Have you ever tried drinking Japanese tea or eating tea-flavoured snacks? Japanese green tea, especially matcha, gains more and more popularity recently. One of the reasons of this trend is because of its health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure. According to Japan Tea Export Council, the UK was ranked as the 11th largest tea importer last year with 34,983kg imported. It is as same as the weight of one thousand two hundred 30kg luggage. Although matcha is currently the prom king, other Japanese teas’ taste and health benefits are not worse than it. I will introduce five kinds of tea below, see which one do you want to try!
Sencha was served as medicine in the ancient Japan. It helps your digestion and beat tiredness. It is usually made of the tea bud and three leaves below it (一芯三葉, pronounce as ikshinsanyou). Once the leaves are picked, farmers will deliver them to the factory as quick as possible to keep the freshness of the leaves.
There are 5 steps in producing green tea, which are 1. Harvesting (摘む, tsumu), 2. Steaming (蒸す, musu), 3. rolling (揉む, momu), 4. tea drying (乾かす, kawakasu), and 5. refining (荒茶の完成, aracha no kansei). Steaming is a crucial step as it deactivates oxidase and retains the bright green colour and refreshing taste of Sencha.
Gyokuro is the finest tea among all Japanese tea as it has the strongest umami (旨味) (a mild and savoury taste). It is made of the first picking of tea and will only use the tea bud and two leaves below it (一芯二葉, ikshinniyou) to produce it.
That deep umami comes from a unique agriculture method – covering (被覆, hifuku). Farmers will cover tea plants with black nonwoven fabric around three weeks before harvesting, which blocks around 90 percent of sunlight. In order to perform the same amount of photosynthesis with little sunlight, tea plants will activate chlorophyll to produce more nutrition. The increase of chlorophyll makes the leaves look shinier. Due to the lessen of catechins and raise of theanine, it reduces bitterness and creates a special smell called ooika (覆い香), which is similar to the smell of seaweed.
The agriculture method of matcha is as same as gyokuro, but with a different production method. Once the tea leaves are harvested and steamed, farmers will cool them down by using a blower blowing the leaves to five to six meters high for roughly five times. Then, dry them and throw away leave stem, old leaves, and other unwanted substances. Finally, the leaves would be put into a stone mill and grounded until become fine powder. The best matcha should have a rich umami and without any astringent taste.
Bancha is tea picked after the first picking of tea. The first picking of tea is around April to May depends on the weather and the condition of the tea. Tea picked afterward are categorised as bancha. The second picking of tea is near the middle of June, the third would be in August, and the last pick of tea would be in October. In June, the tea plants are already fully grown. Comparing to the first picking of tea, leaves of bancha would be harder and bigger, the umami would not be very strong and have more bitterness. The average price of it would also be cheaper than Sencha.
Hojicha is usually made of bancha. Farmers will use high heat, around 392°F to 482°F, to fry it for five to ten minutes. Due to the high heat, the colour of tea leaves will turn brown, and have a unique smoky taste. With its low amount of caffeine, it is suitable for children and elderly.
My favourite tea is Sencha. I love its gentle smell when I open the package, and the clear tea colour after brewing it. I drink at least two pots a day and it has already become my daily routine. Which one is your favourite kind of tea? Share with us below!