Thursday, March 18, 2010

All You Have to Know about Japanese Green Tea

Today, Japan produces both loose leaf and powdered forms of green tea. Tea is mostly grown in Uji, Shizouka, Kagoshima regions and Kyoto Prefectures. Uji, just south of Kyoto, is the most famous tea-growing region in Japan. Even though it produces only 4 % of Japan's tea, most of the finest teas come from this region.

There are three main types produced in Japan: Gyokuro, Sencha and Matcha.

Gyokuro or "Jade Dew" is known to be the best quality green tea in Japan, thus sold at highest price. Tea bushes that are meant to produce Gyokuro are kept under 90% shaded conditions for two to three weeks before harvesting. Because of this, growth of leaves is slow and they turn to darker shade of green. These growing conditions encourage the production of Theanine in the leaves. The younger the leaves, the lesser the Caffeine content of the leaves. Only the tippy buds are used to produce the best Gyokuro. Both these facts are the reasons behind the delicate sweet taste of Gyokuro, which other green teas normally do not have.

Sencha is the most common type of Japanese tea and it is cheaper than Gyokuro. In contrast to Gyokuro, tea bushes that are meant to produce Sencha are exposed to sun light. This has a lightly astringent taste along with a slight sweetness. The best Sencha is known to be produced from the first crop. (From the harvest of April and May). Bancha is a class of Sencha. It is made from the Sencha bushes but from the harvest of summer and autumn. Some Bancha is made from the coarser leaves or twigs. It does not have the delicate sweetness of Sencha, but is valued for refreshing deep flavor with sweet aftertaste. It is cheaper, milder and known to be containing less caffeine than other teas.

Matcha green tea is a type of powdered tea and traditionally used for Japanese tea ceremonies. Tea bushes that are meant to produce Matcha are also grown in shade like Gyokura. Matcha has a bitter-sweet (sweet but with a hint of astringency) taste. But it is highly valued for having maximum green tea benefits as the body receives more chemicals from the talc like consistency (when brewed) of Matcha. There are two types of Matcha; Koicha(thick tea) and Usucha(thin tea). Koicha is produced from the leaves of older bushes and it has a milder taste. Because of this more powder can be added to have a thicker consistency, without having a bitter taste. Usucha is typical Matcha. Generally Koicha is more expensive than Usucha.

Genmaicha green tea is a mix of Bancha and roasted brown rice. Because of the addition of brown rice, the unique bitterness of green tea is enhanced further giving popcorn like taste.

Houjicha green tea is also a type of Bancha and made from baked tea leaves. It is slightly brown in color and has a refreshing savory taste. This is also known to have very low caffeine content as the baking process removes caffeine.

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