How to Add a Japanese Flair to Your Tea Time

Tea is enjoyed around the world and is the most popular beverage after plain water. The ways to enjoy tea are as varied as there are countries. Japan, a key tea producing and consuming nation, is of particular interest and produces some of the most unique teas on the market. Enjoying them properly doesn’t require traveling to Japan, though. You can add a Japanese flair to your tea time that will make those teas taste just like they do in the finest tea houses in that island nation.

Some Japanese Teas We’ve Tried

Over the years we have tried teas from Japan. Some were just different versions of the same tea from different vendors. And the stuff from The English Tea Store can’t even qualify as decent Japanese tea, let alone anything at all representative of the finer teas from that country.

A Bit More About the Teas Above

Genmaicha (玄米茶, brown rice tea)

Green tea and roasted rice (ratio: 1 to 1), balancing the astringency of green tea with the nutty flavor of the roasted rice. Was traditionally made with bancha but now lots of options, such as sencha, houji, and gyokuro.

Genmaicha with 100% mochi rice has the highest quality. That made with common Japanese rice is the most normal. Some blends use both types of rice.

The rice is soaked in water for awhile and then steamed and dried using hot air. Then the rice is roasted and cooled. It is during the roasting that some of the rice “pops”, giving the tea its nickname of “popcorn tea.” This popping indicates poorer temperature control, however, and is not seen in the best brands.

Gyokuro (玉露, literally translates as jade dew)

A dark green color and a slightly sweet flavor with a refreshing aroma. One of the highest grades of green tea in Japan. This style of tea has its own grades, with the highest quality having the highest price (supposedly, but buyer beware). The tea is made in a similar way to sencha, the main difference being that the bushes are covered about 20 days prior to harvesting to increase the L-theanine content in the leaves, and giving the infusion more umami quality and sweetness.

Houjicha

A tea with a reddish brown color and a roasted fragrance in the infusion but not a true black despite, despite that color. The leaves are not oxidized but are roasted at about 200°C and then quickly cooled. The results in less caffeine and a lower level of catechins, resulting in far less bitterness than true black teas.

Sencha (literally “decocted tea”, 煎茶)

More than 80% of the green tea processed in Japan is sencha. The infusion is greenish yellow and has a refreshing arome. The flavor is a bit astringent and sweet. Sencha tea leaves are cultivated in direct sunlight and harvested in the first flush (the best) or second flush. Only the upper, younger shoots are harvested, then steamed for less than a minute to prevent oxidation, dried, and rolled to a familiar needle shape. The rolling also releases juices inside the leaves to infuse a stronger flavor.

Next, the leaves are dried and rolled. When rolled, the leaves attain the familiar needle shape and as a bonus the juices inside the leaves are released by this action, so that the taste is intensified.

© 2016-2020 A.C. Cargill photos and text

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