Let’s talk about cha (茶)! Japan has a unique tea culture steeped in years of tradition, with tea touted to be the Japanese’s regular elixir of life. The nation has refined tea to a great level of artistry and spiritual importance; a culture of devotion and discipline have created tremendous time-honoured traditions and elaborate rituals in celebration of cha. Teas in Japan are unashamedly bold, sometimes bitter, but always layered with lots of flavour and complex layers. Here’s a look at some notable ones.
Matcha is an ancient vibrant green tea that mingles the elegance of Japanese tea ceremonies with the powerful world of green tea health benefits. Tender leaves are steamed, dried and pounded to produce a sweet and gently grassy flavour. As matcha comes in a fine powdered form, its nutritional content stands out as you’re able to consume matcha in its entirety and ingest all of its healthful nutrients, rather than the mere water extract of it as with other teas. To make a delicious brew at home, you’ll need a matcha bowl, bamboo whisk, bamboo scoop, mini strainer and some excellent matcha. The colour of your matcha should be brilliant green, which is often the true indicator of quality; the duller the green colour, the lower in grade and quality the tea.
A standout amongst well-known Japanese teas and the next most trendy one in Singapore, hojicha is a brown, roasted variation of green tea. It was created due to a Kyoto tea merchant’s conservationist mindset – he did not want to waste a batch of aging tea and hence roasted the tea leaves in a porcelain pot over charcoal to extend its life. The result is then a roasty toasty cup of tea with a woody aroma and a wonderfully smooth, malty mouthfeel. What a win-win situation!
Genmaicha is a marriage of two classic Japanese flavours – green tea and roasted brown rice. It was first concocted by Buddhist monks centuries ago when they mixed green tea with the crunchy rice bits that were stuck to the bottom of rice cauldrons. This was done as gesture of conservation, much like what happened with hojicha. Also known as popcorn tea, genmaicha has a light golden hue, with a perfect balance of flavourful green tea and nutty undertones of toasted grains. Tastes great with ice.
If you’ve tasted Japanese tea, there’s good chance that it was sencha. Sencha accounts for 75% of green tea produced in Japan and is the most common tea served for regular drinking use. It has a fresh aroma, refined astringency, a subtle sweetness and comes in various grades.
Gyokuro is a variation of green tea, a more expensive and premium version of the standard sencha. Weeks before the harvest, gyokuro tea bushes are shaded to prevent any exposure to sunlight which will encourage chlorophyll levels to increase. Due to the shade, the amount of theine and caffeine in the emerald green tea leaves increases and causes gyokuro to have a less bitter taste, yielding a refined brew.
Bancha is a green tea, the type you’d be offered at a Japanese restaurant whilst waiting for your food. Known as the ‘tea of the poor’, bancha is probably Japan’s cheapest sort of tea and is also sold in vending machines for the masses. It regularly forms the base for tea blends and can be served hot or cold.
Another grain-based infusion, mugicha is a roasted barley brew with a toasty flavour and slight bitter undertones. The brown barley tea is usually served cold and is a popular summertime refreshment for the Japanese.
Originally from China, oolong has since gained popularity in Japan. It’s a little more bitter than the other teas mentioned and looks similar to mugicha, but it’s made from the same leaves as green tea. Oolongcha is often served at izakaya bars (casual Japanese drinking restaurants) as it goes well with bar grub and can cleanse the oil from the food dishes after. Izakaya bars also sell oolong-hai, an unsweetened shochu iced tea.
If you are up for a challenge, Nilufer Tea offers Sakura Tea, which, at its core, contains sencha, the aromatic and subtly-sweet green tea. With green tea made fun with beautiful sakura blossoms, it is definitely something that you shouldn't miss. Get some for yourself and register with us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Which cha would you pick? Find your zen and consume a delicious Japanese brew today.