Have you heard of sencha, kabusecha, or gyokuro? They all come with unique flavours and distinct health benefits. Let’s dive.
Sometimes called “king of green teas” in Japan, Gyokuro is considered superior in its flavour, the price often reflecting it. For those of us who are after green tea’s health benefits, the extra price may be well worth paying, as gyokuro has some unique health properties thanks to the way the tea leaves are grown. Gyokuro leaves stay covered under a shade for a minimum of 3 weeks before the harvesting. This extra process causes an increase of theanine in the leaves, amino acid known to promotes alpha wave in the brain, calming and relaxing the brain and nerve system. Theanine also has a positive effect on blood pressure and heart rate. So gyokuro is a perfect choice of green tea in the evening. But what about caffeine? 100 g of Gyokuro leaves contain 3-4 g of caffeine on average, slightly higher than that of other green teas. If you want to enjoy gyokuro with less caffeine, use cold-water extraction method: pour cold water on gyokuro leaves and let it be in the fridge for few hours. As caffeine is extracted into hot water much more efficiently than into cold water, the cold-water extraction lets you have all the other beneficial polyphenols and amino acids in your tea without excessive caffeine.
Made of first picking tea, sencha is the most common type of green tea consumed in Japan. Unlike these of gyokuro the leaves of sencha get a full exposure to sunlight during the entire period of growing, causing theanine to convert into catechin. Catechin is one of the polyphenols in green teas with well-documented health benefits including lowered blood pressure, improved blood glucose, and anti-bacterial benefits. In Japan green tea is typically consumed throughout a meal , and this may serve a purpose beyond just culinary one, as green tea can promote a milder blood glucose raise and protect your teeth against tooth decay, thanks to its catechin.
If you are a green tea novice and wondering how to incorporate green tea in your daily routines, matcha offers some of the best ways! Mix a small heap of matcha in your morning smoothie or blend it with your favourite mushroom powder and enjoy it in your coffee. The leaves of matcha are grown in a similar manner than these of gyokuro and they are covered under a shade during the last few weeks of cultivation. As such its nutrition profile is like gyokuro’s with a higher theanine to catechin ratio. After harvest matcha leaves are dried and then grinded by stone mortar into a fine powder. Because the entire leaves are consumed, you get all the essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients not available by drinking green tea. Matcha is high in vitamin Bs, C, potassium and magnesium. Also, matcha is rich in dietary fiber containing around 39 g per 100 g of which 32 g is water insoluble.
Made of tea leaves picked later in the year usually after June, bancha contains very little theanine because the long exposure to the sunlight breaks down theanine into catechin to a greater degree. Also, bancha is lower in caffeine than the other green teas making it a great choice if you want to load on catechin in the evening. Additionally, bancha is rich in polysaccharides, another healthy component in green teas that improves post-meal blood glucose. Unlike catechin which slows down intake of glucose, polysaccharides act like body’s own insulin supporting healthy glucose metabolism. To get a maximum benefit, make bancha with cold water, as polysaccharides are sensitive to heat.
[Kabusecha] Meaning “covered tea”, the leaves of kabusecha are covered under a shade before being picked, just like these of matcha and gyokuro. The period of shading is however shorter, usually around a week. I like kabusecha as a budget-friendly alternative to gyokuro. It has a high theanine content and costs only a fraction of a high-grade gyokuro.
Green tea probably is one of the superstars that became a common beverage of choice outside Japan. Almost every supermarket in Sweden, the country of my residence sells green tea even it could be in a form of teabags perhaps blended with artificial citrus flavour or something.
I do drink them in a real pinch, when I’m dying for a cup of hot beverage and no better choices is available. But they don’t compare to green teas enjoyed in Japan and other countries. Their taste often is overly bitter and flat without wonderfully complex aroma. Also, despite its rising popularity, many varieties of green teas are still less known outside its mother country, and every conversation about green tea seems to ignore these varieties, while in fact In Japan different types of green teas are carefully chosen to match not only the food but also health benefits we want to get out of the tea consumption.
Hope you find this article helpful while you navigate through wide variety of Japanese green teas!