7 Types of Green Tea You Should Know About

Best Green TeasFeeling like you just got your head around sencha, and now there’s matcha? What exactly is the difference between bancha and genmaicha?

Don’t worry – we’ll make it easy.

All green tea is derived from the same plant – Camellia sinesis. Variations or the “types” of green tea are differentiated by growing methods, timing of the harvest of the leaves, and processing techniques. These elements affect the taste as well as the nutrient content of the green teas, and their potential benefits for health and disease.

Nutrients & Benefits of Green Tea

  • Catechins: Powerful antioxidants that have been linked to protection against breast cancer, DNA damage, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity [1]. Most of the health benefits of green tea are attributed to epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), one of four major catechins found in green tea.
  • Glutamate: An amino acid that gives green tea most of its umami flavor. You’ll find higher concentrations of this nutrient in shade-grown, expensive green teas like gyokuro. Glutamate is a pre-cursor to glutathione – the body’s most abundant antioxidant.
  • Theanine: Like glutamate, the most expensive and rare green teas have a high concentration of l-theanine as it contributes to the umami flavor. This amino acid has a high affinity for the brain and nervous systems where it can promote relaxation while also boosting alertness, improve memory and sharpen focus. [2]
  • Caffeine: Generally, green tea has the same amount of caffeine as a strong brewed cup of coffee, but in a gentler form. Green tea tends to contain more theophylline caffeine than theobromine (the kind found in coffee that causes the “rush”) – green tea gives a gentle effect across 4 – 6 hours, and can even help to relax tense muscles. [3]
  • Minerals: Each variety of green tea has a different concentration and profile of minerals depending on its growing conditions. You’ll find a good level of calcium, magnesium, fluoride, zinc, copper and potassium in most green teas.

7 Green Teas You Need to Know About

1. Sencha Green Tea

Sencha is the most popular green tea in Japan. Unlike other green teas, Sencha is grown in direct sunlight and is harvested during the first or second flush of leaves (note: the first flush produces the best quality leaves). The freshly picked leaves are then steamed, dried, and rolled out into a needle-like shape to release the juices in the leaves and maximise the flavor.

When brewed correctly, sencha has a grassy, seaweed-ish, vegetal taste and subtle umami flavor from its fairly high glutamate and theanine content – particularly in blends with a high concentration of young, first flush leaves.

Beware: boiling or near-boiling water will give your cup an astringent, bitter taste. Infuse at 160F – 170F for 30 – 45 seconds.

Other similar green teas include:

  • Fukamushi sencha is steamed twice as long as conventional sencha. This gives the leaves a delicate texture and tea made from these leaves has more leaf content than other sencha types – this means that you are likely to absorb more active phytonutrients from fukamushi sencha than normal sencha. The additional steaming also gives fukamushi sencha also has a finer, less astringent flavor.

We Recommend…

Rishi Tea Organic Sencha (2.11 oz)

Sencha TEaThis sencha is created from a blend of first and second flush harvests from organic farms on an island in southern Japan. The soil of the island is particularly rich in minerals and this tea has a surprisingly rich umami taste for a sencha. It brews up into an opaque, bold green color and has a smooth mouthfeel. One very important note on this product from a reviewer, though: the instructions suggest using 1 tablespoon per 8oz of water, and steeping for 3 – 4 minutes – this is a recipe for bitter, overly caffeinated tea. Try 1 teaspoon instead and only infuse for 1.5 – 2 minutes.

2. Gyokuro

Gyokuro is a superior variety of premium green tea. While sencha is grown in full sun, gyokuro tea leaves are shaded for 20 days before harvest, processing, and rolling. This boosts the concentration of theanine and glutamate, enriching and intensifying the tea’s umami flavor. In fact, it is the strength of the umami flavor that determines whether a tea is classified as gyokuro or sencha – or kabusecha.

Gyokuro is rare and valuable compared to sencha, not just because of the extra work of shading the plants but because organic farming methods make it harder for farmers to achieve high enough levels of theanine and glutamate to produce the defining umami flavor. On average, 100g of gyokuro leaves will contain 2500mg of theanine and 450mg of glutamate, and this tea has the highest levels of caffeine and minerals of all green teas.

Gyokuro is also known as Jade Dew for its brilliant, deep green color. It has a smooth, nuanced flavor when brewed correctly. Prepare with water at 150F – 160F and infuse for only 15 to 20 seconds for a taste that is surprisingly refreshing and deep. This rare treat comes with a much higher price tag, but it’s worth it.

Other similar green teas include:

  • Tencha is usually grown, shaded and harvested in a similar way to gyokuro but does not undergo the rolling process.
  • Matcha is generally made by stone-grinding and powdering tencha leaves. However, there are lower quality matcha powders on the market which come from lower quality tea leaves. The impressive health benefits of matcha come from consuming the entire leaf, rather than just the extracted constituents found in tea. Read more about matcha here →

We Recommend…

Serendipi Tea Organic Gyokuro (4 oz)

Gyokuro TeaThis is the real deal. If you’re looking for the king of green teas, you’ve found it. This gyokuro is grown in Hoshino, a mountain village known for its traditional hand-grown tea bushes. The umami content of this gyokuro is high, and you can smell it even before you open the box. It’s not cheap, but you’ll get at least 50 cups of tea of out of this 4 ounce package.

3. Kabusecha

Kabusecha is the “in between” green tea, with a theanine and glutamate content close but not quite as high as gyokuro. The leaves are shaded for about a week before harvesting to boost umami flavor – again, it is the concentration of this flavor that defines the tea as either sencha (least umami), gyokuro (most umami) or kabusecha (somewhere in between).

We Recommend…

Ocha & Co Premium Organic Japanese Kabuescha (100g)

Ocha and Co TeaThis kabuescha is grown in Shizouka, Japan where most gyokuro and sencha is produced. It is a mountain area where the cool air slows down the growth rate of the leaves, intensifying their aroma and nutrient content. This kabuescha was vacuumed packed immediately after being processed, and shipped in small batches to ensure a long shelf-life and extended quality. Ocha & Co is an award-winning tea production company that has won the equivalent of the “Oscars for the tea industry in Japan” – if you want to try a high quality kabuescha, here it is:

4. Bancha

Bancha is processed in the same way as sencha, but uses large mature leaves from the “second flush” of tea leaves – after the first harvest has been used for other teas, the leaves grow back and are harvested for bancha. This second growth infuses the leaves with minerals but decreases the concentration of L-theanine and glutamate. It takes on a mineral bitterness from its fluoride content and loses out on umami flavor. Bancha is cheap, tastes more earthy and rough, and generally pairs well with meals – but less-so with many green tea connoisseurs!

But bancha has many merits when it comes to health. It has the lowest concentration of caffeine of all standard green leaf teas and a high level of minerals. With a good concentration of calcium, magnesium, fluoride and potassium, bancha may help to strengthen bones and teeth.

Other similar green teas include:

  • Genmaicha is a combination of bancha leaves and Genmai which is roasted brown rice grain. The roasted rice gives the tea an earthy, sweet, toasted flavor. Infuse in 170F water for a nuanced tea-and-rice flavor, or use hotter water that is just-below-boiling temperature to emphasise the rice flavor. NOTE: Genmaicha is sometimes produced with sencha rather than bancha leaves for a more delicate flavor.

5. Houjicha

Houjicha is made by quickly roasting either sencha or bancha tea leaves at 390F and then immediately cooled. It can also include roasted leaf stems, unrolled roasted leaves, or other interesting combinations and variations. The roasting process destroys most of the caffeine and gives a savory aroma and clear, light taste – though there are endless, nuanced flavor combinations depending on the ingredients used! Of course the phytonutrient content also depends on the ingredients used, but generally speaking houjicha is low in caffeine and high in minerals.

We Recommend…

Choice Organic Teas Bancha Hojicha (16 tea bags)

Choice Organic Bancha TeaChoice Organic Teas have carefully roasted organic bancha leaves in traditional hojicha style to create a rich, toasted flavor. This company is dedicated to producing responsible, earth-friendly tea – their packaging is biodegradable, the tea is Fair Trade certified, and they buy wind power to offset their carbon emissions. And the tea is delicious, full-bodied and flavorsome. For the best extraction, we recommend only steeping these teabags for 1 – 2 minutes in water that is a little cooler than boiling-hot.

6. Kukicha

Kukicha is a twig tea – no leaves, just stems and twigs of the tea plant! It is naturally very low in caffeine and high in minerals and antioxidants. It brews up into a unique, delicate tea that has a mild nutty, creamy flavor when steeped at 160F – 175F for about one minute. This is a great choice if you’re looking for an introduction to something different or need to avoid the caffeine hit from other types of green tea.

We Recommend…

Haiku Organic Japanese Kukicha Twig Tea (16 teabags)

Kukicha Twig TeaHaiku produce kukicha from certified organic farms and factories, free from chemical growing agents, GMO ingredients, and artificial additives or flavors. This tea is particularly delicious with a squeeze of lemon The taste is richer than other green teas, and can taste more akin to coffee (but a lot “cleaner” tasting) if you leave it to steep for a full 10 – 15 minutes.

7. Longjing (Dragon Well)

This green tea comes from China – the original land of green tea. Rather than steaming and rolling the leaves as is done in Japan, Chinese green tea producers tend to pan-fry the leaves to flatten and dry them into a stiffer product. Longjing has a high concentration of vitamin C and catechins, and brews up into a very gentle, mild, sweet flavor with notes of chestnut. It is best infused at 167F – 176F and served in a traditional clay pot – but glass or porcelain will do!

We Recommend…

Golden Moon Tea Organic Dragon Well Tea (2oz)

Dragon Well TeaThis organic Dragon Well tea is made from hand-plucked leaves grown in the Zheijang province, hand-roasted in giant woks to preserve their vibrant green color and complex flavor. Golden Moon are dedicated to creating non-GMO, USDA certified organic tea products, and this Dragon Well is guarnateed to be free from harmful chemicals, additives and pesticides. If you’re looking for a highly flavorsome and fragrant Dragon Well – this is it!

Further Reading:

About James Lyons

James Lyons (BHSc Nutritional Medicine) is a clinical nutritionist, medical writer, and educator. He specialises in plant-based nutrition and is passionate about improving public access to reliable and accurate health information.

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