Best Japanese Tea Types

Though to most of the world green and black are the only two types of tea, there are actually lots of other varieties, classified depending on factors like how much sunlight the plants got, which harvest the tea is produced from, and what part of the plant is used. Find out about some of the most common traditional Japanese teas:

8 Types of Japanese Green Tea (Ryokucha)

1. Gyokuro

Gyokuro Japanese Tea

First grown in1835, it is one of the elite varieties of green tea grown in shade and then prepared through a special process involving steaming, rolling, and drying to alter the chemical composition of the leaves. The dark green needle-shaped leaves are steeped at a much lower temperature (104°F/40°C) than most other teas, and it is often recommended to reheat the infusion before drinking.

Flavor: Reminiscent of seaweed with a full taste, kind of smooth and sweet.

2. Sencha

Sencha Japanese Tea

With a history spanning back to the 17th century ― when it was first introduced in Japan from China ― sencha is often considered the most popular green tea in the country. Grown in full sunlight, the final product undergoes less processing than most other green teas.

Flavor: Fresh grassy flavor with a hint of sweetness.

Shincha (new tea) is the first harvest of sencha, characterized by a stronger flavor, while kabusecha, or sencha grown in shade, has a mellower flavor and milder color.

3. Bancha

Bancha Japanese Tea

It is harvested from the same tea plants as sencha but is considered of lower quality as the leaves are plucked at a later stage, and/or from the plants’ lower shoots. The final product is also comparatively larger and coarser, making it a cheaper option. The chemical components of bancha are the same as gyokuro but are present in varying proportions. The former has lower contents of amino acids and caffeine, but a higher content of catechin.

Flavor: it has its own strong organic grassy flavor.

4. Matcha (Powdered Green Tea)

Japanese Matcha Tea

Green tea, in general, is a great source of antioxidants, but most of it goes unused when the leaves are strained and thrown away as the water absorbs only a fraction of it. Matcha is a powerhouse of antioxidants as you get to consume the tea leaves in the drink. It does not need to be brewed and strained.

Also considered one of the best green teas for weight loss, it helps in increasing the metabolic rate during exercise so you can burn more calories.

Flavor: It has a complex rich, aromatic flavor with an astringent taste, but leaves a sweetness in your mouth after drinking.

5. Genmaicha (With Roasted Brown Rice)

Genmaicha Japanese Tea

A Japanese green tea with roasted brown rice kernels, it is also known as brown or popcorn tea. The rice kernels were first added as a filler to reduce the production cost so the tea could be afforded by all. Yet, it is this same unusual feature that gradually gained this green tea immense popularity. The light yellow colored concoction is good to drink during fasting, or if one is going without food for a long period.

Flavor: The starch and sugar content from the rice gives it a fresh warm, sweetish nutty flavor.

Genmaicha is sometimes available with macha, which produces a green colored tea with a stronger flavor.

6. Hojicha (Roasted Green Tea)

Hojicha Japanese Tea

It comprises of reddish brown tea leaves, produced by roasting the green leaves in a porcelain container over charcoalfire instead of steaming, hence causing the different color of the leaves. It is most commonly made with the last harvest of bancha. Hojicha was first produced around 1920 in Kyoto, becoming one of the most popular and beneficial low-caffeine varieties of the country.

Flavor: Earthy and nutty, with a somewhat caramel or creamy undertone. The characteristic flavor of the roasted tea leaves is often compared to that of coffee or regular English breakfast tea, making it suitable to accompany any meal.

7. Tamaryokucha (Guricha)

Tamaryokucha Japanese Tea

Prepared by steaming the leaves, the Japanese tamaryokucha is significantly different in flavor and texture from the Chinese variety in which the leaves are pan-fried. The long curled tea leaves contain low amounts of caffeine, making it suitable to drink multiple times throughout the day.

Flavor: The steaming method gives it a berry-like tangy taste, with a full grassy, citrus aroma and a nutty flavor.

8. Konacha

Konacha Japanese Tea

It is a kind of residual green tea produced using the leftover leaves and buds after processing sencha or gyokuro. Though not powdered like macha, konacha consists of tiny pieces of tea leaves which need a short brewing time of no more than 30 seconds to keep the infusion from becoming too strong. For the same reason, it usually yields no more than two infusions.

Flavor: It has a strong flavor, making it suitable for cooking.

Apart from these, a number of varieties are produced by adding flavors like jasmine, apple, cherry, and rose to traditional green teas.

3 Other Well-Known Tea Varieties

1. Japanese Black Tea (Kocha)

Japanese Black Tea

Though there are not as many varieties of kocha or koucha, literally translated ‘red tea’, as of Japanese Green tea, the former is almost equally popular. The water in Japan is quite soft which meant the tea looked quite red instead of black, though when the same tea is prepared somewhere else with hard water, the resulting tea would look much darker. The processing involves fully oxidizing the tea leaves so they turn completely black. Kocha is not nearly as widely produced as the green teas.

Flavor: delicately earthy, with a sweet undertone, accompanied by a slightly astringent taste.

2. Oolong Tea

Japanese Oolong Tea

More commonly produced in China, the Japanese variety is quite rare. The processing involves oxidizing the leaves for some time before steaming them to stop further oxidization. It is characterized by large granules of rolled leaves that produces a dark colored tea. There are multiple varieties of oolong with distinctly different flavors and aromas.

3. Japanese Royal Milk Tea

Japanese Royal Milk Tea

As the name suggests, the primary component in this one is milk, along with green or black tea leaves. The preparation method is like the Indian chai, though unlike the latter it does not contain any spices. Tea leaves are steeped in boiled milk and strained into teacups before adding some honey.

Flavor: Typically has a creamy milky flavor, with a sweet taste.

You may try using flavored tea leaves for different variations. Packaged artificially flavored bottled royal milk tea is also available. Bubble tea, a special cold beverage originating in China, made with milk, tea leaves, and tapioca pearls is also quite widespread in the country.

Japanese Teas That Does Not Contain Tea Leaves

1. Gobocha (Burdock Root Tea)

Burdock Root Japanese Tea

Gobocha or gobo cha may sometimes also refer to oolong tea, but the name usually stands for ‘tea’ produced by drying and roasting the light brown roots of the burdock plant (gobo) often grown in Japan. The tea, rich in antioxidants and tannins is considered highly beneficial for skin health, also improving digestion and immunity.

Flavor: It can have a strong flavor with a pungent taste which can be made better by adding some lime juice and honey.

2. Sobacha (Buckwheat Tea)

Buckwheat Japanese Tea

Also known as memilcha, it is a simple tea produced by roasting buckwheat seeds and then steeping them in water at temperatures around 194°F (90°C). Tartari buckwheat is the variety commonly used for the tea for its stronger nutty flavor and higher content of nutrients. It is a good beverage to accompany a sweet evening snack as well as a light meal. Do not throw away the seeds after making the tea as they are edible and can be used in oatmeals and salads

Flavor: A pleasantly strong nutty flavor.

3. Kombucha or Konbu-Cha (Kelp Tea)

Japanese Kelp Tea

Despite having the same name as the fermented tea, in Japan kombucha or konbu-cha stands for kelp tea, made with chopped or dried konbu, an edible variety of kelp or seaweed. The preparation method is the same as any tea, where the kelp is steeped in hot water for a few minutes.

Flavor: A unique deep, somewhat salty, and grassy flavor that sets it apart.

A typical variation involves adding umeboshi or salt-dried fermented plums to add a certain tangy taste.

4. Mugicha (Barley Tea)

Barley Japanese Tea

Similar to buckwheat tea, it is made using roasted mugi or barley in hot water. In Japan, it is served chilled as a popular summer refreshment, while the tea is also quite common in China and Korea. It is also considered a substitute for coffee in some places.

Flavor: The roasted grains render a warm and refreshing toasty flavor, accompanied by a slightly bitter taste.

5. Kukicha (Twig Tea)

Twig Japanese Tea

It is basically a mix of the stalks, stems, and twigs of tea plants after the production of teas like sencha and matcha. Kukicha may be a roasted green tea, or it may be obtained after oxidation. The green variety needs a shorter steep time of less than a minute, and it generally yields 2-3 infusions. It is naturally quite low on caffeine, making it suitable for adding in children’s drinks.

Flavor: Since it contains the parts of a tea plant usually not added to any other teas, kukicha has a sweetish nutty flavor quite unique to itself.

Other teas brewed from plum, corn etc are also popular in Japan, though these are originally from Korea.

6. Sakurayu or Sakuracha (Cherry Blossom Tea)

Cherry Blossom Tea

A traditional beverage prepared by infusing salt-pickled cherry blossoms in hot water, with the flowers unfurling beautifully in the teacup. The resulting tea has a clouded appearance as opposed to most green teas that are clear. Sakurayu is often served at Japanese weddings.

Flavor: The blossoms give it a beautiful sweet floral flavor, while the taste is slightly salty.

7. Yomogi-Cha (Mugwort Tea)

Mugwort Tea

Mugwort is a herbal plant from various regions of Asia, where its leaves have multiple edible and culinary applications. In Japan, the leaves are used for making a caffeine-free herbal tea by steeping in warm water.

Flavor: Unlike many similar herbal teas, mugwort tea lacks the grassy undertone, and has a mild floral flavor instead.

Apart from these, various plant parts, like knotweed roots, and various mushrooms, like shitake and reishi are also used for making tea.

All the above are highly valued for their immense health benefits and low/no caffeine content. In Japan, an average adult is known to drink at least 4-5 cups of green tea per day. These teas are widely available throughout the world as loose leaves or tea bags.