Types Of Japanese Tea

It’s no wonder that you would have no idea where to start to enjoy Japanese tea at home if you are a Japanese tea beginner.

Of course you don’t even know what tea you want to try if you don’t know what types of Japanese tea exist in this world.

So now you have found the right place to begin a journey to the amazing world of Japanese tea!

Let’s hit the road!

What exactly is tea?

You might be familiar with “tea” but there are so many different types of tea around us.

If I say “tea” in my home, my family know it means “green tea” but a Japanese friend of mine told me that her family call barley tea “tea”.

So firstly I would like to share the definition of “tea” with you before I start talking about types of tea. 

What is a technical name of tea?

To say strict, when you call it tea, the drink is made from the same plant.

This plant is called Camelia Sinensis: a subtropical evergreen plant.

It is categorized into 2 groups: Assam bush and Chinese bush.

Almost all of the tea trees grown in Japan are Assam bush.

Now you have got the question.

“What! Herbal and rooibos teas I drink all the time are not “tea”!?

No. Sorry guys. Technically they are tisanes or infusions, not tea.

However it has been very common that we call them “tea” so don’t worry about it. I think it is even natural.

「チャ (CHA)」&「茶 (cha)」

It is more about Japanese tea language but a technical topic so let me continue.

To begin with,  I have to mention that tea is called “cha” in Japanese.

In Japanese tea industry when people call “cha” there are 2 meanings so they wright them in different ways : 「チャ」in Katakana &「茶」in Kanji. Both of the pronunciations are the same “cha”. 

「チャ」means tea plants growing in a field or a farm.

On the other had, 「茶」 means tea leaves produced in tea factory or tea as a drink that we enjoy at home and cafes.

You don’t need to remember this but just be aware of that when we talk about tea in Japanese haha

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チャ/ CHA

CHA as plants

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茶 / cha

cha as products or drinks

そもそも「お茶」って何?

Classification of Japanese tea

Ok now we have learned that every tea is from the same plant and let’s take a look at how Japanese tea is categorized in to different types.

If it is from the same tree them what are the points to categorize them.

The way it is grown? Where it is from? How it is produced?

The answer is in their manufacturing processes.

The degrees of oxidation and fermentation categorize teas

I know. You probably haven’t though of that.

So tea is mainly categorized into 4 groups: non-oxidized tea, semi-oxidized tea, oxidized tea and fermented tea.

Oxidation inside of tea leaves starts right after tea leaves are plucked in the farm. Then it is going to be stopped by a heating step in a manufacturing process.

So what is crucial in this step is how much tea leaves are allowed to be oxidized and when it is heated at the best timing for each tea. 

First of all, to make non-oxidized tea, tea leaves are heated as soon as possible before the oxidation continues for a long time.

Japanese and Chinese green tea is processed this way.

Secondly, semi-oxidized tea is allowed to be oxidized for a while and heated at an ideal timing. Oolong tea is in this category and the degrees of oxidation is different depends on tea producers.

Thirdly, oxidized tea is heated after the tea leaves are fully oxidized. Black tea is processed this way.

Ok finally fermented tea. While these there groups of teas are categorized by the degrees of oxidation, this type of tea is to be fermented by  microorganisms after halting oxidation by heating. 

It tastes a bit sour like yogurt and Kimchi, looks blacky and has a special flavor. Goishicha or black stone tea, from Kochi, Japan and Pu’erh tea are in this category.

Non-oxidized tea

Green tea, Gyokuro, Bancha, etc.

Semi-oxidized tea

Oolong tea, Pouchong tea, etc.

Oxidized tea

Black tea

Fermented tea

Goishicha, Awabancha, Pu'erh tea, etc.

What makes a difference between Japanese & Chinese green tea?

Now let’s look at the most familiar tea for Japanese people, green tea. 

Green tea is mainly divided into Japanese green tea and Chinese green tea and the difference is made in the first step of the manufacturing process: heating.

As I have already mentioned both of them are non-oxidized teas so they are made by heating the leaves as soon as their leaves are plucked.

While Chinese green tea is to be pan-fried, Japanese green tea is to be steamed for the heating

If you are a green tea drinker it may ring a bell that when you drink Chinese green tea has a roasty aroma that is not found in Japanese green tea. 

Japanese tea has one type of pan-fried green tea called “pan-fried Tama Ryokucha” but this is it. I will explain about this type of tea later.

Alright! We have been classifying tea very well and I believe your understanding of the types of Japanese tea has been getting deepened.

Now we will take a close look at the whole type of Japanese tea.

Classification of Japanese tea

With the knowledge I have shared with you, I have made a classification map of Japanese tea as below.

©2018CHA-Link

As seeing the picture above I will explain the details of it;

According you what have already learned, you can classify tea into 4 groups, right?

However the wording is too technical so I will change the way how I call the groups.

I will call non-oxidized tea the Type Green Tea, semi-oxidation tea the Type Oolong Tea, oxidized tea the Type Black Tea, and I will leave fermented tea as it is.

Ok now let me move a head.

I will list up all the types of tea on the picture above.

1.Type Green Tea(Non-oxidized)

Steamed
①Normal (Steamed) Green Tea/ Futsu Sencha

This is a type of tea representing Japanese tea. Normal (steamed) green tea is steamed around 30 to 40 sec. They use a word “normal” in Japanese but it means more likely “standard”.

②Deep Steamed Green tea / Fukamushi Sencha

Deep steamed green tea is steamed about 2 to 3 times for than normal steamed green tea. If tea leaves are steamed longer than this, the tea produced is called “Special deep steamed green tea / Toku Mushi Cha”.

The produced tea leaves are finer than normal green tea since its steaming time is long and the tissues of tea leaves are broken. So it is popular for its easiness of brewing. 

③Gyokuro

Gyokuro is ranked in the highest position among Japanese tea. Gyokuro is produced less than 1% of the whole production of tea leaves in Japan. The tea bushes are covered with natural reed or plastic netting for its final period of growth. This process provides a special savory flavor or Umami.

④Kabusecha

The tea bushed are shaded as the same way as Gyokuro for a while but the period is shorter. It is positioned in between Gyokuro and Sencha.

⑤Round Green Tea / Tamaryokucha

What is different for Tamaryokucha from Sencha is that it is processed without the final rolling step so it looks curly and rounded. Steamed Tamaryokucha was invested to be exported to Russia in the Taisho Period by imitating Chinese pan-fried tea. Another name is “Guricha”

⑥Tencha

Tencha is the original tea leaves to become Matcha. Their leaves are also shaded from the sun for a certain period and unlike the other teas, it is processed without any rolling steps. So Tencha lookes like tiny pieces of thin papers. Of course you can brew tencha but it is actually a rare Japanese tea since almost all of them are supposed to be processed to produce Matcha.

⑦Matcha

As I explained above, Matcha is made of ⑥Tencha. Matcha has been traditionally used for Japanese tea ceremonies. Rica belongs to a school of the leaf tea ceremony different from most popular Matcha ceremony by the way. Matcha is getting really popular to be used for desserts in and outside of Japan.

⑧Bancha

Bancha is made from the buds turned hard and thick and hard tea leaves grown after the main harvesting season. Therefore Bancha is categorized as a low-grate. However it is reasonable,  containing less caffeine and less bitter so it is actually appreciated by pregnant women and sick people.

⑨Roasted Green Tea / Hojicha

Hojicha is made by reprocessing Sencha or Bancha. Its lovely roasty flavor has been attracting people and Hojicha desserts are also getting popular. It also contains less caffeine as Bancha and I would like to recommend it for babies and pregnant women. 

⑩Brown Rice Tea / Genmaicha

Genmaicha also has a beautiful roasty flavor. Not many leaves are used for a brew as brown rice is together with it. So not much caffeine is infused in brown rice tea either and it is also recommended to everyone. Brown rice tea is also popular for Japanese tea beginners in overseas for its beautiful aroma.

Pan-fried
⑪Round Green Tea / Tamaryokucha

Pan-fried Tamaryokucha is the only pan-fried tea while majority of Japanese tea adopt a steaming method for a heating step. It looks rounded as the last rolling step is omitted.

2.Type Oolong Tea(Semi-oxidized tea)

Oolong Tea Poucong Tea

In Chinese tea classification ( Six major tea types) they call semi-oxidized tea “blue tea” which usually means Oolong tea in China but people classify it into Oolong tea and Pouchong tea in Taiwan. The tea leaves are to be rested indoors and/or outdoors for a while before heating unlike the green tea processing. This process provides a fruity and flowery flavor. Technically this step is called “withering”.

3.Black Tea(Oxidized Tea)

⑭Black Tea

The tea leaves of black tea looks black like brown as it is 100% oxidized. Only a small amount of black tea is produced in Japan. It is the most popular tea around the world and produced in many countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Africa and so on.

4.Type Fermented Tea

Pickled Tea
⑮Lahpetso ⑯Miang

Lahpetso is from Myanmer and Miang is from Thailand. Both are a type of tea but for drinking.They are fermented by anaerobic bacteria by shutting off from the air. People in Myanmer eats Lahpetso as a common side dish but Thai people enjoy chewing Miang like a gum after meals. I would like to try it one day!

⑰Black Stone Tea/ Goishi Cha

The tea leaves of Goishi Cha, prodused in Otoyo city in Kochi Prefecture look like black stones and make tea by boiling a lump/ block of them. They are processed by 2 steps of fermentation: with a fungus and with a bacterium.

Awabancha

Awabancha is a local specialty from Naka city and Kamikatsu city in Tokushima Prefecture. Its tea leaves are fermented with a bacterium by shutting off from the air. I imagine Awabancha seems easier to brew than Goishi cha because the tea leaves are to be kneaded after boiled.

These teas above contains a plenty of lactic bacteria. They will improve the condition of your intestines and have other health benefits,

Chinese Fermented Tea
⑲Pu’erh Tea

Pu’erh tea and the fermented tea of Toyama are fermented with a fungus. Pu’erh tea is also divided into raw tea and cooked tea but both are known for great effects for health and beauty especially among women.

Finally

So this is it about the classification and types of Japanese tea.

Did you find a tea you want to try?

I understand there are even more different teas among normal green teas so you can start with searching a reasonable one online, or you can also choose one from a tea producing are and a type of cultivar.

I will update more information to help you so please come back to us again 🙂

Rica, Miss TEA Ambasador of Japan

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