With the exception of China, which grows pretty much every major type of tea, there are tea growing regions of the world that are associated with certain types of tea. You might find other types of tea in Africa, India and Ceylon, but they’re best known for black tea. By the same token the vast majority of the tea grown in Japan is green.
Tea is thought to have come to Japan from China in the eighth century. To this day they produce almost exclusively green tea, but in terms of consumption as well as production black tea has made some small inroads there.
In recent years Matcha has seen a considerable upswing in popularity here in the West. This Japanese green tea that’s made by grinding up the entire tea leaf was once associated mostly with the Japanese tea ceremony. These days Matcha, which is available in grades ranging from ordinary to premium, is favored not only for regular daily consumption but also because it is so convenient to use in recipes.
One of the best grades of Japanese green tea, Gyokuro is a delicate green tea whose leaves are shaded from the sun for several weeks before harvesting. Its rich and delicate flavor is brought out best by using water that’s even cooler than the water used for most other green tea (which, in turn, is considerably cooler than the water recommended for black tea).
A term that can cover a lot of territory, as far as quality is concerned, Sencha is arguably the most common variety of green tea produced (and consumed) in Japan. While some Sencha can be quite uninspired others are of excellent quality. Bancha is a term that typically refers to Sencha of a lesser quality while Shincha, which is made from leaves from the first harvest of the year, in early spring, is especially coveted by fans of Japanese greens.
Also known as Guricha and often including the sub-type Kamairicha, Tamaryokucha is not unlike Sencha, but the processed leaves are smaller than the long thin leaves of the latter.
Most often derived from Bancha, Houjicha is distinctive in that it is made by roasting the leaves.
A distinctive variety of Japanese green tea, Genmaicha is made by mixing roasted rice kernels with the tea leaves, for a flavor that’s sometimes likened to popcorn.
Another unusual type of Japanese green tea, Kukicha is notable in that it doesn’t contain any tea leaves, but rather is made from stems, stalks and twigs of the tea plant.
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