What is duality? The palpable tension between polar entities, the stark contrast of shapes which foil one another, the interplay of light and shade. Put simply, duality is a matter of yin and yang, or “in yo” according to the Japanese. In yo signifies a dynamic harmony which encapsulates all of existence – from the metaphysical to the minutiae. You may be surprised to realize that there’s duality in everything, even in a cup of Japanese green tea.
Tea is the second most popular beverage in the world, with Japanese green tea being a particular favorite among tea drinkers. In fact, about 95% of all tea production in Japan is green tea. Widely loved for its health benefits, light flavor, and invigorating quality, Japanese green tea holds a particular cultural significance that transcends its Eastern origins. Its creation is something of an horticultural heirloom, a relic carrying with it traces of storied encounters and glimpses of dynasties past. To discover how in-yo fits into Japanese green tea, look no further than the practice of shading. Japanese green teas are divided into those who experience some degree of shading during cultivation, and those who grow entirely in sunlight. The two different techniques give rise to the two main categorizations of Japanese green tea: shaded and unshaded.
For Beginners: Unshaded Teas
When unshaded, the heightened sun exposure prompts an increase in the production of tannins such as catechins, which act as both a source of antioxidants and astringency. One type of unshaded tea is sencha, a type of green tea which simply basks in the sun as it grows. The term sencha means steamed tea; steaming is the most common technique for japanese green teas. Sencha is produced from spring to autumn, making it the most produced tea due to its lengthy harvest period. Sencha is often the daily choice for Japanese tea-enthusiasts, and our Mighty Green makes it easy to see why. A mix of grassier sun-grown sencha and sweet leaves, our Mighty Green offers the perfect balance of flavor and mouthfeel.
Seeing as unshaded teas are exposed to sunlight for the entirety of their growth process prior to harvest, they exhibit a more subtle umami flavor. The lack of umami is particularly attractive for new tea drinkers looking to venture into Japanese green tea. No Japanese green tea embodies this mild quality like a bancha, or “last tea.” Banchas are made from the bigger and more mature leaves harvested at the end of each season. These leaves tend to be more mild in the umami and slightly sweeter due to the tea stems they contain.
For Intermediate Levels: Shaded Teas
After experiencing the nuanced delight of less complex, unshaded Japanese green teas, the next step is to take a dip in the shade. Shaded tea accounts for a mere 7% of Japanese green tea production, but has an impact to which this percentage pales in comparison. Shaded teas are known for being especially umami-forward, a consequence of the lessened sun exposure. In the absence of sunlight, amino acids like L-Theanine no longer turn into the catechins that contribute to the astringency present in unshaded teas.
Herein we find a wonderful exception to our whole-leaf philosophy: our kukicha, Kumano. Kukicha is a style blend of stems and leaf veins from first-class gyokuros, the king of all shaded teas. This unique composition grants it the status of Karigane, or “tea made out of the stems of shaded teas.” Kumano offers a mild cup of fresh green notes and a subtle citrus finish to delight each and every day.
Kabusecha is another one of the shaded teas; ours is named Daikoku. After just two weeks of shading in the Shizuoka region from which it hails, this tea captures a full-bodied palate of fresh flavors, making it the perfect upgrade from the daily sencha. Harmonious billows of umami and tomato round off with a pleasing astringent nudge, finding fans amongst connoisseurs and green tea novices alike.
For Tea Connoisseurs
Tea connoisseurs are also sure to love our limited harvest teas. We have Hanami Flush, an ode to the first tea harvest this year. It's a shincha, which literally translates to new tea. Shinchas are especially coveted for their rich flavor and high nutrient content, both qualities due to the months of interrupted dormancy during which the plants steadily accumulated nutrients. Like a fresh spring breeze wafting all the way from Japan's beautiful Kyushu Island, this rare shincha carries the subtle fragrance of the region's beloved cherry blossoms.
Lovers of Japanese green tea have myriad exquisite varieties to choose from, but none is quite so special as Gyokuro. True teaists know: this “jade dew” is a luxurious treat. Gyokuro is shaded for a minimum of 3 weeks before the harvest using a form of artificial shading developed uniquely for this process. This bestows it with a particularly smooth mouthfeel, coupled with a lingering sweet finish and scarcely more than a whisper of astringency. Our Gyokuro, the freshly reintroduced Praise of Shadows, is just what the name implies: a brew whose umami and intense thickness stands testament to the wonders of shading.
Matcha is another category within Japanese teas; a whole-leaf grinded tea free of stems and veins. Although matcha is shaded for up to 5 weeks preceding harvest, this is but one aspect of what makes this tea special. Authentic matcha is still milled by artisans much as it was hundreds of years ago in Uji, the cradle of Japanese tea culture. Matcha is also a central component in the revered tea ceremony. It’s one of the healthiest beverages on earth, yielding a rich source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. The highest quality matcha is the first harvest of the season, boasting a telltale darker green. This unmistakable hue is the result of languorous growth over months of hibernation – by limiting the plant’s exposure to sunlight for the 5 weeks prior to harvest, its leaves see a boost in the production of L-theanine. Yellow-green matcha is from the second harvest, a fusion of optimal and mature leaves. Here, the preparation style bears greater importance than the quality itself; matcha can range from premium like our Konomi Do Matcha, to fine culinary grade like our Green Lantern. There’s also our bestselling Shinto Matcha, an organic matcha for daily enjoyment. Whichever one you choose, you’ll fall in love with matcha’s sweet taste, creamy finish, and the calm alertness you feel after each sip.
For those looking to enliven their matcha experience, our Yuzu Midori makes for a lively cup. This potent kukicha green tea blend, generously dosed with rich matcha powder, and paired with the fragrant tart rinds of prized Japanese Yuzu citrus, makes for a delightfully refreshing, invigorating and nutritious bright green cup.
In addition to all above preparations and styles of enjoying Japanese Green Tea, once can hardly make a green tea guide without including roasted teas. The first is Genmaicha, a green tea blended with roasted rice. The blend yields a pleasant popcorn-esque aroma which marries well with the freshness of the green tea itself. Our Grain of Truth is a hearty, everyday favorite encapsulating genmaicha’s quintessential toasty essence. A unique spin on Japan’s usual fresh green taste, houjicha is basically a green tea that has been roasted yielding robust aromas of nuts and malt, underscored with waves of fresh green. Our Daily Toast is still a green tea, but with a mellow coffee roasted flavor, a beverage suitable for any time of day. With a comparatively low caffeine content and a warming effect on the body, it even makes for a good evening drink.
Japan isn’t just about delicious Green teas – Japanese black teas are a treasure unto themselves. These are a far cry from intense and astringent black teas cultivated in ex-British colonies; rather, Japanese black teas are elegant and delicate, and provide in complexity and aroma what they lack in astringency. Japan, we love you.
Photo Credit: © Foto Paetau