Tips for Choosing Tea

Your choice of which tea to purchase will depend on a number of factors. For instance, is the tea for your own daily consumption, or is it a gift for a friend? Is this your first experience with Japanese green tea, or are you a seasoned tea drinker? Are you looking for a particular taste, or are you more interested in a specific health benefit? Do you require a tea for a special occasion, or are you in search of a light casual everyday tea?

At Ippodo, we offer more than 40 types and grades of Japanese green tea. These teas vary in flavor, body, fragrance, astringency, and nutritional content. And while each tea has its most-recommended scenarios in which to drink it, the person who ultimately decides which tea to enjoy on which occasions is you. Everyone has their own particular tastes. That's the great part about the Ippodo selection. With such a large variety to choose from, you will be sure to find exactly what you are looking for!

So, where do you begin? If you are a seasoned tea drinker, you may opt to skip this "Tips for Choosing Tea" section. But if you are checking out green tea for the first time, then here are some helpful hints for you.

First, please be aware that there is some useful basic information about tea in the About Tea section. If you have already had a chance to look at that, then you will know that in the world of Japanese green tea, there are two basic groupings of tea, based on their cultivation process: (a) tea that is shade-cultivated, and (b) tea grown under full sunlight. The shade-cultivated teas are generally more full-bodied, and a little more expensive. Teas grown under full sunlight are generally less expensive, and include a wider range of the casual everyday variety.

As you can see from the accompanying chart, the shade-cultivated teas consist of matcha and gyokuro. Teas which are grown under full sunlight include sencha, as well as the group of coarse-leaf teas which we at Ippodo refer to as bancha. The banchas include yanagi, hojicha and genmaicha. Each tea has its own distinct flavor and character. All of these teas, aside from matcha, are twisted loose-leaf teas, and should be brewed in a teapot.

Matcha

Amongst the Japanese green teas, matcha is quite unique in that it is a powdered tea. In its pre-powdered form, matcha is basically a gyokuro leaf with the veins and fine stems carefully removed. Unlike the other teas which are brewed in a teapot, the finely ground matcha is mixed with hot water in a tea bowl, and whisked with a special bamboo tea whisk. The mixture is then served in the tea bowl. The truly unique thing about matcha is that the tea leaves, along with all of their nutrients, are ingested in their entirety as you drink the tea.

Though famous as being the tea of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, matcha has quickly become a favorite among both the health conscious and the more traditional tea lover, alike. Matcha can be summarized as follows:
- Rich full-bodied flavor
- Lots of nutrients since the leaf is consumed with the tea
- Invigorating; a great way to kick-start your morning or afternoon
- Relatively high in caffeine
- Best when accompanied by sweets(pleasant bitter-sweet aftertaste)

For those of you who have never tried matcha and don't know how to begin, Ippodo offers an exclusive matcha starter kit - Hajime-no-Ippo - which includes a bamboo tea whisk, special tea ladle, matcha tea bowl, original Ippodo tea cloth and a 20g can of matcha powder to get you started.

Gyokuro

Gyokuro is the most refined and luxurious of the Japanese loose-leaf teas. At a glance:
- Full-bodied yet mellow flavor
- Very smooth; not very astringent
- Meant to be sipped and savored, not rushed
- Typical serving size is 1/3 of a teacup
- Best served after a meal
- Meant to be enjoyed on its own (not with sweets)
- Relatively high in caffeine per unit weight
- Brewed with 60℃ water (slight steam)

Sencha

The most widely consumed green tea in Japan. At a glance:
- Nice blend of smoothness/astringency/fragrance
- Higher grades are smoother / lower grades more astringent
- Good for refreshing the palate before/after a meal
- Highest amongst the Japanese green teas in vitamin C
- Brewed with 80℃ water (gentle steam)

The BANCHA Group

- Coarse-leaf casual everyday teas
- Relatively inexpensive
- Easy to make (can use boiling water; short steeping time)
- Relatively low in caffeine

Yanagi

Yanagi can be thought of as a casual coarse-leaf version of sencha.
- Nice blend of smoothness/astringency
- Ideal for when you are in a hurry(easy to make)
- Like sencha, it is good for refreshing the palate before/after a meal
- Neutral flavor makes it a good choice to accompany meals

Hojicha

Hojicha is a dark roasted yanagi. Though a "green" tea, it brews to a rich dark amber.
- Rich savory roasted aroma
- Ideal for when you are in a hurry(easy to make)
- Easy to drink (flavorful, not so astringent)
- Good with a meal or on its own
- Also delicious when served cold

Genmaicha

Genmaicha is an interesting blend of yanagi and roasted brown rice. The result is a casual green tea with a unique flavor and aroma.
- Slightly nut-like flavor
- Rich savory popcorn-like aroma
- Ideal for when you are in a hurry(easy to make)
- Easy to drink (flavorful, thirst-quenching)
- Good anytime, but especially delicious after a rich meal



Our Recommendations

If you are new to green tea, we recommend that you not purchase a large quantity of any one type or grade of tea. Instead, it is better to purchase a variety of teas so that you can sample and compare the various flavors and characters of the different teas. At this early stage, you should choose small package sizes for each of the teas that you purchase. As a general rule, you should buy only an amount of tea that you can consume within about 2 weeks. The freshness of the leaves plays a huge role in the final taste, so be sure to check out the section on the shelf-life and proper storage of tea.

As a novice to green tea, one of the first teas that you sample should probably be sencha, since sencha is by far the most widely consumed green tea in Japan. We recommend an upper mid-grade sencha such as Hosen. Hosen is an excellent starting point since green tea can be a bit of an acquired taste, and the lower grades of sencha might be a bit too astringent for your first exposure. After trying Hosen, if you would like to sample a sencha that has a slightly smoother, less astringent character, then you can move up a grade to Kumpu, or jump straight to Kaboku, our highest-grade sencha.

Next, as a comparison between tea grown under full sunlight (such as sencha) and tea grown under partial shade, you might want to try gyokuro. Touted as the " jewel" of Japanese green teas, gyokuro has an abundance of " umami" - a smooth , slightly sweet characteristic that is commonly found in Japanese cuisine. It is this umami that is responsible for the full-bodied mellow sweetness of gyokuro. As a start, we recommend a mid-grade gyokuro, such as Rimpo. After Rimpo, the next grade up is Kanro. Please remember that the hot water used to brew gyokuro should be on the tepid side of hot - around 60℃ - and that a serving of gyokuro is usually quite small - around 1/3 of a teacup.

After having experienced sencha and gyokuro, you will be ready to enjoy a couple of our casual everyday teas. Two favorites among Ippodo customers are hojicha and genmaicha - two coarse-leaf teas with two very different but uniquely interesting flavors. Both of these are relatively inexpensive, and easy to make. They are refreshing and easy to drink, owing to their low astringency. And they are relatively low in caffeine, making them ideal to drink anytime, even in the evening.

Your sampling of Japanese green tea will not be complete until you have experienced matcha - the tea of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. If you have never tried matcha before, we recommend our matcha starter kit - Hajime-no-Ippodo. The 20g can of matcha powder supplied with the starter kit is of a medium grade, called Kimmo-no-Mukashi. After finishing that can, you may want to try some higher grades - Tancho-no-Mukashi or Horai-no-Mukashi - for comparison.

We hope that you find our tips and recommendations useful. Our ultimate goal is to ensure that your experience with our green teas is an interesting and rewarding one. If you would like further advice about selecting teas, or if you have any questions at all about tea or Ippodo, please do not hesitate to Contact Us. We are always happy to hear from our customers, and will try our best to answer any and all enquiries. Thank you for your continued patronage and interestin our green teas.

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