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Japanese Tea Culture
Green Tea
- vol 2-2 -
■The Most Common Kinds
Sencha : the most common kind
When Japanese people talk about green tea, Japanese tea or even just “tea”, the word most times represents Sencha.
Usually, any kind of tea becomes a product by processing the raw tealeaves. Tealeaves have a nature of start fermenting as soon as they are picked, but by heat processing (steaming and roasting) immediately after picking Japanese green tea becomes a non-fermented tea. Sencha is a kind of tea which goes through the most common and simple processing of first steaming, kneading and then decreasing moisture for long preservation.
Gyokuro : rich umami and unique aroma
Tea growing is largely classified into two types: one is growing fully with sunlight and the other is intentionally cutting sunlight. Gyokuro belongs to the latter, and the tea fields are covered with a sheet when the first 2 – 3 leaves of the season start opening. By growing the new tealeaves with less sunlight for approximately 3 weeks, the tea becomes less bitter and contains rich umami (“savory” would be the closest English translation) as well as aroma.
Shincha : the first leaves of the season
”Shincha” literally means “new tea” and is also called “ichibancha (first tea)” for it is made from the first tealeaves of the season (year). Tea made from leaves picked after the “shincha” season around June to July are called “nibancha (second tea)” and “sanbancha (third tea)”. The tea plants store nutrition over the winter and let the first leaves open in spring, so “shincha” contains rich flavor and therefore the best season or “shun” is known to be April to May. As compared to nibancha and sanbancha, shincha has less catechin and caffeine but is rich in umami and tea-unique sweetness.
Tencha and Matcha : the tea ceremony tea
Tencha is the ingredient for Matcha and is grown with a sheet shutting out sunlight for longer than Gyokuro. The first leaves of the season are dried after steaming but no kneading, and then taken out the stems and veins. Tencha stone-ground before shipping are called Matcha, the extremely thick green tea mostly known for its use in tea ceremonies. Before, tealeaves for Matcha was picked only from tea plants older than a century-old, but today high quality leaves are used alternatively. The Matcha powder is also used in many dishes and sweets.
■Some Other Kinds
Kukicha : brisk aroma and sweetness
Kukicha is a collection of only the stems of new tealeaves that have been separated from the leaves in the process of making Gyokuro and Sencha. It has a unique aroma and flavor from teas made from leaves, and the stems of top quality tea like Gyokuro is treasured as very precious tea.
Houjicha : rich fragrance
When poured into cups Houjicha has a brown color but this is also made from the same leaves as Sencha. After the picked tealeaves are processed into Sencha, Bancha or Kukicha, they are roasted with high heat (approx. 200C) and then immediately cooled down. By roasting the caffeine fades out taking out the bitterness and adding rich fragrance unique to Houjicha.
Genmaicha: tea with rice
Genmaicha is made from genmai (brown rice) first soaked in water, steamed, roasted and then mixed together with about the same amount of Sencha or Bancha. By mixing roasted brown rice and green tea together, the rich aroma of the rice and fresh taste of the tea can be enjoyed at once. This one too has less caffeine and is easy to drink for all generations.
■Tea with Rich Nutrition
Konacha : tiny fragments of tealeaves
Konacha meaning “powder tea” is a collection of tiny fragments of tealeaves which fell from the sieve in the last process of making Gyokuro or Sencha. Because the brewed tea contains a good amount of tealeaves itself, active ingredients that do not dissolve into water can be taken in effectively. The taste is relatively thick and the color deep.
Fukamushi-Sencha : extra steamed Sencha
Sencha steamed twice or more as much as normal Sencha is called Fukamushi-Sencha (“deep steamed Sencha”). For the steam heat reaches the deeper parts of the tealeaves the taste and color of the brewed tea is richer than normal Sencha. It is also less bitter and because the tealeaves become finer, Fukamushi-Sencha too allows effective intake of active ingredients.
■Health Benefits
Tea Catechin : the lifestyle disease preventer
The idea that “people who drink green tea more have lower blood cholesterol levels” have spread among Japanese people in the past few years, and this is actually proven by several scientific researches. This is believed to be the efficacy of “catechin” included in green tea preventing the absorption of only bad cholesterol from daily meals.

Results from other researches also tell that catechin helps reduce body fat. It doesn’t have instantaneous effect, but adopting the habit of drinking green tea along with usual meals proved to reduce body fat especially around the abdomen.

Catechin, lifestyle disease preventer plays an important role in preventing one of the Three Severe Lifestyle Diseases, cancer. According to the Vital Statistics Division of Japan, the death rate caused by cancer in Shizuoka Prefecture, the top green tea producing prefecture in Japan, is remarkably low as compared to the national average.
Researchers of other prefectures conducted a survey on the relationship of the amount of green tea intake and cancer incidence rate, and reported that the more green tea intake the less chances of cancer incidence.

Reactive oxygen is a significant body protector, but it can become a poison to the body at times. There are many kinds of components that act as antioxidant existent in the nature, and green tea being rich in beta-carotene, vitamin E, vitamin C and more, is known to have extraordinarily high antioxidant effects.

Catechin is also effective in protecting teeth from cavity, for it keeps down the increase of streptococcus mutans and plaque formation. It also has antivirus effects and it is said that gargling with green tea is very effective in flu prevention.
Caffeine : the refresher
Caffeine is widely know for its awakening property, and the caffeine contained in green tea is not an exception. Not only taking in appropriate amount of caffeine encourages brain and muscle exercise, caffeine helps strengthening stamina. Also, Japanese people drink green tea to soothe hangovers and this is because the caffeine in green tea encourages metabolization of alcohol. On a side note: it is said that the habit of drinking green tea started in Japanese history from its refreshing effects caused by caffeine.
Teanin : the soother
Most part of green tea’s umami and sweetness (amami) come from a component called teanin unique to green tea. Umami and amami are both characteristics that make green tea distinctive, but teanin plays an even more significant role in distinguishing the drink from other beverages.

A cup of green tea contains about 15-30mg of caffeine and this is an amount enough to make one’s brain pretty excited, but in reality a cup of green tea only causes mild excitement. This is because teanin included in green tea works to keep the stimulation low, and not only it keeps stimulation it actually calms one down. The soothing effect also works on fatigue of muscle. Teanin is a very important relaxing component unique to green tea.
Information on green tea borrowed from “Ocha Hyakka” managed by ITO EN (Japanese / English)


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