Traditional Culture of Japan - Traditional crafts and culture

The difference between ryokucha, sencha, gyokuro, and matcha

 

The most common tea in Japan is ryokucha (green tea). But what is ryokucha? As a matter of fact, there are many types of ryokucha.

 

For example, at a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, the tea that is served is matcha, and matcha is a type of ryokucha. However, very few Japanese people drink matcha regularly, other than those involved in performing tea ceremony. Rather than matcha, most Japanese people drink sencha, which is also a type of ryokucha.

 

There are also other types of green tea with different types of tea leaves, such as gyokuro and hōjicha. Ryokucha includes all of these types of Japanese green tea. Ryokucha is one of the most popular drinks in Japan.

 

     

 

  What is ryokucha?
Kōcha (black tea) and ryokucha (green tea) are made from the same type of tea leaf. After the leaves are harvested, they can become green tea or black tea, depending on the length of their fermentation. This is how different-tasting teas are made from the same type of leaf.

 

Black tea is obtained when the leaves are completely fermented. Tea leaves contain a bitter ingredient called catechin, or tannin. When catechin is oxidized and fermented, it turns red, and this is what gives black tea its red hue.

 

In contrast to black tea, the leaves used to make green tea are not fermented. The leaves are processed directly after they are harvested, while they are still green, so that the leaf retains much tannin. Japanese people enjoy the astringent flavor of tea made with these leaves.

 

Sencha is said to be the most popular form of ryokucha in Japan. However, depending on the type of leaf and the processing method, the final product may be either sencha or matcha.

 

Here we present a short description of each type of ryokucha:

 

  ・Sencha
To make sencha, only the leaves are harvested from the tea plant. The leaves are needle-shaped and the plant is grown with good exposure to sunlight.

 

  ・Gyokuro
Gyokuro is made from the same type of plant as sencha. However, to produce gyokuro, the plant is shaded from sunlight.

 

Shading the plant from the sunlight causes less of the bitter tannin and more of the flavorsome compound theanine to be produced. Gyokuro is known as a high-class green tea, because of its special flavor and the labor required to produce it.

 

  ・Matcha
Like gyokuro, matcha uses tea leaves from plants shaded from direct sunlight. These leaves are steamed and dried to form “tencha.” This dried tencha is then powdered to make matcha. Matcha is the type of tea used in the tea ceremony.

 

In simple terms, matcha may be thought of as powdered gyokuro. However, the way these two types of tea are drunk differs considerably. To make gyokuro, hot water is poured over leaves in a teapot. In the case of matcha, a whisk must be used to dissolve the powdered tea.

 

Although Japanese people don’t drink matcha on an everyday basis, matcha has a strong presence in the minds of the Japanese people because of its association with the tea ceremony. For that reason, matcha powder is used as an ingredient in various kinds of foods such as high-quality sweets.

 

Green tea, as it is drunk in Japan, allows the natural flavor of the tea to be appreciated. Sugar is often added to black tea but no sugar is added to green tea in Japan. In many other countries, sugar may be added to green tea, but the authentic flavor of green tea has its own unique bitter and astringent components.


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