Monday, August 18, 2008

World of Tea: Japan

World of Tea: Japan

Without a doubt, the national drink of Japan is green Sencha tea.

When you arrive at a traditional inn or ryokan, you are presented with a cup of green Sencha tea; in restaurants, waitresses often serve you cups or mugs of green Sencha or roasted hojicha; and even the 7-11s are stocked with cold bottles of green tea. Japanese green Sencha tea is one of the most famous Asian teas, yet least appreciated outside Japan. Here's an introduction to the most important types:

Sencha: Japan's most famous tea, Sencha has been steamed then dried, resulting in a fresh, vegetal taste. Sencha tea is steeped very briefly (1 minute or less) in a tall, handleless cup or in a kyusu teapot, which has a handle angled out the side of the teapot. To prevent bitterness, the tea is brewed using water that is much below boiling.

Gyokuro is a very high quality green Sencha that is especially green due to the tea bushes being shaded by black mesh netting a few weeks before harvesting. This increases the caffeine content and chlorophyll, producing a very delicate and expensive tea.

Matcha or powdered green tea was long reserved for the Japanese tea ceremony, but in recent years people have begun to drink it as an everyday tea. Matcha is also used in cookies, cakes, and ice cream.

Hojicha was invented in the 1920s by a Kyoto tea merchant who decided to roast green tea. The flavor of roasted hojicha is "toasty" and slightly reminiscent of oolong tea. Because of the roasting process, there is virtually no caffeine.

Genmaicha is produced when green sencha is mixed with toasted rice. It has a very unique flavor that we especially love on chilly days.

Bancha is an inexpensive, low quality green tea drunk everyday.

For tea accessories, the ideal Japanese teapot is the kyusu, which has a handle jutting out the side. Tea is brewed for a very brief time and then poured into handleless, porcelain cups. Japanese tea is usually bought in small quantities and stored in small, metal tea containers, with tight-fitting lids.


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