Matcha and Japan.
Although these seem synonymous, around three-quarters of the tea produced in Japan is actually sencha.
And while matcha and gyokuro are highly prized by the Japanese (see earlier post to see why these teas are so valued—and pricy!), the country’s everyday tea is sencha.
However, this doesn’t mean that sencha is a low-end tea or that all sencha is the same. Sencha produced from the first flush is higher quality than that from the second flush, but even within those parameters there are multiple grades and some are indeed incredible teas.
This super premium tea from Shiga Prefecture is a first flush that was harvested and processed on May 24; it boasts beautiful deep green lustrous leaves, many of which are rolled into long needles.
For sencha, the tea leaves are prevented from oxidizing any further by being subjected to steam, and then they are dried. After that, the leaves are machine rolled, which makes for a uniform appearance and breaks down some of the cell walls, increasing flavor.
Here you can see two senchas that differ in appearance, even though they are both high-quality, first-flush teas. The one on the left is available at TeaHaus and the one on the right is the premium sencha shown above.
Brewed, the premium sencha opens to large leaf pieces, as shown here.
Besides sencha—and in addition to those teas made from shaded plants—leaves from the same tea garden can be made into yet other teas.
Houjicha refers to any roasted tea, which means there are various types and grades of houjicha, depending on what tea was chosen to toast. Bancha, kukicha, or sencha (often, lower-quality sencha) might be used, for example.
But houjicha can also be a premium tea, like this one from Shiga.
To make houjicha, green tea is roasted at around 200°C and then cooled, a process that reduces the caffeine level, which means little bitterness. This mild tea, then, is ideal for enjoyment by practically anyone, at any time of day or evening.
And the roasting process results in a spectrum of warm gold, tan, and brown tones.
A Japanese black tea is very special, being produced only every 2–5 years, and basically only in Shiga Prefecture. The tea shown here was processed this spring, in the Asamiya tea garden.
For black tea, the leaves are allowed to wither, or oxidize, for several hours (as opposed to green tea, where steam is used to stop oxidization shortly after harvest). The leaves are then rolled, which slightly bruises them, increasing oxidation. After that, they are dried, although not with steam. However, the same ovens that steam the green teas are used, just with reconfigured settings (see earlier posts for photos of the production equipment).
Because this tea is made with Japanese tea cultivars, it does not taste like black teas produced in other countries. Similar to other black teas, however, it is made with the older, larger leaves, which can withstand the production process.
In fact, you find these beautiful full leaves after brewing!
Another unusual tea—an “in” tea right now!—is GABA tea.
The leaves are picked later in the year, and then are cured for three days in a nitrogen chamber. Developed in Japan in the 1980s, this process results in higher levels of antioxidants and polyphenols as well as GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, which is a neurotransmitter.
GABA tea gives a mellow caffeine boost, and its earthy, pungent brew pairs well with food.
You can see the large pieces of leaves after brewing.
Thus, from one plant, an incredible range of teas!
But these aren’t, of course, the only teas produced by Japan.
Bancha is a second-flush tea that has a pleasant toasted note, shown here on the right, with first-flush sencha on the left (both available from TeaHaus).
Genmaicha is a blend of sencha and toasted rice that was originally used as a way to stretch out tea but now is made for its own sake.
When matcha is added to the blend—for Matcha Genmaicha—you get a bright cup, shown here iced!
And finally, all those leftover bits of tea and tea dust that collect under the machinery and are swept up?
They go into teabags. . . .
Coming Posts: Other Japanese tea gardens and reasons why we don’t see their tea in the U.S.
See my previous posts about this tour through Japan’s tea gardens:
A Look at Japan’s Tea Industry in Shiga Prefecture
Touring a Tea Processing Facility in Japan
Why Are Matcha and Gyokuro So Expensive?