Tea has been grown in China and Japan for hundreds of years. In both countries, green tea is the most popular variety of tea consumed. But while both Chinese and Japanese tea drinkers are madly in love with green tea, there’s substantial differences in their green teas.
Today, we’re going to examine what makes green tea unique in China and Japan.
In China, the growth of high quality tea is often left to nature. For example, in the regions of Yunnan and Anhui, farmers tend to not touch tea trees until harvest. This is because tea grows natively in China, and the most acclaimed tea is grown from trees that are hundreds, sometimes thousands of years old. With many generations harvesting the same trees, Chinese farmers tend not to mess with what makes their tea famous.
Tea isn’t native to Japan, but tea farming has been an established Japanese craft since the 13th century. Because Japan lacks arable farmland, Japanese farmers do not leave as much up to chance, and therefore optimize every inch of available space to enhance the qualities they love in tea. For example, black translucent fabrics are sometimes draped over tea trees to simulate shade, which in turn improves the colour and texture of tea.
Green tea is defined by its minimal oxidation. To preserve freshness, green tea producers put their leaves through a process that prevents the withering and fermenting that lead to oxidation. Oxidation is a natural chemical process that happens after tea leaves are plucked. If left alone, tea leaves generate internal heat that leads to a gradual browning -- similar to what occurs with a banana peel after it’s picked from a tree.
All green tea is put through a process that halts oxidation. It’s the precise process that is the difference between Chinese and Japanese green teas.
In China, most green tea is pan-fried on a large wok. It is this frying process that stops oxidization without damaging the leaves. Once the frying is finished, tea is then rolled -- either by hand or machine -- which compacts the leaves, leading to more intense flavour. The final step is to remove any residual moisture through sun drying, pan heating, or hot air.
Japanese producers have a different approach. To help maintain freshness and moisture, leaves are first fanned with damp air to dissipate heat. Instead of pan-frying, steaming is used to prevent oxidization. After steaming, air is blown onto the leaves to cool them down, which preserves their unique flavour and colour. A variety of machines roll and twist the leaves, making them compact. Afterwards, residual moisture is removed through air drying. For matcha, there’s an additional final step of grinding the leaves into powder.
The Final Product
Because of wildly different approaches to farming and processing, Chinese and Japanese green tea are very distinct from each other.
Chinese green tea tends to pour with a transparent yellow hue. It is delicate, subtle, and slightly sweet. Fans of Chinese green tea tend to brew leaves at a low water temperature of 158F (70C) with steeping times of 30 seconds. This method of brewing ensures that the sweetness of Chinese green tea is always prominent, and never bitter.
On the other hand, Japanese green tea pours as a thick green liquid. It is bold, robust, and has a meaty umami taste. To really bring out the vibrancy of Japanese green tea, a higher water temperature of 176F (80C) is used with steeping times of 60 seconds. The result is a rich, complex flavour that is impressively refreshing.
Looking to delve further into the world of green tea? At Amoda, we have a diverse selection of green teas to choose from. Jasmine Mist is a great Chinese tea to enjoy with dim sum. Or if you want to curl up with a good book during a rainy day, Japanese genmaicha makes for great company.