Though all green teas are produced from the plant species Camellia Sinensis, each variety has its own unique characteristics. In this blog, we compare a few loose-leaf varieties to give you a better idea of which one suits your palate best!
The most well-known and frequently drunk green tea, sencha is what is commonly pictured as “regular” green tea. To make sencha, leaves are steamed and then rolled, producing curled leaves in the shape of thin cylinders.
Houjicha is made by roasting sencha, which means it has a similar shape. However, the roasting process turns the houjicha a deep brown color. For this reason, houjicha is one of the most recognizable green teas.
Gyokuro is also formed into a thin needle shape, making it difficult to distinguish from sencha based on appearance alone. However, gyokuro may have a darker green color due to a higher concentration of chlorophyll.
Sencha is made from green tea plants that are grown in direct sunlight. Houjicha is typically made from sencha, so it shares the same growing process.
Gyokuro, however, has a special growing process. Gyokuro is shaded for 20 days prior to picking. Farmers use heavy cloth or reed screens to block out the sun.Limited sunlight reduces photosynthesis in the leaf buds, leading to more chlorophyll production. This affects the proportions of sugars, amino acids, and caffeine in gyokuro, giving it a mild and sweet flavor with little astringency.
Harvesting and Processing
Sencha is made from the stem, shoot, and two or three opened leaves of the green tea plant. They are then steamed, pressed, and dried.
Houjicha is sometimes made with lower-quality parts of the plant such as stalks and twigs in addition to the leaves and stem. Similar to matcha, houjicha can be ground into a super-fine powder that can be used in food and beverage preparation.
Gyokuro is made only with the earliest leaf buds of the spring harvest.After an initial steaming, rolling, and air-drying process to prevent oxidation, young leaves are separated into different grades known as tencha. Only the best grades are selected to be further processed and transformed into gyokuro.
Sencha and houjicha can range significantly in quality and price. However, since both are commonly consumed in everyday life, there are many affordable options on the market.
Of the three varieties discussed, gyokuro is the most expensive due to its labor-intensive cultivation. Known as the “finest green tea”, only a few farms in Japan produce this highly technical tea, making it one of the most expensive green teas to purchase.
Sencha is characterized by a refreshing, grassy flavor with floral notes. Senchas can range in sweetness, savoriness, and astringency.
Houjicha has an earthy, smoky, and nutty taste that pairs well with caramels. The roasting process removes bitterness, leaving a smooth and aromatic flavor.
Gyokuro is known for its deep umami flavor and rich aroma that has been compared to nori, or Japanese seaweed. Slightly sweeter than sencha, it has a long-lasting and complex aftertaste.
You can find these, and other locally made teas from Japan, in our Japanese Green & Specialty Teas: "Ryu" Care Package.
About the author:
Britney Budiman (@booritney) is a writer, minimalist, aspiring effective altruist, and runner-in-progress with a penchant for saying “yes.” Previously, she has worked in Cambodia at a traditional arts NGO, in Brazil as a social sciences researcher, and in San Francisco at a housing start-up. She currently lives in the countryside of Kagoshima, Japan, where she teaches English. Her favorite thing in the world is good conversation.