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Japanese Green Tea: Satisfy Your Senses with 10 Shades of Green

When it comes to color, aroma and flavor, authentic Japanese green tea covers the gamut from subtle to robust. But with so many options to choose from and with often confusing Japanese names, it can be hard to wrap your head around these differences. Today, you will learn about the 10 standard types of green tea as described by their characteristic colors, aromas, and flavors to help you on your path to becoming a true green tea connoisseur.

Japanese Green Tea

What you need to know

Green Tea Basics: Colors, Aromas and Flavors

Though all green tea leaves are picked from the same tea plant, Camellia sinensis, the selection process of making each variety of green tea differs from one to another, resulting in each green tea’s characteristic color, aroma, and flavor.

Green Tea Basics: Colors, Aromas and Flavors

The colors of green tea

The colors of green tea are caused by chlorophyll in the tea leaves, which begins to oxidize and turn brown the moment the leaves are picked from the tree and begin to ferment. To prevent fermentation, the leaves are steamed or roasted in a roasting kettle immediately after being harvested. Still, the fermentation of chlorophyll cannot be prevented completely during the selection and production process, resulting in the different shades of tea-colored water when the tea is steeped.

The color of green tea after being steeped also has a lot to do with the chlorophyll and catechin in the tea being oxidized when it is exposed to heat, light, and air, and also having chemical reactions with other components found in the leaves. Therefore, it is very important to keep the tea leaves in an optimal environment by storing them tightly in a tight shielded container.

The aromas of green tea

The different aromas of green tea are said to be made up of more than 300 components, which when identified by experienced tea drinkers can help indicate the quality of green tea.

For example, the most commonly consumed green tea in Japan, sencha, is considered high quality if the tea is well balanced with the grassy aroma of leaf alcohol mixed with a roasted smell, which is caused when pyrazine in the tea leaves is heated.

Gyokuro, a premium green tea variety, gets its unique aroma reminiscent of a sea breeze from the special cultivation process called oiga, which is when the tea plant is covered about 20 days before harvesting.

The flavors of green tea

Just like with food, the flavors of green tea can be described using basic taste characters: sweetness, bitterness, astringency (like the mouthfeel of tannins found in fruit and wine), and umami. The taste of tea is determined by what and how much of a particular component is naturally contained in the harvested tea leaves.

The Importance of Water and Temperature

The Importance of Water and Temperature

The flavor of green tea is also greatly influenced by the quality of water and its temperature when steeping the leaves. To fully enjoy the unique taste of each green tea variety, it is important to know what kind of water to use and at which temperature the tea should be steeped.

Water quality

Generally speaking, for Japanese green tea, it is best to use soft water, which contains few minerals, such as magnesium and calcium. In Japan, tap water will be the best choice because of the low amount of minerals found in it. If you find that your source for tap water has an off putting flavor or is hard water, then it may be best to purchase bottled water with low levels of minerals.


The temperature of water is directly proportioned to how much catechin, caffeine, and amino acids (theanine and glutamic acid) are extracted from the tea leaves when they are steeped. The higher the temperature, the more catechin and caffeine are extracted, causing the tea to have more astringent and bitter taste. The higher the temperature, the stronger the aroma as well. On the other hand, at a lower temperature, the umami flavor is more pronounced since less catechin and caffeine are extracted, as well as less bitterness and astringency.

High quality green tea is made with special consideration and processed accordingly so that the particular green tea profile can be enhanced and enjoyed. Because of this, it is best to always follow the suggested temperature when you purchase green tea. Simply remembering the following fact may help you when you are not sure about the optimal temperature for your cup of green tea:

The higher the temperature, the more bitter and astringent the tea becomes. The lower the temperature, the more pronounced the umami and sweet notes become.

10 Standard Japanese Green Tea Varieties

The following tea varieties are presented based tea grade; match being the highest grade and hojicha being the lowest.



Drink matcha and you will enjoy the full nutritional benefits of green tea. Just like gyokuro and kabusecha, the tea plants used for matcha are covered with straw blankets, which prevent the umami component in leaves from becoming more astringent and bitter. Once the matcha leaves are harvested and steamed, they are dried, selected, and ground into powder. Since matcha is dissolved in hot water and consumed rather than steeped, you get a much thicker consistency.

Packed with antioxidants, matcha provides the refreshing aroma of fresh green leaves paired with a rich umami flavor.

Color: Vivid green
Aroma: Refreshing aroma of fresh green leaves
Flavor: Rich and complex with a deep umami flavor
Aftertaste: Sweet
Water temperature: 80°C (176°F)
Suggested tea: Matcha Daigyoku



Gyokuro is one of the highest quality green teas produced. This tea is not meant to satisfy your thirst. It should be consumed in very small amounts, and similar to wine tasting, gyokuro should be carefully studied and examined as it is sipped to enjoy both the seaweed-like aroma and sweet, umami taste. It is absolutely necessary to follow the suggested steeping temperature for the full experience of this special tea.

Color: Pale, transparent yellow
Aroma: “Sea breeze” aroma
Flavor: Sweet with a deep umami flavor
Aftertaste: Seaweed, spinach
Water temperature: 40°C (104°F)
Suggested tea: Uji Premium Gyokuro



The name of this tea describes the process in which the tea plant is covered (kabuseru) with straw blankets for about a 7–10 days. (Gyokuro also undergoes the same process, but for a much longer period of time.) This tea can be best described as a hybrid of sencha and gyokuro because of its soothing aroma and astringency of sencha paired with the umami flavor of gyokuro.

Color: Yellow green
Aroma: Soothing
Flavor: Mild with a moderate umami flavor
Aftertaste: Sweet and refreshing
Water temperature: 60°C (122°F)
Suggested tea: Uji Kabusecha



When Japanese people think of green tea, they are usually referring to sencha. If you are new to the world of green tea, sencha will be a convenient choice to start with since it is the easiest variety to find and is relatively reasonable in price.

Color: Transparent yellow to light yellow green
Aroma: Fresh and soothing
Flavor: Good balance between astringent and sweet
Aftertaste: Deep, long-lasting green
Water temperature: 70°C (158°F)
Suggested tea: Premium Sencha Yabukita



The difference between sencha and fukamushicha is that the latter is steamed twice to three times longer during production. This keeps bitterness and astringency under control, resulting in mellower taste.

Color: Deep green
Aroma: Rich
Flavor: Less astringent than sencha, mild and mellow taste
Aftertaste: Long lasting mellow green
Water temperature: 70°C (158°F)
Suggested tea: Chiran Premium Fukamushicha

Kukicha (Karigane)

Kukicha (Karigane)

Kuki means “stem” in Japanese. Kukicha is a green tea made only from the stems of green tea leaves. If you are looking for a green tea to cleanse your palate, this is a good choice. Just because kukicha is made from stems only, that does not mean the tea is not high quality. In some parts of Japan, green tea producers specialize in kukicha made only from the highest quality tea plants.

Color: Soft, pale yellow green
Aroma: Fresh and soothing
Flavor: Uncomplicated and sweet
Aftertaste: Mild green with a slight bitterness
Water temperature: 80°C (176°F)
Suggested tea: Uji Karigane



Most sushi restaurants serve a variety of green tea called konacha (sometimes called agari by restaurant servers). Kona means powder in Japanese, and while konacha does look like a powder, it should still be steeped and not consumed in the same fashion as matcha. It has a very strong astringent and bitter flavor making it a perfect green tea while eating sushi since its astringency and bitterness help to cleanse the palate.

Color: Deep dark green, opaque
Aroma: Deep green aroma
Flavor: Bitter and astringent flavors
Aftertaste: Raw and spicy green
Water temperature: 75°C (167°F)
Suggested tea: Gyokuro Konacha



Kamairicha is unique as it is the only Japanese green tea that does not go through the steaming process but still is still considered to be green tea. The leaves of kamairicha are roasted in the roasting kettle instead of steamed to stop the fermentation. If you are looking for an aromatic tea, kamairicha, with its deep roasted aroma, is the best choice.

Color: Clear, pale yellow
Aroma: Distinctly deep aroma of a roasting kettle
Flavor: Uncomplicated
Aftertaste: Roasted almond with a hint of cocoa
Water temperature: 85°C (185°F)
Suggested tea: Ureshino Kamairicha



Genmaicha is a unique blend of green tea and roasted brown rice. (The standard proportion is usually half and half, but is sometimes mixed in different ratios.) If you like the flavor of Japanese rice crackers, you may also enjoy the flavor of this tea greatly.

Color: Pale yellow green
Aroma: Deep aroma of roasted brown rice
Flavor: Refreshing
Aftertaste: Pleasant roasted
Water temperature: 85°C (185°F)
Suggested tea: Sencha Genmaicha



Hojicha is the only green tea introduced here that is not actually green when it is steeped. This is because the tea leaves are roasted until no moisture is left in the leaves, resulting in a brown color. Because of the lower caffeine and catechin content found in hojicha, which makes it easier on the stomach, this tea is a perfect choice for children and elderly tea drinkers.

Color: Bright, transparent brown
Aroma: Deep roasted aroma
Flavor: Light and uncomplicated
Aftertaste: Subtle green tea
Water temperature: 95°C (203°F)
Suggested tea: Organic Hojicha

We hope this guide has helped you along your way to choosing the right Japanese green taste based on your color, aroma and flavor preferences. If you would like to know more about the variety of high quality Japanese teas sold by Sazen Tea, we invite you to contact us with your questions.

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