Flavors Compared: Chinese Green Tea vs. from Japanese Green Tea

When it comes to green tea, the two big contenders are China and Japan. And the flavor profiles couldn’t be more different. Or are they? Your fave little teapot and my humans dive into a few ways that they are. Your impressions are also welcome.

[Note: the information in this article comes from a number of online sites posting about both kinds of teas; we have consolidated much of it and made it more readable and understandable to those outside of China and Japan.]


Typical Flavors of Chinese Green Teas


Let’s start with a look at some commonly known Chinese green teas and their flavor profiles.

Click on each photo for tea name and flavor profile:


Typical Flavors of Japanese Green Teas


Now a look at some commonly known Japanese green teas and their flavor profiles.

Click on each photo for tea name and flavor profile.


What Accounts for These Differences


Tea flavors arise from a number of factors: cultivar, terroir (especially tea garden altitude), time harvested, how harvested (hand or machine), and how processed (hand or machine, etc.). That last one is a big reason for the flavor differences between these two major classes of green teas.

Processing

Stopping oxidation, the key step in producing a fine green tea, is done differently. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.

  • Chinese — mainly pan-frying (with some exceptions), a method that imparts a nice smell and enables makers to shape the teas; also oven dried and sometimes steamed. Often, methods are combined. Examples: Houkui (wholly oven dried); Biluochun (pan-fried, then oven dried); Zhuyeqing (all three methods). Steaming is used mainly for teas exported to Japan. Pan frying stops the oxidation process, but slightly ferments the leaves, accounting for the difference in overall flavor profiles and a slightly nutty character. Overall, these teas are easier to infuse and get good tasting results; generally milder and slightly sweeter than Japanese varieties.
  • Japanese — mostly steaming (done as soon as possible after harvest to stop oxidation), making the tea greener and more attractive but grassier tasting than Chinese green teas; some pan-frying is done. Badly made Japanese green tea can taste fishy. Their teas overall are more difficult to infuse properly for good flavor. They tend to be more grassy and slightly bitter than the milder Chinese green teas.

Varieties

There are quite a variety of Chinese green teas. They come in about nine shapes, including rolled into tight pellet shapes (Gunpowder) and looser balls (Dragon Pearls), or gently curled to then uncurl in your cup or teapot while steeping (White Monkey Paw). Some have Jasmine added, while others have flowers and fruits in them.

Teas vary by the location where they’re grown. China grows tea in 15 provinces and so is more geographically diverse than Japan, with the taste varying accordingly (this is the terroir part mentioned above). Chinese green teas are also more likely to be hand-processed instead of made in a factory. The top Chinese green tea is Dragonwell, so popular that fake Dragonwell has entered the market (made from teas not grown in the Dragonwell area of China).

Japanese teas come mainly in two shapes: needle-shaped pieces (gyokuro and sencha) and powder (Matcha). They have two main types: those that are shaded during part of the growing season and used for gyokuro, matcha, etc.; and those that are not shaded (senchas). Some of these teas can taste fishy, especially if not properly processed. Not an issue if you like sushi. Some (pan-fried) can taste nutty and go well with stir-fried foods. Sencha mixed with roasted rice is one of the most popular teas in Japan (genmaicha), with good reason. It’s toasty tasting yet smooth and slightly sweet. Houjicha is a roasted green tea that is nutty in flavor with a brown liquid.

Bear in mind that a lot of tea is now exported from China to Japan. (China produces over 80% of the world’s green tea compared to Japan’s 7%; China is the top exporter at 78% of the export market with Japan exporting less than 1% worldwide, less even than Vietnam and Indonesia.) Some of this is then sold as Japanese tea. It’s good to know your supplier so you know which you are getting. (We don’t sell any Japanese teas at this time.)


Which Green Tea Is Right for You


Obviously, we can’t tell you anything definitive here, but we do offer some general guidelines:

What You Want Chinese Green Tea
for You
Japanese Green Tea
for You
Similar to black tea Snowy Mountain Jian Houjicha
Houjicha Karigane
Similar to coffee or roasted grain flavor Gunpowder Genmaicha
Genmaicha Matcha-iri
Brisk flavor Xin Yang Mao Jian (Green Tip) Sencha
Smooth, mellow sweet flavor Biluochun or Pi Luo Chun (Green Snail Spring) Gyokuro
Matcha
Low caffeine Xin Yang Mao Jian (Green Tip) Genmaicha
Houjicha
Houjicha Karigane
To go with sushi or other seafood dishes Longjing (Dragonwell) Sencha
Full-flavored green tea Hyson Lucky Dragon Matcha
Sencha Fukamushi
Inexpensive green tea that still tastes great Gunpowder Sencha Karigane
Gyokuro Karigane

Select a tea and enjoy!

See also our Guide to Japanese Teas.

© 2017-2021 World Is a Tea Party photos and text

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Hi, humans, this site is under my editorial excellence. I, your lovable and sassy Little Yellow Teapot, authors articles on tea, etc., and edit the occasional guest article. All in the interest of helping you humans have a better tea experience. TOOOT!

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