Green tea is almost as essential to the Japanese diet as rice. Not all green tea is created equal, however, and some people who are new to Japanese styles of tea may question why some are so expensive while others are relatively cheap even by Western standards. A large factor in the cost of green tea, particularly the powdered matcha green tea varieties is the location in which it is grown. It should be noted that throughout Japan, only green tea is grown; other tea varieties are imported.
Loose Leaf Green Tea
Loose leaf green tea, also found in tea bags, is one of the least expensive forms of green tea although some varieties do get up there in price. In general, loose leaf green tea is sencha which is considered a medium quality tea and acceptable for everyday use but less acceptable to serve to guests in most cases. Sencha is available loose leaf, which may be used as is or placed in a tea bag and it is also available in tea bag form. Be careful when steeping this type of green tea as the flavor becomes bitter quite quickly.
Bancha is another variety of green tea in loose leaf or bag form, but it is made from older leaves than sencha and thus considered lower quality. If the leaves of sencha or bancha tea are roasted, they turn brown and produce a different type of tea known as houjicha. Houjicha is also considered a lower quality tea.
Popular throughout Japan especially iced in the summer months, is genmaicha which is a loose leaf green tea mixed with roasted rice. The color comes out more brownish than green, and the flavor is generally something of an acquired taste for Westerners although some Westerners do like it immediately. Genmaicha is also sold loose leaf or in tea bags and relatively inexpensive compared to the high-quality tea varieties.
Powdered Green Tea
Powdered green tea or matcha has grown in popularity in the west thanks to the inclusion of this high-quality tea in specialty drinks such as green tea lattes. Traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremonies, the green tea leaves are dried and ground into a dark green powder and sold in foil pouches protecting the quality. Because the whole leave is consumed, powdered green tea is considered significantly more beneficial to loose leaf or bagged teas. Like other teas, matcha can be bitter and when served to guests or as part of the tea ceremony sweets often accompany the tea; this is considered a way to smooth the bitter tea taste and is quite effective.
Less expensive powdered green teas are widely available for use as iced tea or everyday drinking. These are not to be considered equal to the high-quality matcha for ceremonies or entertaining guests, but the health benefits from consuming the full leaf from powdered teas makes them worth trying and the lower cost makes them more economical for use in sweets, drinks and recipes. Powdered green tea may be added to yogurt, ice cream, milk, cakes, muffins and other recipes for flavor and color. Mix powdered green tea with milk (dairy, soy milk or other type of milk) and serve warm or iced for a green tea latte; sweeten as desired.
o-cha Tea, Green Tea, Japanese Tea
sencha Medium-Quality Green Tea
bancha Lower-Quality Green Tea
houjicha Roasted sencha and bancha
genmaicha Green Tea with Roasted Rice
matcha Powdered Green Tea
o-kashi Sweets (often served with tea)
Takaokaya Green Breeze Tea – Green Tea Recipes