Types of Japanese Green Tea
There are mainly 3 types of tea in Japan. They are fermented (Black tea), semi-fermented tea (Oolong tea) and non-fermented tea (Green tea). Most of the Japanese tea produced in Japan are green tea.
There are several types of green tea, categorized depending on the process method, plucking time, cultivation method or part of tea leaf.
Gyokuro is the finest tea in Japanese green teas. Gyokuro means "jade dew" in Japanese, which means precious dew. Gyokuro is grown in shaded-farm around 20 days before plucking. The shaded-grown method reduce the Catechins in tea leaves, result in lower astringency and more sweetness. Gyokuro is produced using young tea sprout which is the best grade of tea leaf.
Kabusecha is also a shaded-grown tea just like Gyokuro. The main different is Kabusecha shaded only half period of Gyokuro, which is about 10 days before plucking. Some Kabusecha actually shaded for 20 days just like Gyokuro, but machine harvested, not hand-plucked like Gyokuro. Other than that, the light shaded amount is different for both Kabusecha and Gyokuro. Kabusecha has about 50% light blocked while Gyokuro has about 80% light blocked. Kabusecha has both sweetness from Gyokuro, and refreshing greenish taste like Sencha.
Tencha or Matcha
Tencha is used to make Matcha. Tencha is shaded-grown tea like Gyokuro. Tencha is then ground into fine powder to make Matcha. Normally tea powders made with other tea leaves are not called Matcha (they are called tea powder), only powder made with Tencha can be called as Matcha. Matcha has a sweetness astringency, but lower grade Matcha is usually more bitter, and normally used in dessert making or confectionary.
Sencha is the most popular Japanese tea in Japan. Almost 80% teas produced in Japan is Sencha. Sencha is grown in non-shaded farm, therefore it's cheaper as compared to Gyokuro or Kabusecha. Sencha has more Catechins and therefore it has a refreshing greenish taste.
There are another version of Sencha called deep-steamed Sencha (Fukamushicha). Fukamushicha has few minutes longer steaming process in order to increase the sweetness of the tea, but deep-steamed process will make the tea leaves softer and the tip often break during the rolling process. The broken lead make Fukamushicha looks like a low quality tea leaf, but it's actually not the case.
Bancha is lower grade tea. Bancha is made with coarse leaves and stem after the higher grade leaves are plucked to make Sencha.
Houjicha is made by roasting Bancha at 200C to create a roasted smoky flavor. It has brownish beer-like color. The roasting process also lower the Catechins and caffeine of the tea leaves.
Genmaicha is normally made with mixture of Bancha and Genmai (brown rice). Some higher quality Genmaicha will mix Genmai with Sencha. Genmaicha has a roasted nutty flavor blend with the greenish taste of Bancha or Sencha.
Kukicha or Karigane
Kukicha (called Karigane in Kyoto) is made with the leftover twig and stem of tea leaves after making of Gyokuro or Sencha. It has a special sweetness that come from the twig. It has high L-theanine which is the source of the special taste. Kukicha grade is mainly depend on what tea leaves the twig come from. If it's the twig and stem from Gyokuro, the it has better grade.
Tamaryokucha or Guricha
The making of Tamaryokucha is similar to Sencha, but the rolling process is different from Sencha. Tamaryokucha is rolled into curly comma-shaped with rolling drier. It produce less astringency. Tamaryokucha mainly grown in Kyushu region.
Kamairicha is pan fried tea mainly produced in Kyushu region. Kamairicha has no greenish astringency taste.