients and the cultivation method of this two tea.
The Gyokuro and Kabuse-cha are both shaded from the sun before harvesting. This strengthens the umami and reduces the astringency of the tea, resulting in a rich and savory sip.
These tend to be more expensive than Sencha. As a matter of fact, the Gyokuro tea is considered the pinnacle of Japanese loose leaf tea. Not only does it have the strongest concentration of richness and umami, it also requires exceptional skills for the farmers to cultivate and produce.
Although they may seem a little more expensive, if you like Sencha and love the umami, the Gyokuro and Kabuse-cha tea are certainly worth the try.
Fukamushi-sencha and Tamaryokucha - Great Sencha Alternatives
Fukamushi-Sencha is a type of Sencha that has been deep steamed for a longer time than usual.
The usual Sencha is normally steamed for 30 seconds or so after harvesting. The Fukamushi-Sencha is steamed much longer - roughly about 60 seconds.
The leaves will look very different from a Sencha, as it's much more in a crumbling form.
This results in a tea that is less astringent and has more Umami flavors. The aromatic qualities reduce a little, but are offset by the richness and smoothness it brings.
Tamaryokucha is a type of Japanese green tea that is less well known outside of Japan. The difference with Sencha is that it doesn't go through the rolling process of a Sencha.
As it is not rolled, it tends to reduce the astringency compared to the Sencha, resulting in a delightfully delicious tea.
Although these two teas may be difficult to find outside of Japan, this is also a great alternative to Sencha which is worth trying!
You can read about each of these teas in the Fukamushi-sencha and Tamaryokucha section of the Japanese tea-pedia.
Kukicha, Mecha, and Konacha - the 'byproducts'
Not all teas are made from the leaves of the tea plant!
Sometimes the byproducts of tea processing can be just as good as the main product itself. That's where these three types of tea come in.
Kukicha is made from the stems and stalks of the tea plant, and Mecha is made from the tips of the leaves. Konacha is made from the small particles of leaves that are left over after Sencha or Gyokuro production.
Since these are byproducts of the tea manufacturing process, these teas tend to be more affordable than other Japanese green teas.
However, don't let that fool you - they can be incredibly delicious as well! After all, they're the same tea leaf of the quality tea plant!
They do have different characteristics in their taste as well. So if you've tried some of the basic types of Japanese tea already, then it may be worth expanding to these type of teas as well.
Houjicha and Iribancha - less caffeine
Houjicha and Iribancha are two types of Japanese green tea that have had their caffeine levels reduced.
Houjicha is also a relatively known type of tea outside of Japan as well. Unlike the teas introduced above, the Houjicha is brown in color. This is because it is made by roasting the Sencha leaves, which really reduces the umami but enhances the aroma and transforms the tea into a delightful light tasting tea.
While it does so, it reduces the caffeine content greatly as well.
Iribancha is also a type of tea that goes under an extensive firing process to reduce caffeine. They taste much different from a Houjicha as they have a smoky and almost firewood-like smell!
This type of tea also sometimes goes by the name of Kyobancha. Either way, they are extremely rare outside of Japan.
If you want to drink Japanese tea after dinner without having the caffeine bother your sleep, these two tea are fantastic options.
Genmaicha - flavored with brown rice
Genmaicha is a type of Japanese green tea that is flavored with brown rice. This is perhaps by far the most famous and widely accepted type of flavored Japanese green tea.
The rice gives the tea a nutty aroma and flavor, which goes well with the taste of the green tea.
It is also one of the more popular Japanese teas overall. Another surprising fact about this tea is that it is lower in caffeine compared to Sencha. This is because half of the tea is actually brown rice, the caffeine concentration is diluted.
If you want to try a different take on Japanese green tea, then Genmaicha is definitely worth a try!
Kamairicha - the origin of Japanese tea
Kamairicha is the original form of Japanese tea when it first came from China centuries ago.
The process of making this tea is quite unique. It's fired in an iron pot, which gives it a distinct flavor unlike any other Japanese teas that I've mentioned above
This kind is incredibly rare these days, and finding it might be difficult outside of Japan. If you come across it, give it a try!
You can read more about Kamairicha here.
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.