While matcha tea is now popular in the West there are many other varieties of Japanese tea worth exploring. In this article we try to provide you with information on the varieties available, how they are made, how they might taste, and why it’s good to keep an open mind.
Japanese Tea. Matcha 抹茶
Matcha tea needs little introduction and has become a most popular tea in the USA and Europe. It is usually categorized by the quality of the matcha powder used, the time of harvest, the method of harvest, the grinding method, and whether it is organic or non-organic. Some familiar terms used to classify matcha tea are explained below but there is no industry definition. The following terms are usually adopted by western tea companies who can really create whatever labels they want and there is no governing body to regulate this. Traditionally, in Japan, there were just two grades; ceremonial grade and then everything else, being also available as organic or non-organic. Determining the quality of the matcha tea powder can be difficult. There are some companies selling lower grade matcha as ceremonial grade, matcha powders mixed with cheaper Chinese matcha etc. Even with matcha produced in Japan the quality varies greatly. Ultimately the taste will be the deciding factor for most people, but those familiar with high quality matcha will not be fooled. Quality matcha cannot be produced cheaply. For example, handpicked spring harvested leaves, exclusively grown only in quiet small amounts in a small region of Japan, having to be sorted and prepared and finally taking up to one hour to grind 40g of matcha using a traditional stone mortar and pestle. How can this be done cheaply? Anyone selling high grade Japanese matcha cheaply must be losing money or…….. You can make up your own mind about that.
Drinking Grade Matcha is the highest grade available and within this grade western tea companies often create sub categories. It is common to see such terms as heritage grade, ceremonial grade, premium grade, superior grade, and organic grade etc. used.
Ceremonial grade matcha should be the highest grade available and be a vibrant green colour with a delicate taste and aroma, a sweet vegetal smell which the increased levels of theanine have provided, and absolutely no bitterness to the taste. It is harvested in the spring and ground using a granite stone mill. Its texture is extremely fine, and in combination with the bright green colour, it can easily be recognised from other matcha tea grades. To ensure you are getting the best quality matcha it should always be produced in Japan. Only Japan has the conditions necessary to produce high quality matcha. Matcha Blend Tea only sources matcha tea from Uji, Kyoto, Japan.
Culinary Grade matcha is harvested in the summer and autumn and has a stronger taste. It is less expensive than ceremonial grade matcha but is still a very high quality product. The main difference is the taste. It is a more robust flavour than ceremonial grade matcha, being bitterer, and has a slightly less vibrant green colour. If using as a drinking matcha more powder will need to be used and will probably taste better to most with a little sweetener added. Its main purpose though is for use in cooking and baking. Being specifically blended for use with other ingredients in food and drink recipes, its enhanced flavour cannot be overwhelmed by the other flavours in food and beverages.
Organic or Non-organic?
Organic Grade Matcha is produced by farmers who are restricted in the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Natural farming practices are employed. The use of natural fertilizers, biodiversity to control pests, and weeding by hand are the main differences. Organic farming can mean that the tea plant grows more slowly, the tea may have less flavour and the tea plant is more prone to damage from pests and disease.
To have a product labelled as organic the farm needs to be inspected by a government approved certifier who ensures the farmer is following all the necessary rules to meet USDA standards.
To buy Organic or non-organic Matcha Tea? Japan has some of the most strictly enforced agricultural laws in the world, with the use of pesticides checked regularly. In fact the agricultural laws are much stricter than Europe or the USA. What this means is the use of pesticides is so low in Japan (1mg of pesticides per 1kilogram of tea leaves) that differentiating between organic and non-organic tea leaves is difficult. Usually organic matcha tea has less flavour and has a less vivid green colour. Matcha tea produced in the Uji, Kyoto region of Japan ensures buying non-organic is a higher quality, less bitter, and more flavoursome tea.
What’s different about matcha from Matcha Blend Tea?
In one word; Quality. Matcha Blend Tea does not source tea from China. The main reason for this is the lack of quality. Tea plants absorb a high rate of pollutants from the air, so even if the plants are raised as organic, lead and other heavy metals are sure to be present. If you do decide to buy a Chinese green tea ask the retailer about the levels of lead and other heavy metals content. Studies have shown that they can be above safe levels, even though they may be certified as organic.
Our Matcha Super Premium is the highest quality ceremonial Matcha produced in the Uji, Kyoto region of Japan, the traditional home of the world’s finest green teas. Each leaf for this special matcha is selected and carefully picked by our farmers’ skilled hands. Even in Japan, tea leaves of this quality are difficult to find, so we are very pleased to be able to offer you our Matcha Super Premium.
Matcha Super Premium is very smooth and mellow, with a deep taste and excellent noble aroma. There is no bitterness and it’s very suitable for koicha (thick and strong matcha, the special way in tea ceremony) or usucha (thin and weak matcha, the standard way). Made from 100% powdered green tea of ‘Samidori’ and ‘Asahi’ breeds, and only from the shincha harvest (the first tea of the year).
Shaded for 20 to 30 days before harvest by the traditional way of ‘Tana’, which requires skilful technique and great care. Once picked the leaves are dried then ground with a traditional stone mortar and pestle, called a Hikiusu, ensuring you are provided with a rich, vivid green powder. Our Matcha Super Premium is a Matcha Tea of rare quality and purity, even in Kyoto, Japan.
Japanese Tea. Sencha 煎茶
The standard and most common form of Japanese tea. It is a green tea which accounts for approximately 80% of the tea sold in Japan. The reason for its popularity? A quality tea at a reasonable price and is probably the best green tea for everyday use.
It is harvested 3 – 4 times a year. Depending on the season of harvest and cultivation process it will have a mix of catechins that create astringency and amino acids (particularly L-theanine) that create a sweet-savouriness called umami (the fifth taste). The young spring harvested leaves produce the finest quality Sencha.
Once the leaves are picked they are ‘fixed’ by steaming, then rolled into a needle-like shape, and dried.
Why choose our Sencha Tea?
Our Sencha Premium is one of the highest quality green teas available from Japan, being carefully selected from Uji spring harvest young leaf tea.
Sencha contains more of the beneficial nutrient Catechin than other green teas, grown in full sunlight, thus becoming yellowish green in colour.
Ensuring we use only the young leaf sprouts that are small and soft and not fully-grown gives our Sencha a wonderful fresh aroma, with a gently astringent taste.
A very mellow and refreshing cup of tea experience.
Japanese Tea. Hojicha 焙じ茶
Roasted green tea usually made from bancha. Also spelled “hojicha” or “houjicha”. It often has a chocolaty aroma, is naturally sweet and slightly smoky to taste.
Like Sencha, tea leaves for Hojicha are grown in full sunlight, so that Hojicha contains beneficial Catechin, and since Hojicha is 100% pan-roasted, it is very low in caffeine. What ensures our Hojicha is of premium quality? The geographic location and features of the tea farm and the product freshness. We use only tea farms capable of producing the highest grade Sencha, meaning they are also suitable for growing the tea leaves suitable for quality Hojicha. Grown on the sloping hills of the Uji region of Japan, with its naturally mineral-rich soil, the misty climate, the warm days and cool nights, creating the excellent flavour of our premium Hojicha tea.
Freshness is also most important for Hojicha. The excellent roasted aroma diminishes with time. Hojicha usually keeps in good condition for a year or more if preserved appropriately. However, the excellent roasted aroma of Hojicha should be enjoyed within a few months of roasting. We are constantly receiving new batches of roasted Hojicha so that we can ship all our Hojicha while still at its best. With our Hojicha, you can experience the full flavour of freshly roasted tea leaves.
Hojicha – Roasting.
The first three processing steps of Hojicha tea leaves are the same as for Sencha: 1) Steaming, 2) Drying and crumpling, and 3) Shaping. But to make Hojicha, the tea goes through one special additional step: 4) Roasting. The unique toasted nutty flavour of Hojicha is created by roasting.
Our Premium Hojicha has several unique features: 100% Pan-Roasted ‘Uji’ Sencha green tea, Spring harvested. Always fresh. Smooth and mellow and low in caffeine. Unique toasted nutty flavour. Grown in full sunlight so contains beneficial catechin.
Japanese Tea. Genmaicha 玄米茶
Genmaicha is a green tea mixed with brown rice. Often called brown rice tea, it is actually toasted white rice which is more often used than brown rice. Usually a 1:1 mix of rice and bancha or sencha. This was known as the people’s tea as the rice was used as a filler to reduce the price and make it more affordable for all.
Our Genmaicha Premium is a mellow blend of spring harvest Sencha and roasted puffed brown rice grains. Well-loved for centuries in Japan.
While lower quality Genmaicha is often made with low grade Sencha, our Genmaicha uses only carefully selected spring harvest leaves, ensuring the aroma of our premium Japanese Genmaicha is much more flavourful and smooth than any other Genmaicha on the market. The rice provides the rich and hearty flavour of roasted grains of coffee. The Sencha provides the freshness.
Smooth and full of flavour. Why not replace your coffee consumption with this healthy alternative?
Japanese Tea. Gyokuro 玉露
Top quality Gyokuro is harvested in the spring. While the processing is the same as Sencha, Gyokuro is cultivated by shading for approximately three weeks prior to harvest. Various agricultural techniques are also used to create a concentration of flavour in the leaves. The result is a leaf that has much higher amino acid content, and will steep into a rich, savoury tea syrup.
Our Gyokuro Premium is one of the highest quality green teas produced in Japan. A very precious breed of ‘Gokoh’, grown only in quite small amounts and exclusively in the Uji region of Kyoto, Japan. Carefully grown in the shade for 20 to 30 days before spring harvest by way of ’Tana’, the traditional method, requiring great skill and technique.
Gyokuro has several unique features: very mellow, with an elegant aroma, a sweetness of taste, and a bright green colour.
All YOI teas are of such quality that they can be brewed three times with full flavour.
There are some wonderful resources online to allow people learn more about tea, the varieties available, and the trends happening around the world. Please select the links below.