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The Nomenclature of Japanese Teas

In Japan, the notion of terroir is less important than in China As we have seen, the practice of mixing different batches of aracha in order to crearte a balanced flavor makes it impossible to determine a precise place of origin for a particular tea. Rather; the names given to teas refer to the methods of production and processing of the leaves. However; in the case of very high-grade teas, there is sometimes a reference to the terroir. Thene are eight main types of Japanese teas: Sencha, Bancha, Hojicha, Genmaicha, Tamaryokucha, Gyokuno, Kabusecha and Matcha.

SENCHA

Sencha, which means "infused tea," is the most common grade of Japanese tea, representing roughly 80 percent of the country's total production. There are Sencha teas of medium quality, destined for popular consumption, but there are also some high-quality Sencha teas that are rare, complex and subtle in taste.

Bocha (also called Kukicha) is made from batches of Sencha. This type of tea has stems deliberately mixed in with the leaves. Mecha is a variant of Sencha. This type of tea is made from the first harvest of the year which is carefully sorted so that only pieces of leaves and small shoots are retained.

BANCHA

Bancha is usually produced from leaves and stems picked during the late summer or fall harvests. The best quality Bancha teas, however; are made from leaves picked in June.

HOJICHA

Hojicha tea is a Bancha tea whose leaves have been roasted for a few minutes at a temperature of about 390°F (200°C). Although this method strips the leaves of many of their properties, it gives them a honeyed taste reminiscent of hazelnuts.

GENMAICHA

Ganmaicha teas have a green tea base (Bancha or Sencha) with roasted grains of brown rice and popped rice mixed in. Genmaicha teas are usually entry-grade teas ideal for daily consumption. There are also high-quality Genmaicha teas, and the quality of the final product depends on the tea used as the base. Matcha is also added to some varieties.

TAMARYOKUCHA

There are two types of Tamaryokucha. The firsts Mushi Sei Tamaryokucha, or Guricha, is subjected to steam dehydration. Produced throughout Japan, this tea tries to imitate the appearance and taste of some Chinese curly-leaf green teas.

The other type of Tamaryokucha is called Kamairi Sei Tamaryokucha, or simply Kamairicha. It is dehydrated in vats and grown mainly on the island of Kyushu. Although most batches are now processed mechanically, there are still some factories that offer batches processed by hand.

GYOKURO

Gyokuro (which means "precious dew") )is the highest grade of tea produced in Japan. It is produced from just one harvest per yean in late May or early june. Traditionally, when the new shoots are about 3/4 inch (2 cm) long, growers erect a straw canopy over the tea trees for about 10 days. After that period, they add more straw to the canopies, and the trees are left covered in this way for another 11 days, for a total period of about 21 days. The buds are then carefully picked to ensure all the buds growing along the stems are removed. Growers pay such close attention to their crops of Gyokuro tea to encourage the development of a delicate, rich flavor Gyokuro teas are considered, among the most flavorful teas in the world.

KABUSECHA

Shaded growing is also used to obtain Kabusecha teas, but it is done over a shorter period of time. Some growers hang a synthetic cover over their trees, while others place it directly on the plants. The plants are covered for an average of 12 days.

Karigane, a tea similar to Bocha, is produced from batches of Kabusecha. However, unlike Bocha teas, the mixture of leaves and stems comes from shade-grown plants.

MATCHA

Introduced by Buddhist monks at the beginning of the first millennium, Matcha tea was the first type of tea consumed in Japan. Originally, the dried leaves were cut up and then ground between millstones. Today, the best Matchas are often produced from shade-grown leaves.