Japanese monks brought tea to Japan from China in the 9th Century. At that time only the religious and royal classes were consuming it. From it’s popularity among nobility came the Japanese tea ceremony. Today, Japanese typically drink green tea or oolong tea—hot or cold. Chinese green teas are pan-fired for a more roasted flavour profile. Japanese green teas are typically steamed to maintain nutrients and elicit sweet vegetal notes. However, to extract their optimal flavour, green teas must be brewed at lower temperatures and for less time than most other teas. Brewed too hot or too long and it all becomes bitter tasting.
Shincha – harvested before first flush, these are the youngest new-growth leaves. Steep at 80º for 40 seconds.
Sencha – The most popular tea in Japan, representing 80% of all production. Steep at 70º for 1 – 2 minutes (to taste.)
Gyokuro –high quality green tea, made from smaller-leaf cultivars and grown in the shade for three weeks prior to harvest, yielding higher amounts of chlorophyll, sweeter notes and richer colour. Steep at 50º for 2 minutes 30 seconds.
Kabusecha – shaded for one week prior to harvest. Steep at 70º for 2 minutes.
Houjicha – kukicha twigs are roasted with sencha or bancha leaves. Golden brown in colour. Toasty flavour. Served after meals or before bed. Low in caffeine. Steep at 90º to 100º for 30 seconds.
Genmaicha – combines toasted puffed rice to sencha and bancha. It is popular for it’s combination of grassy notes and roasted rice. Steep at 90º for 30 seconds.
Matcha – shaded before harvest, the leaves, called tencha, are ground into a fine powder. Typically prepared during Japanese tea ceremony, 2 to 3 tea scoops are whisked in a bowl (from side to side – not in a circle) with 90º water until frothy.
Bancha – harvested from the same plant as sencha, but later in the year, after sencha production, during the second flush, so it is considered a lower grade. Steep at 80º for 60 seconds.
Kukicha – (also called Kariganecha) a blend of gyokuro and sencha leaves and stems. It has less caffeine than sencha. Steep at 80º for 60 seconds.
Kamairicha – leaves are pan-fired for a mild roasted flavour with sweet notes. Steep at 70º for 2 minutes.
Tamaryokucha – coiled tea (also called guricha – curly tea) because the leaves are rolled instead of kneaded. It has citric and grassy notes. Steep at 70°C for about 2 minutes or 80°C for about 1 minute.
Aracha – includes the leaf blade, stem and other particles of the plant. Noted for its deep green colour and bold taste. Steep at 50º for 2 minutes 30 seconds.
Fukamushicha – Leaves from sencha, gyokuro, kabusecha and bancha can be deep-steamed for a longer time than usual – 1 to 2 minutes. (Usually green tea is steamed for 30 seconds to 1 minute.) Steep for 30 seconds at 80º.
* Note that second-steeping-time for all of the above can be shortened by 1/3; and when making matcha, pre-heat the bowl with hot water.
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.