Types of Tea

Tea is the second most popular beverage in the world after water. It is no surprise that tea has a long and deep history. In Japan, tea (お茶, ocha) is the most popular drink with significant cultural significance. Tea in Japan is not just about tea ceremonies, it has become an integral part of Japanese food culture and daily life. Tea is also an important export for Japan, with Japan becoming the 8th largest exporter of tea globally in 2021 (89 000 tonnes) with the most popular teas exported being Sencha and Matcha.

As such an important part of daily life, trade, history and culture it is not surprising that there are over 100 types of teas consumed in Japan. This can make learning about Japanese teas feel a little overwhelming. However exploring Japanese teas can start simply with learning about some of the more popular teas in Japan.

There are two types of beverages known as teas, “True” teas and herbal teas or tisanes. True teas are derived from the leaves of Camelia Sinensis plant and are classified into categories many people are familiar with: green teas, black teas, white teas, oolong teas.

It is also important to note that Japanese teas are made in smaller pots around 200mL. This is enough to fill 2 sencha cups or one regular cup. Japanese teas are usually steeped a second and third time. However, they shouldn’t really be steeped more than that.


True Teas

Green Teas (Ryokucha)

Green teas are the most popular type of tea consumed in Japan. In fact, when someone offers you a cup of ocha, they are offering you green teas.

To be classified as a green tea, the tea leaves do not oxidize. This requires a process called “kill-green” to happen before the leaves turn brown through oxidation. The two-methods to “kill-green’ are to steam or to pan-fry the leaves. The main method used in Japanese teas is steaming which distinguishes Japanese tea flavours from teas produced in most other areas of the world where pan-frying dominates. This process brings out the sweetness and umami flavours synonymous with Japanese green teas.

As the most popular type of tea, there are dozens of green tea varieties available in Japan. The difference in types and grades of green teas in Japan are related to the tea cultivation, harvesting time and the amount of sunlight the leaves receive. Some of the most common tea types found in Japan are:

Leaf Green teas

  • Gyokuro
  • Sencha
  • Kabusecha
  • Bancha
  • Hojicha
  • Genmaicha
  • Tencha



Gyokuro is the highest grade of Japanese tea. To be classified as Gyokuro the leaves are shaded for 3 weeks before the first harvest. This shading produces high L-theanine levels which have been associated with improved mood and sleep by regulating the production of serotonin and dopamine in preliminary research. The plucked leaves for Gyokuro are processed similar to Sencha by being steamed, rolled and dried resulting in dark green leaves that produce a bright green brew.

Flavour profile: Rich umami flavour with sweetness

Brewing Tips:

  • 50°C ~ 60°C (122°F ~ 140°F) – brewing at high temperatures will make the tea bitter
  • 2-3 minutes – if brewing time is too short the sweetness will be missed
    • Some Gyokuros may be brewed for longer 5-10 minutes



Sencha is the most common Japanese Green Tea making up approximately 80% of the green tea produced in Japan. Sencha is grown in full sun which gives the leaves a darker colour and more bitterness in the flavour profile compared to shade grown teas. The leaves are plucked, steamed and rolled into thin straight needles before being dried. The resulting brew has a greenish golden colour.

Since Sencha is the most common type of tea in Japan, there are subtle differences in the quality and flavour profile of Sencha that can be determined by the harvest and the steaming levels.

Sincha (Ichibancha – “first tea”)  is the first harvest or pluck of the tea plants during the Spring season. This is the best quality sencha with a refreshing aroma. Sincha generally has a low catchin and caffeine content which results in a less bitter and astringent but more complex flavour profile compared to the later nibancha (second harvest) and sanbancha (third harvest).  Sincha also has higher amino acids (theanine) which results in sweetness and more full bodied flavours.

The steaming levels in Sencha also impact the flavour profiles with Sencha:

  • Asamushi (lightly steamed) it has a light, crisp flavour with a grassiness and high astringency that can be described as refreshing
  • Chumushi, aka futsumushi (medium or normal steamed) – more vegetale flavours with some sweetness. Unless a tea says otherwise, most senchas are futsumushi.
  • Fukamushi (long/deep steamed) – has a more grassy, sweet, seaweedy flavour and more umami flavours that are sometimes described as buttery.

Brewing Tips:

  • 70°C ~ 80°C (158°F ~ 175°F) – brewing at high temperatures will make the tea bitter
  • Steep for 30 seconds- 1 minute – Regular Sencha for 30-45 seconds, premium senchas for approximately 1 minute



Kabusecha is a less well known green tea that translates to “shaded or covered tea.” It is often described as a cross between Gyokuro and Sencha. Kabusecha is covered for less than Gyokuro at about 7-10 days and the shading process is different. Whereas Gyokuro shading blocks about 70-90% of the sunlight, Kabusecha growing blocks about 50% of the sunlight. The resulting flavours have the sweetness similar to Gyokuro with some umami and briskness of the Senchas.

Flavour Profile: Sweet and brisk with some umami flavours

Brewing Tips:

Kabusecha is brewed at a higher temperature that gyokuro and for a longer time than sencha

  • 70°C (158°F ) – the temperature for a high grade Sencha
  • Steep for 2 minute



Bancha refers to tea leaves picked late in the harvest in late summer. Bancha are known as “ordinary tea” (番茶) are often considered a lower grade tea.  However, this tea comes from leaves that, like senchas, receive full sunlight. This longer time in sunlight means bancha develops more catechins, which are antioxidants that can reduce free radicals in the body and protect cells from damage. This added sunlight also reduces the chlorophyll and L-theanine levels giving this type of tea a yellow hue compared to sencha. This time in the sun also reduces the caffeine level in the tea.

It is usually difficult for many non tea drinkers to notice a difference between bancha and sencha. However, Bancha is less expensive and is what is usually used in Genmaicha and Hojicha making these teas also more affordable than sencha.

Flavour profile: Brisk, less bitter than sencha.

Brewing tips:

  • 80-90°C (175-194°F)
  • Steep for 30 seconds -1 minute



Despite its brown colour, hojicha is considered a green tea since it remains unoxidized. It is traditionally made using bancha and often includes kukicha (tea from the twigs of the tea plant). The caramel colour of Hojicha comes from roasting the tea leaves usually over charcoal. This roasting process removes all of the caffeine which makes hojicha a great tea to enjoy in the late afternoon or evening. It is considered a favourite tea for children and the elderly in Japan not only because it is decaffeinated but the flavour is smoother without the bitterness of some green teas.

Flavour profile: Earthy, bold and nutty with some sweetness. Some people describe the flavour as reminiscent of roasted coffee beans.

Brewing tips:

Since it is predominantly made from Bancha the brewing tips are the same:

  • 80-90°C (175-194°F) – the temperature for a high grade Sencha
  • Steep for 30 seconds -1 minute



Genmaicha has become a popular beverage over the past few years and can be found all over Japan. This popular tea is made by mixing green tea leaves with genmai or brown rice that has been roasted. This mixing makes the tea have a distinct nutty flavour and reduces the bitterness inherent to many green teas. The mixing of brown rice and green tea also means there is generally less tea used which reduces the caffeine content of genmaicha.

Most often genmaicha contains bancha however it is not uncommon for it to be made from or include sencha, matcha or hojicha to enrich and diversify its flavours. Matcha is often added to mixes to enhance the tea’s green hue. It is also not uncommon to see genmaicha with other grains including barley and popcorn.

Genmaicha’s low astringency and mild flavour make it a common household remedy for an upset stomach. It is also commonly used in cooking such as broths.

Flavour profile: The flavour profile is influenced by the tea or grains used in the mixture. However, generally the tea has a bright and nutty flavour.

Brewing tips:

Since it is predominantly made from Bancha the brewing tips are the same:

  • 80-90°C (175-194°F)
  • Steep for 30 seconds -1 minute



Tencha is the tea that is ground into matcha as such it is difficult to find. It is shade grown like gyokuro for about three weeks. The preparation for tencha differs from that of most other green teas because it is not rolled after being steamed and dried. As such the tea leaves remain light and flakey. Since the leaves are not rolled it makes it difficult to extract flavour properly from tencha when brewing it. Only a very high quality tencha will have a flavourful brew.

To brew, Tencha requires twice as much dry tea to be used than when brewing other green teas. Due to the lightweight nature of tencha the leaves will need to be well saturated and brewed longer to produce a green flavourful cup of tea. It is often recommended that the leaves be pressed in the cup or pot to fully saturate.

Flavour profile: rich and mellow flavour that lingers for a while.

Brewing Tips:

Tencha may be brewed similarly to Gyokuro because they are both shade grown teas. The major differences is that twice as much tea is needed and may float in the container.

  • 50°C ~ 70°C (122°F ~ 158°F) – brewing at high temperatures will make the tea bitter
  • 2-3 minutes – if brewing time is too short the sweetness will be missed


Powdered Green Tea

  • Matcha
    • Ceremonial Matcha
    • Culinary Matcha
    • Other Powdered Teas

Matcha is probably the best known of the teas from Japan. Matcha has been celebrated globally for its many health benefits. Shade grown leaves are ground to produce a fine powder. This shade growing produces more chlorophyll resulting in a vibrant green colour. Matcha is the tea that is used in tea ceremonies and should be respected as such. Taking time to prepare matcha is an important part of the process of enjoying it and should not be rushed. Although many people consume matcha on a daily basis it is important to note that it does have a higher level of caffeine.

Flavour profile

  • Ceremonial Matcha – the highest quality matcha used for tea ceremonies. The leaves used for ceremonial matcha come from the early harvest in spring giving it more umami and sweetness in flavour along with a grassiness that has a refreshing effect on the palette. This makes serving it with traditional wagashi sweets ideal.
  • Culinary Matcha – come from the late spring and early fall harvest of the tea plant. This type of matcha should still be green and will have a bolder flavour. Lower quality matchas will be bitter. Culinary matcha is not usually as finely ground as ceremonial matcha so it is best for baking and cooking with.

Brewing Tips:

Matcha is prepared very differently from other teas. 1-2 teaspoons are sifted into a small chawan or matcha bowl. 20oz of hot water, not boiling, is added. This is whisked vigorously using a bamboo whisk until frothy.

  • 80°C (175°F) – whisk until frothy


Other powdered teas

  • Konacha

Konacha is not technically a powdered tea. It is the dust and small fragments from higher end teas such as gyokuro and sencha. This tea has a bright green cloudy appearance and a very strong flavour and is sometime referred to as the “tea of sushi” restaurants in Japan.

Other teas including hojicha are now often found in powered form due to the popularity of matcha. When looking at “powdered green teas” if it does not specify what type of tea it is or explicitly say matcha it is more likely sencha. Since this type of tea is already rolled before grinding it will be coarser as well. This type of tea is better for cooking with as it will produce a pretty bitter cup of tea.


Black tea and Oolong tea



Kocha means “red tea” however it is what is commonly known around the world as black tea. It is often referred to as Wakocha “Japanese Red Tea” to distinguish it from other black teas. Black teas are made from the same plant as green teas except they are oxidized and fermented before the kill green process giving the leaves a brown colour that produces a red liquid.

Flavour profile: Smooth and sweet. It is often described as mellower and less bitter than other black teas as such it can be consumed without adding milk.

Brewing tips:

As a black tea, close to boiling to boiling water can be used to brew Wakocha

  • 90°C-100°C (194-208°F)
  • Steep for 30 seconds -1 minute


Japanese Oolong

Japanese oolong teas are quite rare with only a few cultivars producing small quantities of oolongs. The production of oolongs was the result of growing interest in Japanese consumers with teas other than traditional green tees in the late 20th century.

Oolong teas are traditional Chinese teas that are partial oxidized making them reside somewhere between green and black teas. The process of producing oolongs is labour intensive and requires a lot of skills. Different producers vary the oxidation process resulting in a wide range of flavours from fruity to floral.

The brewing of Oolongs depends on how oxidized the tea leaves are. Short oxidized oolongs are steeped similar to green teas whereas long oxidized oolongs can be brewed similar to black teas.

These teas are definitely worth exploring as a person develops a passion for tea.


Herbals Teas/Tisanes – teas not from the tea plant

Herbal teas or tisanes are not really teas since they do not come from the camelia sinensis plant however, there are many herbal drinks considered teas that can be included in the exploration of Japanese teas. Some of the more popular herbals include:

  • Mujicha
  • Sobacha
  • Kombucha
  • Gobucha
  • Sakuracha


Mujicha is a roasted barley infusion made by steeping roasted barley in water. It has a toasty nutty flavour and is a popular summer drink served cold. It is does not contain caffeine so it is suitable for children. It is also important to note that since it is made from barely, it is not gluten free.

Preparation: Infuse roasted barley in freshly boiled water for approximately 5 minutes. This can be refrigerated for consumption later.


Sobacha is buckwheat tea. It is made from infusing roasted buckwheat in water. This is considered a health tea as it is used as an anti-inflammatory and contains antioxidants and fiber. The tea is caffeine free so can be consumed throughout the day.

Preparation: Infuse roasted buckwheat in freshly boiled water for approximately 3 minutes.


Kombucha in Japan is different from the fermented sparkling tea beverage found in many health food stores in North America. In Japan kombucha is made from steeping kombu (kelp) seaweed in hot water. It is also common to add ume (sour plums) to add a bit of sourness to this salty umami rich drink. The North American fermented kombucha is known as kocha kinoko.

Preparation: Infuse dried sliced or ground kombu (kelp) in boiling water until the kombu has expanded or the powdered kombu is infused. Drink the broth warm or cold.


Gobucha is an infusion made from burdock (gobo) root shavings in hot water. This creates an earthy flavoured broth similar to mushrooms. It is said to have antioxidants and support health and longevity.

Preparation: Infuse gobocha teabags in boiled water. Alternatively grate gobo root and sunning the shavings for a few hours to dry them. Then infuse the dried shavings in boiled water.


Sakura-Cha is made using cherry blossoms (sakura). The blossoms are salted and pickled usually in plum vinegar. This gives the tisane made from the blossoms have a salty flavour common with Japanese herbal teas. This may be too salty for some so the blossoms can be rinsed before brewing. Since Cherry blossoms can only be picked in the spring this tea is often reserved for celebrations such as weddings.

Preparation: Infuse cherry blossoms in boiled water and watch the blossoms unfurl before drinking. If it is too salty, rinse the cherry blossoms before brewing.

The world of Japanese teas can be vast and there is a lot to explore. Remember that exploration is part of the fun. Most Japanese teas can and should be infused 2-3 times with each steep revealing a new adventure in colour, aroma and flavour.



Share your favourite Japanese teas with us in the comments below!


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