Japanese green tea is a drink that people have consumed for over a millennium because if its health benefits and complex taste. It has also been noted to be Japan's beverage of choice as it is the most consumed beverage in the country. At this point, even today, green tea is considered to be a cultural practice that has been entwined into the lives of many Japanese as many people typically consume every meal with a pot of their favorite green tea. So, why not take a moment and learn about why the Japanese, and the rest of the world, love green tea so much and learn a bit about its history along the way?
Japan is known for their unique blends of green tea, primarily Sencha and Matcha. A very interesting fact about Japan and green tea is the fact that all tea currently produced on a commercial level in Japan is green tea, showing their love and dedication for the beverage. Japanese green tea is also known for its differences in preparation compared to other leading producers of the tea. To be more specific, the Japanese produce their tea by steaming it instead of pan-firing it, which gives it a unique color, sweeter and "grassier" flavor, and a high attention to detail. Additionally, Japanese green teas are not oxidized like Indian black tea or Chai tea which I will explain more below. The regions in Japan known for growing green tea are Uji and Shizouka; With Uji being known for its production of premium teas and Shizouka being known for its large production of sencha teas, accounting for about 40% of the total production of tea in Japan.
As mentioned before, Japan is primarily known for its sencha and matcha blends, but each are known for different reasons. For example, Sencha is noted to be the most popular of all green teas in Japan with it accounting for 80% of all green tea production there. Sencha is produced by selecting the youngest tea leaves possible, which then continue to be steamed and dried by state-of-the-art technology. It is considered an everyday tea because of its light flavor with a balance of sweetness and acidity and small cost, but substantial health benefits.
Matcha on the other hand, goes through a much more intense production and quality assurance process since it is recognized as the tea used in traditional tea ceremonies. It also has significant health benefits like other teas and has different grades. Its production is incredibly interesting, as it focuses on transforming it from other types of teas, noted as gyokuro and tencha. The process starts the same as growing gyokuro by growing the tea leaves in the shade for up to 20 days before harvest. By shading the tea before harvesting, the tea becomes “hungry” for light and produces different health benefit chemicals. This causes chlorophyll levels to skyrocket which correlates to a larger inclusion of amino acids. Once the tea has been harvested, it is rolled and left out to dry, making gyokuro. Without rolling and dried and processed in flat leaf yield tea called tencha. During the last step, the tencha will typically have its veins and stems removed and proceed to be hand-grounded with a stone into the wonderful bright green powder acknowledged as matcha.
The different grades of Matcha, including culinary, premium, and ceremonial, typically depend on where the leaves are picked. For example, leaves picked on the bottom are culinary grade while teas picked at the top can be premium or ceremonial grade. The amount of time it takes to harvest is also a factor. Due to this complex labor process, Matcha usually costs more than Sencha or other types of tea. Most tea drinkers will note that it can become significantly sweeter in the higher grades and sometimes contain inklings of an umami flavor, as well as containing a full scope of health-boosting antioxidants.
Almost all teas are known for their amazing health benefits and general use as a home-remedy medication, but there are differences. Indian teas that we drink such as Lipton, Red Label, and Taj Mahal are black teas, and noted to be fully oxidized teas, and typically involve additional steps where the tea leaves are aerated and withered to oxidize the tea leaves. This is what gives black tea its distinct, stronger flavor and color. Black tea is also recognized as the second most consumed beverage in the world (the first being water) and is the most consumed tea out of all others. People primarily consume Indian black tea for its strong flavor and the energy boost it provides. Just like green tea, black tea also has many health benefits related to the anti-oxidants it contains. These anti-oxidants promote immunity that will either completely prevent or significantly slow oxidation in the body. They can also guard important cells and tissues from the stress of oxidation, which can prevent awful diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
Now, we will look at what makes Japanese green tea different. First of all, green teas are not oxidized and lack a withering process, which gives them a lighter flavor and brighter coloration. Japanese green tea isn't as popular as black tea worldwide, but is significantly more popular in Asian countries such as Korea, China, and Japan. Matcha is also becoming a trend in USA these days and most coffee shops serve some sort of Matcha drink including Starbucks. Compared to black tea, green tea is mainly consumed for its lighter and/or more complex taste and significant health benefits, as well as its ceremonial value in some situations. Additionally, instead of being consumed to become more alert, it can be drank to calm the body and mind. Its health benefits, however, can both be similar and different to that of a black tea and many think that the long lifespans the Japanese are known for is linked to their love and consumption of green tea. Generally, green tea can have approximately 30 % of its weight consist of polyphenols. These polyphenols can contribute to the prevention of disease and also protect the body, which is a similar trait it shares with black tea. One thing that sets it apart is that it can be used as legitimate medicine when dealing with inflammation from illnesses like colds, allergies and sore throats. It is also currently being studied to treat a handful of diseases because of its strong health benefits.
One of the most interesting things about Japanese Green Tea is its rich history and correlation with the development of its culture. It is assumed that tea seeds of multiple varieties were introduced to the Japanese around the 9th century by Buddhist Monks Kukai and Saicho. The Heian period (from approximately 800 AD to about 1200 AD) is noted to be when green tea began integrating itself into Japanese culture when Emperor Saga showed the imperial family the process around consuming tea. Eisai, another Buddhist monk, also widely promoted drinking green tea to everyone, not just those of high status, during the 1200s when he brought some tea seeds from China to plant in Japan. Japan's oldest tea-producing region is Uji, which is now known for its premium/ceremonial tea growth. It is speculated that Eisai himself started the industry there when he planted the seeds. However, tea originated as a luxury beverage for people of high religious and/or social status.
The Japanese Tea Ceremony is also a practice of note that popularized the use of green tea and wove its way into Japanese culture. As stated before, green tea was originally very rare and considered to be a luxury beverage, and this is theorized to be why the tea ceremony was invented in the first place. The practice of a ceremony is considered very complex, as it is has incredibly precise movements that must be executed perfectly and can vary based on the season of the year, as well as correct placements for items in the room. A layout of a traditional tearoom can be found here. Necessary items include a hanging scroll, a correctly formatted tearoom, a small meal known as wagashi, a flower arrangement, certain traditional clothing, and of course, Matcha, the tea used in the ceremony.
Japanese green tea shares some similarities with how it's consumed today, primarily with using it as a home remedy and/or general health booster. However, it is no longer just consumed in tea ceremonies for high-status individuals and is widely available to people in everything from vending machines to convenience stores. However, this also means that it's no longer served and consumed in traditional cups, and can instead be found in bottles and other common drinking apparatuses. Today, Sencha is also typically consumed more than Matcha, a complete reverse from ancient practices.
Japanese Green Tea is a popular beverage not only in Japan, but around the world. It is known for the care and quality put into producing it, as well as its obvious health benefits. It's also a strong part of Japanese culture and history. So, what are you waiting for? Why not try a delicious cup of Japanese green tea today?
Japanese Green Tea Company is the only India-based company to source tea directly from Arahataen Green Tea Farms in the Shizuoka prefecture in Japan. The farm uses sugarcane in its soil to make the tea taste sweeter while reducing its astringency.
Green Tea and Matcha from Japanese Green Tea Company won the Global Tea Championship in 2017 and 2018 and was the #1 Best Selling Green Tea in Japan online through Rakuten Inc. in 2016 and 2017. Rakuten Inc. is the largest e-commerce site in Japan and ranks #14 in the world for online sales volume (as of Feb 2018).