When trying to identify high-quality Japanese green tea, it can be an absolute land mine. Wherever you look, there's tea pumped with chemicals, tea consisting of floor-swept dust, tea picked by child labourers and women who haven't had a decent wage in decades.
Luckily for you, we've written this guide to make things a million times easier.
Japanese green tea is one of the most beautiful things on the planet - and it's such a shame that there's so much of that shoddy stuff going around! As such, within this article we will talk about the top quality markets to look out for.
What is Japanese Green Tea?
Japanese green tea is, quite simply, tea which is picked and processed in Japan. We will talk about specific types of tea later on.
One of the best aspects of Japanese green tea is the rich culture surrounding it. Japanese tea culture is celebrated across the world - and with good reason!
Japanese tea ceremony is also known as Chado, meaning ‘the way of tea.’ Within this, drinkers follow a set of rules which are based on four main elements: respect, tranquility, purity, and harmony. Chado has a history rooted in Zen Buddhism, where drinkers are encouraged to remove themselves from external influences and simply ‘exist in the moment’.
Chado is best known for its matcha - namely, usucha (thin matcha) and koicha (thick matcha). Matcha is one of the most popular types of Japanese green tea, made from powdered Tencha leaves that have been shaded in order to increase chlorophyll (and thus, colour), resulting in many health benefits.
Markers of High-Quality Japanese Green Tea
Just like in the world of wine and coffee, there is a dramatic difference between high-quality Japanese green tea and mediocre Japanese green tea. The quality of tea you are drinking will largely determine whether you are simply drinking the tea, or *experiencing* it.
The initial ways of measuring tea quality are by checking out:
The origin of the tea: The tea company you purchase the tea from should always be clear about the origin of the tea. Certain areas are known for producing a higher quality of tea, and it is always good to understand the specific terrain and growing conditions that the tea has undergone.
How the tea is processed: Is is harvested by hand or machine? Was it shaded from sunlight? When was it harvested? How was it fertilised? These are all questions that you should be able to answer, as they all come into play when judging the quality of the tea.
Consistency of the leaves: Regardless of the tea variety, there should always be a consistency in the tea in regards to shape, colour, and texture. This is a good marker of high-quality tea, and is a great general rule of thumb to follow.
Measuring High-Quality Japanese Green Tea By Appearance
There are three main quality indicators for Japanese green tea that you should be inspecting:
Shape of the leaves: Judging quality by the shape of the leaves is one of the most reliable methods, as it can indicate the selection and production process that the leaves have undergone. In order to judge this accurately, you will first need to understand the key differences between Japanese green tea varieties.
Colour of the leaves: Along with that, you should recognise the different shades of green appropriate for each type of tea. For example, matcha should be a bright, fresh green colour, whereas hojicha should be a reddish-brown shade.
Brightness of the leaves: Typically, another good indicator of good quality tea is bright tea leaves. However, some types of teas such as fukamusicha typically contain powder with the leaves, which results in less brightness. As such, this cannot be applied to all Japanese green tea varieties.
Measuring High-Quality Japanese Green Tea by Appearance
You should check the dry leaf appearance in order to judge the quality, as this can tell you a lot about the tea itself. When looking at popular types of Japanese green tea, you should look out for:
Gyokuro: High-quality gyokuro should be a deep, dark green colour, with equally sized leaves that have a glossy appearance.
Kabusecha: The leaves of Kabusecha should be needle-like, similar to sencha, and the colour should be dark green, similar to gyokuro.
Sencha: High-quality sencha has leaves that are in a good shape, which are a glossy and dark green colour. The leaves should be thin and needle-like.
Fukamushicha: Good fukamusicha should be a rich green colour with hints of light green. It should have a small amount of powder, but be aware of fukamusicha that has a high powder ratio.
Kukicha: High-quality kukicha is composed of equally sized stems with a few leaves, which are sourced from either gyokuro or kabesucha fields. The leaves should be a dark green colour with several lighter leaves.
Kamairicha: High-quality kamairicha should have a dark green colour with leaves that have a nice curl, similar to a hook shape.
Genmaicha: A good marker of high-quality genmaicha is leaves that are in good shape, with a limited amount of dust. The rice should be large, plump, and oval, with several pieces of popped rice being often left in for decoration.
Hojicha: Hojicha should be a brown colour rather than a black colour, oftentimes with dark shades of red. The less powder, the better.
Matcha: A high-quality matcha should feel very fine, silky, and smooth, with the powder being a bright green colour.
Measuring High-Quality Japanese Green Tea by Smell
You should smell both the dry and the wet leaf in order to understand the full profile of the tea. To do this, you should ‘rinse’ the teas, swilling the tea leaves with water in order to release the full scent.
Once you have rinsed the tea, you should make notes on the scent profile. Does it smell creamy or rich? Does it remind you of any fruits?
You should look for complexity to the aroma, with a balanced profile that lingers. Once the leaves are cooled, you should then smell them again and make sure that they still give off a fragrance.
Infuse the tea multiple times and make sure that it is able to maintain its aroma - the longer it can hold its aroma, the higher quality tea it likely is.
Typically, green tea should taste light, grassy, and fresh, along with having a slight sweetness. If you inhale deeply and still only get trace amount of scent, then the tea is likely a low quality.
Other Markers of High-Quality Japanese Green Tea
Other markers of good quality tea include touch, where you should check that each leaf is smooth, whole, and sturdy. Be careful with leaves that feel feather-light - they may have been over-dried or getting old. They should not disintegrate to the touch, and once the leaves have been infused, they should feel silky.
Taste is one of the most important markers for sourcing good green tea from Japan and making sure that the quality is right. Regardless of the flavour profile, it should have a strong, recognisable taste and mouthfeel. Typically, green tea should taste smooth, bright, and refreshing, activating different flavour sensations as you drink. If the taste is barely noticeable, chemical-tasting, or overly astringent, then this is a marker that the tea is low-quality or old.
Where Can I Find This Magical Japanese Tea?
Of course, you can find delicious, marvellous, utterly mind-blowing Japanese green tea with us!
We currently sell three types of Japanese green tea: Matcha, genmaicha, and genmaicha with matcha. Not only do they taste divine, but they are also picked by small family famers with a massive focus on sustainability.
Frankly, we couldn't imagine anything better ;)