The Best Authentic Japanese Teas
While Japanese green tea is famous for its unusual flavor profile and delicious green, the words and world of “Japanese green tea” do not begin and end with matcha. At most Japanese meals you’ll more commonly find a pot of sencha, a thinner, steeped green tea designed for the common people. Then there’s the more select ichibancha, (also known as shincha), genmaicha, hojicha, and too many other “green teas” than any introductory article ought to bring to the proverbial table. So whether you’re a total neophyte or an enthusiast who’d like to learn some more about what you’re imbibing, you’re in the right place. Gather your skirts and stretch your quads: it’s time to climb some foggy, fragrant terraces. Let’s go check out some favorites from Bokksu’s tea collection.
Ceremonial-Grade Matcha: Unryu
First up, the famed matcha. The matcha you’ll find in pastries, candies, and even drinks is actually of a different sort than the matcha used in tea ceremony. “Culinary grade” matcha is typically more bitter, astringent, and overall better suited for mixing with other flavors and ingredients. This ceremonial-grade matcha, however, is meant to be whisked with water until it is thick and frothy. Prepared thus, matcha is often served with a sweet to offset any bitterness without disturbing any of the tea’s complex flavor.
So what sets matcha apart from the others? Unlike steeping or steaming teas, the leaves’ stems and veins are removed before it is ground fine enough to be completely suspended and consumed. This particular Bokksu offering was grown in the Uji region, a center for tea growing and innovation for over six hundred years! In addition to birthing the ubiquitous steeping tea sencha, Uji’s tea farmers developed the “shade-growing” technique used for matcha and some other high-grade teas, shielding growing leaves from the sun for up to a month before harvest to induce a milder flavor.
88th Night Green Tea is generally picked in late April or May, eighty-eight days after either the Lunar New Year or the first day of spring in the ancient Japanese calendar. Also known as ichibancha, it is the “first tea” to be harvested. (Have you begun to notice the “cha” at the end of all these words? That’s tea!) Early in the season, the leaves are extremely tender, yielding an extremely fresh, aromatic tea beloved for its health benefits, flavor, and symbolism.
Like the “shade-grown” matcha, ichibancha is mild and slightly sweet. All winter, these plants stored nutrients to pour into its first leaves. After the lower light of winter and spring, the tea leaves still contain elevated chlorophyll and amino acids that give ichibancha a more highly concentrated color and boosted umami.
Ichibancha is also known as “new tea,” or shincha, but by any name, it’s the first harvest of Japan’s most popular and ubiquitous green tea, sencha. Its association with longevity may be linked with the optimism of the warming weather, the tea’s nutritional benefits, or both. Though it’s called “88th Night Green Tea,” ichibancha is harvested a little earlier in the south than it is in cooler climates in the north. This symbol of longevity is only available for a short time each year, and only once. If the cherry blossom is made more beautiful for how soon it leaves, perhaps the same can be said for the flavor of this green tea, whose harvest date is written in its very name.
Genmaicha Tea with Matcha Powder
Genmaicha is green tea turned nutty with roasted, popped rice, an addition which once upon a time might have been considered “filler” to stretch one’s tea a little further. This genmaicha is the ultimate premium blend of its kind. In place of any ordinary sencha is ichibancha! In this tea bag (pyramid-shaped for optimal leaf unfurling) the ichibancha has been deep-steamed to bring out a bolder version of its fresh, spring flavor. Matcha powder only adds to the genmaicha’s heft, both in flavor and consistency.
This shaker set actually contains our fourth and fifth teas. In addition to sticks of the aforementioned powdered matcha, the Frutcha Matcha Shaker Set also contains sticks of powdered hojicha and sweetened matcha. Sweetened matcha lives somewhere near a halfway point between ceremonial-grade, bamboo-whisk territory and matcha roll cake. Hojicha is a completely different flavor profile. Where sencha and most other Japanese teas are steamed, hojicha is roasted, reducing its acidic notes and giving the tea a milder, nuttier taste.
Bonus: Color Changing Yunomi Teacup: Ninja Design
If you’re a purist and don’t want to taste tea from your coffee cup, take a peek at some of the accessories in Bokksu’s Tea Collection. Among our favorites is this mug, which uses the power of hot water, or yu, to transform a ninja into a frog. It’s a fun little mangling of a fairytale or two, but this trick will let you know when your tea has cooled: just wait for your ninja prince to return before you take a sip!