Japanese green tea — if you wanted to distill that phrase down to its very essence you could just say Japanese tea. For when it comes to tea production and consumption in Japan it’s safe to say that green tea is by far and above the overwhelming favorite.
Not that black tea is totally unknown in Japan. The country imports a significant amount of this variety and was actually the sixth largest importer of Ceylon tea from Sri Lanka in the year 2007. The Japanese also began growing black tea as far back as 1874, though the amounts produced today are negligible next to those of green tea.
There are a number of varieties of Japanese green tea, which range from some of the finest teas available anywhere to those varieties that are considered to be for everyday use, a clever code word that, in the tea world, often translates to “not so good.”
Some of the most desirable green teas to come out of Japan are those that come from the first harvest of the year, which is also known as the first flush and which takes place in spring. Shincha, which is a Japanese term for spring tea, is a particularly popular type of sencha tea, one which has fans of Japanese greens on the edge of their seat every time spring rolls around.
Sencha is a category of Japanese green tea that can cover a lot of territory, from some of the finest varieties to those that are rather mundane. Though similar to sencha in many ways, gyokuro differs primarily in the fact that the tea leaves are shaded from the sun in the final weeks before harvest, resulting in a very flavorful and delicate end product.
Matcha is another type of high grade green tea that is a unique product of Japan. A powdered variety of tea that’s made by grinding the entire leaf, it was once used primarily in the Japanese tea ceremony, with the tea being placed in a bowl and stirred into a froth with a whisk. Nowadays, matcha is coming into its own – apart from its ceremonial uses – as yet another coveted type of premium tea.