Brought from China in the 700s, tea was originally reserved for monasteries and royalty. Finally, in the 1300s, tea became available to all social classes and now is embedded in Japanese culture. The first tea garden in the country was on Japan’s largest lake, Biwa-ko. Today, the Shizuoka district produces nearly half of the country’s tea.
Often mechanically harvested, the tea leaves do not remain fully intact. During processing, the leaves are steamed rather than fired, which results in a delicate, very green tea with a bright vegetal flavor. The time of harvest determines the differences in flavors and quality, with Gyokuro (right), or “precious dew,” harvested in spring. Additionally, for Gyokuro and Kabusecha production (both premium teas), the leaves are shaded for several weeks before harvest. This increases the chlorophyll and amino acid L-theanine content of the leaves: the increased chlorophyll results in a more vibrant green color and the increased theanine heightens the umami flavor (umami translates roughly to “pleasant savory taste”).
Sencha—with a range of grades—comprises three-quarters of Japan’s tea. Kukicha consists mostly of leaf veins and small twigs, while Genmaicha is green tea blended with toasted rice (genmai). And crucial to the Japanese tea ceremony is Matcha—the highest-quality, deveined, tea leaves that have been ground into fine powder.
Experience the spectrum of Japanese green teas for yourself!