The World Is a Tea Party Presents: Your Guide to Japanese Teas – Tea Terms

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Language differences can stand in the way of your understanding of Japanese teas, so we wanted to present this helpful list of tea terms (let us know of any we missed).

Term Japanese Meaning
Butshu Plucking Plucking of tea leaves with the stem (used for teas such as tencha).
Cha Generic term for tea (the true kind made from Camellia sinensis plant family), but in Japan also used for tisanes/herbals.
Cha-en 茶園 “tea garden”

Most large tea companies in Japan refer to themselves by this term even if they are part of a specific tea farm (nearly all farms are owned by a single person or family due to Japan’s onerous government regulations).

Chado (sadō) 茶道 茶 = tea (cha), 道 = path      Tea path.
An agricultural practice dating back 10,000 years.

Labor-intensive, where fields of grass are tended to provide mulch and other resources for the tea field. Inefficient and driven by fear of chemical fertilizers generated in Western countries.

Chaji 茶事 “tea thing”

A formal tea gathering where the host serves a meal in the tea kaiseki style, with emphasis on thin tea (usucha) and thick tea (koicha).

Chajin 茶人 “tea person”

A professional in the tea business, but can also refer to a tea lover who strives to learn about and incorporate tea into their lives.

Chakai 茶 会 An informal tea gathering, usually something sweet to eat and a bowl of thin tea (usucha).
Chanoyu 茶の湯 Japanese tea ceremony


Chashi 茶師 “tea master” or “tea expert”

An experienced expert in the Japanese tea industry, such as a blender or taster or otherwise involved in the creation of tea (except).

Chashitsu 茶室 A traditional tearoom.
Chasho 茶匠 “tea master”

A tea expert primarily selling tea.

Chaya 茶屋 “tea shop”


“cultivated variety”

A plant or group of plants selected for desirable characteristics maintained by propagation (in the case of tea, growing new plants from branch cuttings). There are hundreds of tea plant cultivars with various characteristics such as varying catechin levels, disease resistance, insect resistance, and suitability to certain growing conditions (terroir). The trend away from farmers selling their leaves to brokers who then blend them with other batches is resulting in these cultivars appearing on the market directly.

Debana Freshly-served tea.
Denguri Part of temomicha production where tea leaves are rubbed against each other.
EGCG   Epigallocatechin Gallate

A potent antioxidant found most commonly in tea leaves; a catechin believed to have therapeutic qualities. Degrades when exposed to heat for several hours. To extract the most from tea leaves, you need to infuse them in water heated to near boiling, which is not good for most green teas and results in bitterness.

Hi-ire The final drying stage of sencha.
Honzu Tana mats made of straw and reed.

Hutsu tsumi The normal picking style of 1 bud with 4-5 leaves.
Ishiusu 石臼 The stone mill used to grind tencha.


Jikagise The cloth/fabric cover that is placed directly on tea plants, shading them to generate the qualities prized in gyokuro and tencha.


Jotan / Jyotan A traditional tea grilling/steaming hearth for making temomicha.
Kanreisha Generally refers to the covers used to shade tea plants, as shown here:


Koicha 濃茶 “thick tea”

Often refers to a high-quality matcha made using about half the usual amount of water.

Koridashi Infusing tea leaves using iced water.
Mizudashi Infusing tea leaves using chilled water.
Nigami “bitterness” (for tea and foods)
Nihoncha 日本茶 日本 = Nihon (Japan), 茶 = cha (tea)

Generally used for traditional Japanese teas (sencha, matcha, genmaicha, etc.), not black teas or oolongs.

Niyou Tsumi The two-leaf picking style of 1 bud with 2 leaves.
Nurudashi ぬるだし Infusing tea leaves using hot water.
Ocha General term for tea.
A tea field where the tea plants have been covered to shade them for making gyokuro and tencha teas.
Roten-en An open-air tea field.
Ryokucha 緑茶 緑 = green, 茶 = tea

A tea that does not fall into the usual categories.

A term used for Japanese steamed teas (matcha, gyokuro, kabusecha, sencha, bancha, houjicha, genmaicha, and green teas from other countries).

Manufacturers often use for blends of lower quality leaves, especially bagged and bottled.

Sayamakaori “strong taste”
Sanyou Tsumi The third leaf picking style of 1 bud with 3 leaves.
Shibui An aesthetic of simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty.
Shibumi 渋味 Astringency (for tea and foods).

A somewhat poetic term, often paired with shibui.

Shigoki Plucking The regular plucking of tea leaves for gyokuro and similar styles of tea.
Shogochaji 正午茶事 A standard noon tea.
Tana Canopy for shading the tea plants. The shading is an important step and can ultimately determine the quality of the final tea product.


Temomi 手揉み Processing tea leaves by rubbing/rolling them. (See temomicha.) Farmers do this by hand sometimes to understand how the rolling machines work. The full process lasts 5 to 7 hours and uses several rolling techniques with adjustments to speed, strength, etc.
手摘み Picking tea leaves by hand.

Labor cost is too high in Japan to do this for all teas, so it is usually only the special teas submitted to competitions that are hand plucked.

Farmers get help from family, friends, customers, and even foreigners who think it’s thrilling to pick tea to get enough leaves for these special teas.

Picking events are usually held in May.


Theanine, L‑Theanine An amino acid found in tea leaves.

It is the basis for the umami (savoriness) flavor in gyokuro teas and others.

Theanine in tea leaves is heightened by shading the tea plants during the days or weeks before harvest. See Tana above.

Tsuyume Tea leaves harvested with raindrops on them.
Umami 旨味 旨い = delicious, 味= taste

Claimed as one of the five basic tastes (along with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty) but rather questionable. Saying something has umami is akin to saying that it tastes good. Neither descriptive nor objective.

This taste quality is said to come from amino acids (L-theanine which is a glutamic acid analog) in the tea leaves. The amount in the leaves is highest during their early growth and declines as they mature. Higher levels are maintained during maturation by shading the plants a few weeks before harvesting.

Usucha 薄茶 “thin tea”

Often refers to a high-quality matcha made using about half the usual amount of water.

和紅茶 Black tea grown and produced in Japan.

Most often made of leaves from benifuuki cultivar tea plants. Some use leaves from tea plants meant for sencha. Some use assamica cultivars brought from India. The taste and aroma are different from black teas in other countries, and the leaves are steeped up lightly to complement Japanese foods.

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