Much like British and Irish people enjoy various kinds of tea, Japanese tea also has several different types, each of which have their own subtle flavor and aroma. Though the sheer variation can be an adventure, it makes a starting point overwhelming to find.
In Japan, the most common kind of tea is green tea, or ryokucha. In fact, there are several subtypes of this tea as well. For instance, matcha is a type of ryokucha often found at traditional tea ceremonies in Japan. Other kinds of green tea exist with different kinds of leaves, such as hōjicha and gyokuro. The term ryokucha consolidates all these kinds of Japanese green tea varieties.
Differences Between Gyokuro (Jade Dew) and Matcha Teas
Also known as jade dew, gyokuro comes from the same plant as sensha, though the plant must be shielded from sunlight while growing. This type of tea is relatively expensive due to its smooth and luxurious taste as well as extra labor involved in growing. By hiding from the sun, the plant develops a soft scent with a sweet aftertaste.
This is because the sunlight will not activate as much tannin found naturally in the plant; the more activated tannin, the more bitter the taste will be. Instead, the plant releases a high amount of theanine, a naturally produced flavorful compound. It should be sipped slowly to gather all of the flavor the tea has to offer.
In a similar vein, matcha requires tea leaves that have been shielded from direct sunlight to prevent gathering too bitter a taste. Such tea leaves are made into tencha, meaning they have been steamed as well as dried. The dried leaves are powdered to make matcha, which is the type of tea commonly used in the tea ceremonies.
At its core, it is easy to think of matcha as the powdered version of jade dew tea. However, there are significant differences to how you should drink either cup of tea and how they’re made. For instance, jade dew will require pouring hot water over the leaves placed from the teapot, whereas matcha often requires a whisk to help completely blend the powder in the tea.
Because of their similarities, it is mistakenly believed that matcha comes from the same leaves as jade dew tea. While they both are green teas that require shade when the plant grows, the two are processed much more differently. As previously stated, matcha will be steamed, dried and rolled much in the same way as its counterpart, but it also has the added step of refining. In this process, the laborers keep the meat of the leaves while removing the stems and veins. This makes it easier to dry into a powder without any moisture to make tencha.
Many new tea drinkers have poor experience with matcha, believing it to be bitter. It is more likely that the tea was not raised or made properly, or it could be what is known as ingredient-grade matcha. Well-made matcha is vividly green and strikes the right balance between proper tea flavor as well as slight bitterness and natural sweetness. It shouldn’t be difficult to drink at all. The matcha powder is very smooth, much like baby powder or eye shadow powder. Higher grade matcha powder will easily froth and smell much more sweet due to the amino acids that were able to grow when shielded from direct sunlight.
It is not always required to use a whisk to make matcha tea; some may user blenders or handheld milk frothers, while others still will simply mix the ingredients into a jar and shake it rapidly to gain frothiness for tea. Though it is not mandatory, the best and easiest way to achieve frothing is using a bamboo whisk.
Though it is uncommon to regularly drink matcha in Japan regularly outside of the tea ceremonies, it is gaining in popularity in the west due to its medicinal and health benefits. People are becoming matcha crazy adding this powdered wonder into their meals, energy drinks, smoothies, snack, and much more!
As drunk in Japan, green tea is appreciated for its natural flavors and pleasing aroma. Often, tea drinkers will add sugar to a black tea, but green tea requires no such supplementation in Japan. In other countries, tea drinkers might add sugar to green tea, but Japanese people enjoy authentic green tea flavor, complete with its astringent bitter parts.
Have you tried Gyokuro? Like it? Let us know in the comment section below.