Japanese Tea: The different varieties and how to drink each
Tea, especially green tea, is an indispensable part of the Japanese lifestyle. Learn the different types, the best ways to brew each, and recommended pairings.
A cup of tea takes the edge off when we are tired and soothes when we feel restless. There are many types of green tea in Japan, each with their own calming and healing effects. Each type also has an optimum water temperature for brewing the perfect cup. But whatever the type, Japanese green tea is meant to be enjoyed on its own without sugar, milk, lemon, or honey. Make yourself some tea and take a moment to relax and appreciate the subtle tastes and aromas.
Gyokuro is the finest of Japanese teas, with complex layers of sweetness and umami. The leaves of its well-fertilised bushes are shaded from sunlight before harvest. Only new leaves are picked, then processed immediately. As gyokuro is high in caffeine, it is best to brew it with water well below the boiling point, at about 65°C. Sip a small amount at a time, rolling it onto the tongue before swallowing. For an afternoon treat, serve it with mild sweets that do not overwhelm the tea’s delicate profile, such as nerigashi, confections made with rice flour and bean paste.
Sencha is the most commonly served type of green tea. Its bushes are grown in full sunlight, but like gyokuro, only the new leaves are harvested. To brew, use water that is 70°C to 75°C. Sencha has a full-bodied umami and sweet taste, though less pronounced than gyokuro. With this brew as well, sip a small amount and roll it onto your tongue. Enjoy the second pot for the slight bitterness of tannin, and the third for the lingering fragrance and refreshing acidity. Sweets are best served with this final, third pot of tea. Sencha can be infused with cold water, too.
Bancha and Hojicha
Bancha is made from leaves and stems left to grow on the bushes after the first sencha harvest. This tea is rich in catechins and vitamin C. To brew, infuse with boiling water and turn off the heat just before the water begins to boil again. Hojicha is an earthy tea made from sencha or bancha that has been roasted.
These last three types of Japanese tea are drank daily, often with a meal. Bancha, in particular, is an excellent match for oily foods. We recommend trying all the different types of Japanese tea to determine your favourite.