Posted in Kafevend Blog
We've spent the past couple of months returning to the theme of the Japanese tea ceremony each week in a bid to understand this centuries old tradition and cornerstone of Japanese cultural heritage. Anyone interested in the Way of Tea will know that the type of tea central to the ceremony is matcha, a powdered green tea. We began to wonder what other types of tea might be popular in Japan and also whether tea is actually grown there. Today's blog seeks to answer both these questions and give us a broader frame of reference for tea drinking in Japan.
Tea certainly isn't indigenous to Japan. That honour belongs exclusively to the area where the borders of India, Tibet, China and Burma meet. It was first introduced by Buddhist monks, well over a millennia ago during the eighth century, who encountered it during their journeys to China and brought it back home with them. They also returned with tea plants, so cultivation began at the same time. These days Japan is the eighth largest producer of tea in the world. However, only a very small proportion, around 2%, is exported. Japan is a nation of tea lovers, so perhaps it's not such a surprising statistic.
The tea that's harvested is almost exclusively used to produce green tea, though there's plenty of variety in cultivation and production techniques, resulting in a wide variety of choice which brings us rather neatly to the question of types of tea available in Japan today:
Most common of all is bancha, harvested later in the season than sencha, which is the Japanese tea we see more commonly in the West. Bancha tends to be composed of larger leaves and can also contain some stems and twigs. It's usually cheaper than sencha and like most Japanese green teas it's steamed, as opposed to being pan fired like most Chinese green teas.
An even higher grade of tea than sencha is gyokuro. While both are produced from leaves picked during the first round of harvesting, leaves destined to become gyokuro are shaded from the sun for the final few weeks before harvest. At the other end of the scale is konacha, which is comprised of the tea dust and small tea leaves left over once gyokuro or sencha have been processed. Another tea that ensures there's no waste from the tea plant is kukicha, a green tea made entirely from the stalks, stems and twigs.
Hojicha is a roasted green tea and a comparatively recent addition to the Japanese tea range, with roots stretching back only a century. It's generally created by roasting bancha, though other types of green tea are sometimes used. The roasting process means that the resulting brew is dark brown and has a very different flavour profile to the grassy tones of green tea. It also lowers the caffeine content.
Our last tea in the round up today, like hojicha, has a distinctive taste all its own. It's called genmaicha, which roughly translates as brown rice tea. The rice is roasted and mixed with bancha or sencha. It's sometimes referred to as popcorn tea as some of the grains pop during roasting. The rice lends the tea a nutty tone and also its more yellow colour. Genmaicha has achieved widespread popularity in recent years, so if we've piqued your interest keep a look out; you'll certainly find it online via companies such as Whittard or Twinings, along with some of the other Japanese green teas mentioned in today's blog.