Japan’s history with tea dates back to around the ninth century when monks traveling through China experienced the meditative and restorative powers of the healing elixir. Tea did not make it out of the monastery until several centuries later and once introduced to Japanese royalty it took on new meaning becoming an elitist favorite.
While the country’s position in the world tea market has changed dramatically, many things have remained the same like production style. Japanese teas are steamed versus fired, the distinguishing factor that separates them in taste characteristic. In general, Japanese teas are somewhat delicate, very green and have a bright vegetal taste or, if you will, a true “tea” flavor.
Today’s production is almost exclusively green tea with much of the harvesting done by machine. The primary factor between grades of Japanese tea is determined by the season in which it is harvested.
Matcha (抹茶) is a fine ground, powdered, high quality green tea and not the same as tea powder or green tea powder.
Sencha (煎茶) is a Japanese green tea specifically one made without grinding the tea leaves. The word “sencha” means “simmered tea,” referring to the method that the tea beverage is made from the dried tea leaves.
Houjicha (ほうじ茶) is a Japanese green tea that is distinguished from others because it is roasted in a porcelain pot over charcoal; most Japanese teas are usually steamed. The tea is fired at a high temperature, altering the leaf color tints from green to reddish-brown.
Genmaicha (玄米茶) is a Japanese green tea combined with roasted brown rice. It is sometimes referred to colloquially as “popcorn tea” because few grains of the rice pop during the roasting process and resemble popcorn.
Mugicha (麦茶) is roasted barley tea and it does not contain caffeine. This tea can be served hot or cold.