Translated by Laura Jacob
The Wonderful World of Japanese Tea
Written by Mako Hayashi
Take your first step into the wonderful world of Japanese teas: sencha, matcha, and hojicha, as well as kombucha and mugicha.
Similarities and Differences Amongst Different Types of Japanese Tea
Many products in Japan include the word "-cha" (tea) in their names, and yet nowadays, there are few Japanese people who can actually explain the differences between different types of Japanese tea.
For instance, while some beverages are called "cha," they may not be made from traditional tea leaves. Sometimes you might pick up a drink labelled "cha" thinking that it might be Japanese tea, but once you take a sip you might find that it is a completely different drink.
This article will explain the different types of Japanese tea available. Use this information to help you pick your drink of choice when you are at a Japanese convenience store or grocery store!
Green Tea: The Ambassador of Japanese Tea
The most commonly known type of Japanese tea is green tea. Japanese green tea is made by heat processing the tea leaves to prevent them from fermenting. While Japanese green tea is typically made from the same type of tea leaves as black tea, their flavors differ greatly due to how much they have fermented.
Sencha, is the most common type of Japanese green tea. Freshly harvested leaves are steamed and roasted to minimize fermentation.
Gyokuro green tea, is a similar to sencha. Its main difference is that the tea buds are grown in the shade to develop a rich flavor with less bitterness.
Matcha is made by drying tea leaves, then grinding them into a fine powder with a mill. Unlike other types of tea, matcha does not become translucent when brewed. Matcha preserves the refreshing flavor of the tea leaves, and is traditionally used in tea ceremonies.
Hojicha is made by roasting green tea leaves at high temperatures to bring out a rich, roasted aroma. Because the roasting process removes most of the caffeine from the tea, hojicha has a clean flavor, absent of bitterness.
Genmaicha is made of a combination of green tea and brown rice that has been soaked in water, steamed, and roasted. This type of tea is favored for the roasted flavor of the brown rice. It also has a lower caffeine content, because it does not contain much tea leaves.
Tea That Doesn't Use Tea Leaves
As mentioned before, there are types of tea that are called "cha", even though they do not use tea leaves. The most common type of this non-tea is mugicha.
Mugicha is made from roasted barley seeds. Unlike the previous types of teas introduced in this article, mugicha is not a type of green tea, as it does not contain tea leaves. It has no caffeine, and is commonly drank as a cold beverage in the summer.
Kombucha is made from kombu, a type of seaweed, also known as kelp. The tea is made by simply adding hot water to dried kombu, which has either been sliced into strips, or ground into powder. Some kombucha have been lightly salted to bring out the flavor, while others have been mixed with rice cracker bits or gyokuro green tea to enhance the aroma. One popular form is ume-kombucha, which contains pieces of dried ume, or Japanese plum. Kombucha has a slightly salty taste.
Now That You've Mastered the Basics of Japanese Tea...
This article focused on the basic types of Japanese teas. In Japan, teas are often chosen according to the season and setting.
Recently, there are also many teas that are blends of multiple varieties, or mixed with other herbs. Some tea enthusiasts even choose their teas according to where the leaves have been produced.
Now that you are familiar with the basics of Japanese tea, you can delve deeper into the vast world of Japanese tea!