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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogThe Best of Japanese Tea: TokyoTreat’s Top Five!

The Best of Japanese Tea: TokyoTreat’s Top Five!

Thuy FangThuy Fang
Published Time
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September 30, 2023
Cups and teapots of Japanese tea.

Japanese tea is a quintessential beverage you can find anywhere in Japan, from supermarkets and sushi restaurants to vending machines lining the streets. For many people, tea is a gift bestowed by nature’s beauty and passion and the dedication of tea artisans. We’ll take you on an enjoyable journey to explore the rich Japanese tea culture by introducing five of the best varieties.

Green Tea

Initially from southern China thousands of years ago, green tea made its way to Japan around the sixth century. Buddhist monks highly valued it thanks to its ability to bring an ideal calm for meditation and spiritual practices. It’s also enjoyed in formal Japanese ceremonies or casually with friends and family.

Japanese green tea is made from the same tea leaves as Chinese ones. However, the unique heating process in Japan gives it a distinct flavor, aroma, and bright green color. Nearly 70% of Japanese green tea is produced in specific regions like Shizuoka, Mie, Kyoto, Fukuoka, and Kagoshima.

Japanese people love green tea not only for its elegant taste but also for its practical health benefits. Green tea helps fight cancer, keeps you fit by speeding up your metabolism, and makes your skin healthy and soft since it has vital vitamins like E, C, and B2. Currently, there are many types of green tea with various shades of green and different flavors in Japan. Here are some popular varieties:

Matcha

It’s a special green tea powder that has a fresh and leafy smell. Matcha is made from tea leaves grown in the shade for a few weeks before they’re picked. Then, they’re steamed, dried, and ground into a fine powder. 

A cup of bright green matcha powder.
Matcha powder is also in a lot of Japanese sweets! Image via Shutterstock

Besides making hot tea, Japanese people use matcha to flavor and color foods like ice cream, sweets, and even noodles. Some world-famous snacks successfully adapted with matcha flavor include Pocky, KitKat, and Haagen Dazs.

Bancha

Bancha is a Japanese green tea picked in late summer, which gives it a strong flavor and a light yellow color. It has plentiful antioxidants, which are good for the body, and less caffeine than other teas. Despite the fact that bancha is very healthy, it’s pretty common in Japan because it’s not too pricey. People usually enjoy bancha tea after meals because it can help with digestion.

Gyokuro

A bowl of gyokuro leaves.
Gyokuro tea leaves grow in the shade. Image via Shutterstock

Gyokuro is a special green tea from Japan that is shaded for three weeks before being harvested. Thus, some of its distinct features are vibrant green color, unique flavor, and appealing aroma. It has a strong taste called umami, which is similar to the taste of seaweed soup. 

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Hojicha (Roasted Green Tea)

Unlike other Japanese green teas steamed after harvesting, hojicha goes through an extra step: roasting. When you brew the tea, it turns a lovely reddish-brown color. And its taste is a bit sweet and toasty, which is very much comforting.

Roasted green tea, a type of Japanese tea.
Some people drink hojicha before bed. Image via Shutterstock

The journey of hojicha starts in Kyoto – a place famous for its rich tradition of growing tea. Around the 1920s, a tea seller roasted leftover tea leaves over a fire made of charcoal, which had a very high temperature, instead of throwing them away. Luckily, this clever roasting trick turned those leftovers into the tasty and aromatic hojicha we enjoy today. 

You’ll find two main kinds of hojicha: loose leaf and powdered hojicha. Loose leaf hojicha looks like dried leaves and stems, while powdered hojicha is super pulverized.

Today, hojicha is getting increasingly popular for its unique, exclusive taste, low caffeine content, and versatility in various culinary delights. It became a beloved tea choice not just in Japan but also around the world. Like matcha, hojicha is a flavor used in cakes, candies, and lattes that people of all ages love.

Genmaicha (Roasted Brown Rice Tea)

Genmaicha is a delightful combination of green tea and roasted brown rice, offering a distinctive and pleasant flavor. This Japanese tea is also called “popcorn tea,” as some brown rice grains pop during roasting, resembling popcorn. 

A scooper of roasted brown rice tea.
Genmaicha is also known as “popcorn tea”. Image via Shutterstock

In the past, roasted brown rice tea was affordable. Even though genmaicha was historically referred to as tea of the poor since the rice acted as a filler, it’s enjoyed by everyone and has become a favorite for those seeking a mild tea flavor.

Genmaicha often has a 1:1 ratio of tea leaves to rice, which results in a tea with about half the caffeine of sencha. This makes genmaicha an excellent choice for sipping during the afternoon or evening.

Mugicha (Barley Tea)

Mugicha, or barley tea, is a well-known tea made by toasting barley grains. It has a toasty flavor and a mild bitterness. This caffeine-free tea is quite like the taste of roasted coffee for everyone, even for kids.

A bunch of barley grains and tea.
Barley tea is one of the most popular drinks is the summer. Image via Shutterstock

Mugicha isn’t just delicious; it’s also packed with multiple health benefits. It’s good for your digestion by playing a role as a natural antacid and helping with stomach issues. It’s a superhero for your skin because it contains many antioxidants. Plus, when you need to relax and unwind your mind, mugicha will be helpful since it consists of melatonin, a hormone you need to sleep better.

The early mugicha appeared during the Heian era (794-1185) when most military leaders loved a blend of roasted barley powder and sugar melted in alcohol or boiled water. Over the years, it became a popular drink during the Edo period (1603-1868). As for today, Japanese barley tea has already become an everyday beverage people enjoy worldwide thanks to its benefits, satisfying taste, and worldwide commercials.

Sobacha (Buckwheat Tea)

Sobacha is Japanese buckwheat tea favored for its inviting aroma and sweet nutty taste. Similar to mugicha above, sobacha is genuinely gluten and caffeine-free. So it’s a perfect drink to enjoy any time of the day.

A cup of sobacha, or buckwheat Japanese tea.
Buckwheat is also perfect for savory meals. Image via Shutterstock

This is a well-known tea in Japan, China, and Korea due to its remarkable health benefits. Buckwheat tea can assist in lessening swelling and has natural properties that reduce inflammation. Moreover, it has good essences, namely Vitamin E and selenium, that strengthen your skin and body. 

Overall, Japanese tea has a rich history and is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. Its various types always offer fantastic flavors and various health benefits. From the iconic matcha to the soothing mugicha, each type of Japanese green tea has its intriguing flavors and characteristics. Which Japanese tea is your favorite? Share your thoughts and tea preferences by leaving a comment below!

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