This tea set is meant for tea enthusiasts who are looking to solidify their tasting knowledge of Japanese green tea, specifically the different grades of teas, and the subtle gradation between them.
Different teas should be enjoyed in different ways, in particular, you might use low temperature steeping to extract gyokuro tea’s umami flavor. But for this tasting set we recommend using a standard steeping method to compare. Professional tasters will steep at 100C degrees, extracting all the teas components regardless of flavor, but we recommend a water temperature of 70C/160F degrees, 1 minute steep, 3 grams of tea, and 100 ml of water.
3 grams of tea, 1 minute, 70C/160F degrees, 100 ml
The below are the items contained in this set. About 20 grams of each are provided except for the heritage gyokuro (10g). The order is from most premium to least premium grade, all are unroasted green teas.
NOTE: Teas in the set may not match the product photograph. Set is crested on demand, so is always “out of stock”.
- Heritage gyokuro (spring, most premium Japanese green tea leaf)
- Premium gyokuro (spring)
- Standard gyokuro (spring)
- Kabusecha (spring)
- Premium sencha (spring)
- Standard sencha (spring)
- Basic sencha (summer)
- Spring-harvested bancha
- Autumn-harvested bancha (Least premium Japanese green tea leaf)
Our recommendation is to taste 2-3 teas at each time, tasting teas that are very far apart (Kabusecha vs Bancha), and in a separate tasting, taste teas that are right next to each other on the list (Premium gyokuro vs Standard gyokuro).
Remember, any of these green teas can be steeped with any combination of parameters (tea amount, water amount, water temperature and time) when you are exploring how the steeping affects the flavor.
All the teas contained in this set can be considered grades of sencha using the wide definition: tea leaf that has been steamed after harvested, rolled, and dried. The different types refer to differences in cultivation and quality, and so we use a narrower definition of sencha of tea leaf that has not been shaded, but has not been allowed to grow to a very large size.
GYOKURO - “jade dew tea” 玉露 - the most premium type of green tea, gyokuro is cultivated in a way that increases the umami flavor of the leaf by a large amount. This generally means that it is shaded for at least around 3 weeks before harvest, though the exact timing may depend on conditions each year. The intensity of flavor is also a result of a large amount of fertilizer used in cultivation to give the leaf an infusion of nutrients.
The heritage grade uses traditional techniques in shading (a canopy covered in straw which allows the farmer to adjust the amount of shading day by day depending on the sunlight) as well as handpicking. Because the leaf will be handpicked, the plant is allowed to grow freely, and the farmer will pluck the terminal bud to force buds to grow on base leaves below the tip of each branch (lateral buds).
Premium and Standard level gyokuro will use direct shading of tea plant hedges that have been shaped in a way to allow more efficient machine harvesting.
KABUSECHA - “shaded tea” かぶせ茶 - Once a filler tea leaf meant for blending (to increase the quantity of gyokuro, or improve the quality of sencha), kabusecha is also a shaded leaf. Generally, direct shading is used, and the period is shorter, often just 1-2 weeks though there is no specific definition. The shading increases the umami flavor of tea, but not as much as gyokuro since the shading period is shorter.
SENCHA - 煎茶 - The first flush of the year, spring, is when leaves have the most flavor. High grade sencha may be considered higher grade simply due to the skill of the farmer, but also due to how early the tea leaf is harvested (the earlier, the more delicate and sweet the leaf will be as exposure to sunlight / longer leaf growth creates a more bitter and stiff leaf).
Summer harvest, or the second flush generally in June - July, produces a leaf that doesn’t have as strong of a flavor as the spring harvest, and is often cultivated purposely by the farmer for higher volume (larger, lower quality leaf) since the second flush does not fetch a significant price on the market anyway.
While you can shade a tea plant and call the harvested leaf sencha, in general we consider unshaded leaf to be sencha to differentiate from shaded leaves.
BANCHA - 番茶 or 晩茶 - A type of tea leaf processed in the same way as the ones above but allowed to grow to a large size for higher volume. This also means that the leaf is too stiff to roll into needles, and end up shaped like willow leaves (in fact, in Western Japan, non-roasted bancha is called “yanagi bancha” = “willow bancha”). This leaf, as the lowest quality, is also often used for making roasted green tea, or hojicha. The two banchas in this set represent higher quality spring harvest (which is often late budding leaves from the first flush...harvested in late May or early June, but before the second flush of leaves), and the autumn harvest generally in late September - October.