The Japanese Secret to Umami Teas

japanese tea garden


Japan is one of the two most significant traditional green tea regions in the world, alongside China. The methods by which green teas are grown, harvested and processed in these two cultures are very different.

Some Japanese green teas are shaded during part of their growing season, which increases the chlorophyll content in their leaves, and gives them a deeper green color. Because they contain more chlorophyll than any other tea type, they are hailed as a favorite for cleansing and purification. Japanese green teas are steam dried, so there’s nothing evoking charcoal or fire in their flavor, in contrast to Chinese green teas, which are generally pan-fired. Also, Japanese tea leaves tend to be formed finer and thinner than Chinese greens at the conclusion of their processing. The names of Japanese teas generally end in “cha” (meaning tea) - like sencha, bancha, hojicha, genmaicha and matcha.

Gyokuro - The name ‘gyokuro’ translates to ‘jade dew’, descriptive of its color of its infusion. ‘Umami’ is the taste sense that comes to mind when you sip this very fine pale cup of green tea, and aromas of the sea will dominate the nose. Gyokuro is very gentle in how it presents its flavors, but undeniably medium-bodied in how it feels in the mouth. The citrus and astringent aspects that you taste in sencha as not present here - it’s like pure, soft, sweet green tea on velvet. 

Sencha - The most popular Japanese tea, making up over 75 percent of all of the country’s tea production, is sencha. It’s soft, yet bright on the palate, fresh and grassy in its aroma, and overall - very refreshing to sip. Its flavors are sweetly algae and broth-like, with a little astringency. The soft and sweet approach of the tea lingers in your mouth. Sencha leaves are long, thin, flat and intense green in color. This tea is cultivated in all the tea-growing regions of Japan, with the top-dollar senchas coming from Shizuoka or Kagoshima prefectures.  Pro tip = You can steep sencha two-three times, and it makes a fantastic cold brew. 

Genmaicha - If you’ve ever been served a brothy green tea in a sushi restaurant, it could have been this one Genmaicha is made from an everyday Japanese green tea called bancha, combined with roasted brown rice, some grains of which have popped. The lovely vegetal green flavor, indicative of Japan's steaming process, is balanced by the nutty and wholesome flavor imparted by the roasted rice. The combination becomes an earthy tea that is as soothing to the soul as chicken noodle soup, making it a great "gateway" tea to pure Japanese green teas.

Matcha - When you drink Matcha, you’re not just drinking the water-soluble molecules that steep their way out of the leaf into your cup. It’s just straight, stoneground tea leaves, made into a pure green tea powder. A single serving of matcha can have several times the antioxidants of a cup of steeped tea. Gram for gram, matcha has about twice the total EGCg (the strongest catechin tea polyphenol) content of steeped green tea and more than 30 times the Vitamin C. You can think of matcha just like drinking your vegetables. Pro tip = shake some up in about 10 seconds in a cold brew bottle. (1/2 teaspoon to 16 oz water) 


Japanese Orchid Sencha This award-winning green tea is a crowd-pleaser for both newbies to Japanese tea and connoisseurs, alike. The soft natural floral notes give it round edges and a lovely aroma that is unique for Japanese teas. 

And remember, you can feel good about sipping on green teas during this time of personal distancing, as research suggests that bioactive compounds in green tea could be used as a measure of personal hygiene against viral infections. Green tea polyphenols have demonstrated viral inactivating activity, and may have a protective effect against the flu. [1]


[1] Lee YH, Jang YH, KIM YS, Kim J, Seong BL, Evaluation of green tea extract as a safe personal hygiene against viral infections. J Biol Eng. 2018 Jan 8;12:1. doi: 10.1186/s13036-017-0092-1. eCollection 2018.


Please note that tea will not treat, cure, or prevent any disease, including COVID-19, but should be considered in measures to boost your overall state of wellness. 

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