When it comes to quantity, Japan is not a top producer or consumer of tea, but tea drinking is still an integral part of Japanese culture. One of Japan’s greatest contributions to tea drinking, the Japanese tea ceremony, is renowned the world over.
Tea came to Japan by way of China. Tea seeds may have been brought there as early as 805. Over the next few centuries tea was a rare commodity confined to ruling classes. In the centuries following, Chanoyu, or the Way of Tea, became established and as tea became more readily available ordinary citizens also embraced it.
The Japanese produced black tea as early as 1874 and they also import it. In 2007, the country was the sixth largest importer of black tea from Sri Lanka. But the majority of tea grown and consumed in Japan is still of the green variety.
There are many varieties of green tea produced in Japan, some readily available in the West and others not as much. Some of the better-known varieties of Japanese tea:
Gyokuro: One of the best Japanese green teas, Gyokuro is grown in the shade for several weeks before being harvested, which gives the leaves a sweeter, more delicate flavor.
Sencha: A Japanese green tea that varies as far as quality goes. Better grades can be quite good and are often made with the top two leaves and bud of the tea plant.
Matcha: A Japanese green tea made from top quality leaves called Tencha. These are dried and ground into a powder. Matcha is used more widely nowadays but it’s still probably best known as the tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony.
Bancha: A lower grade of green tea, made from lesser quality leaves, and sometimes the stalks of the plant.
Hojicha: Made by roasting Bancha-grade green tea leaves, which gives them a brownish color and distinctive flavor.
Kukicha: Similar to Hojicha, but is made using the stalks of the tea plant, rather than the leaves.
Genmaicha: Made by mixing Bancha with roasted rice kernels for a distinctive flavor not unlike popcorn.
Don’t forget to check out William’s blog, Tea Guy Speaks!