Japanese Green Tea

Beginner’s Guide to Steeping Japanese Green Tea

Did you know that green tea is the most popular type of tea in Asia? It’s the most consumed tea in China, and Japan practically specializes in it.

Steeping Japanese green tea isn’t particularly difficult, you just have keep some points in mind.

Aren’t Japanese and Chinese green teas the same?

There is one major difference: the fixing process, which is known as “kill-green” in China. With a few exceptions, Japanese green teas are steamed while Chinese green teas are pan fired. For this reason, there is a great difference in the flavor, aroma, and color of the liquid.

There are a lot more factors to take into account: cultivars, terroir, shaping process (note that Japanese tea is mostly needle-shaped), time of harvest, picking method, and even cultural differences (teaware for example), among others.

Hence, Japanese green tea should be steeped differently than Chinese green tea.

Getting started

In cooking, there’s not an absolute standard recipe, each person has his own taste. It’s the same with tea, you steep it according to your preference. However, you should follow a recommended method at  first. After learning the basics, you can then make adjustments as you see fit.

If you make an online search, you’ll see many different resources on how to steep Japanese green tea. How to choose which one to start with?

I suggest that you do as in Japan: follow the recommendations by the Nihoncha Instructor Association. It’s a non-profit organization that certifies tea instructors in Japan, and has a considerable authority when it comes to Japanese tea steeping guidelines.

Bear in mind that there are many types of Japanese green teas, and different grades for each. This results in different guidelines for each.

To avoid confusion, I’ll list general guidelines for bancha, sencha and gyokuro. That will give you a good starting point.

Steeping Guidelines

A basic rule of thumb is that the higher the quality of the green tea, the less temperature and volume of water you should use. The steeping time, on the other hand, will increase as a consequence of the lower temperature.

The reasoning behind this is that higher-grade Japanese green teas are more delicate, and thus require lower temperatures when steeping. Boiling water will quickly make the tea become bitter and lose all it’s complex yet subtle flavor.

You’ll also need less water to fully appreciate it’s taste. This also goes in hand with using smaller cups, a good tea is to be drank slowly and in small amounts.

Gyokuro

Recommended teaware: Houhin/shiboridashi teapots, and small cups.

Steeping guidelines:

For 3 people, use 10 gr of loose leaf, 60 ml (2 oz) of water at 50°C ~ 60°C (122°F  ~ 140°F), and steep for 2 to 3 minutes.

For 1 person, use 4 gr of loose leaf and 20 ml (0.66 oz) of water.

Sencha

Recommended teaware: small or medium sized kyusu (depending on number of people), medium  sized cups.

Steeping guidelines:

For 3 people, use 10 gr of loose leaf, 180 ml (6 oz) of water at 70ºC (158ºF), and steep for 1 to 1.5 minutes.

For 1 person, use 4 gr of loose leaf, and 60 ml (2 oz) of water.

Note: The above is for high-grade sencha. For lower sencha grades, use a higher temperature (about 10ºC more), and a bit more water. The steeping time should be no longer than a minute.

Bancha (also includes genmaicha and houjicha)

Recommended teaware: dobin or medium/large kyusu (depending on number of people), big enough cups, preferably thick because it is steeped with boiling water.

Steeping guidelines:

For 5 people, use 15 gr of loose leaf, 600 ml (20 oz) of boiling water, and steep for 30 seconds.

For 1 person, use 4 gr of loose leaf and 120 ml (4 oz) of boiling water.

Final tips

  • If you are using larger cups, don’t worry. Make adjustments according to the volume of water that your cup can hold.
  • You can use a thermometer at first, and in time you will get the feel for the right water temperature. A common method is to start with boiling water, and then cool water to the desired temperature by pouring it into a different container. This ways the temperature will decrease by about 10 degrees Celsius each time.
  • Use the highest quality of water possible. It directly affects the taste of your tea.