Chinese vs. Japanese Green Tea – What’s the Difference?
For this taste comparison I’ve picked two highly accessible green teas – Organic Jade Sword ™ from China and Sencha from Japan. In the green tea category you’ll find the biggest difference in taste occurs between those from these two main origins: China and Japan.
Both have a long history of tea making, China being the oldest in the world (almost 5,000 years) with green tea being the first type of tea produced, although in a slightly different form to what we have now. Over the centuries the Japanese began to visit China for trade and education, learning the ways of green tea production and planting their own crops on Japanese soil in the 8th Century. Since that time, innovations in tea making between the two origins sent them down a different path and today we can celebrate the flavour of each as a distinct take on green tea.
When producing green tea, the most important part of the process is known as the ‘kill green’ or ‘fixation’ step. This is where heat is applied to the leaves to stop any oxidation from happening; thereby keeping them green and locking in their characterful, fresh flavour. How the heat is applied is what makes the difference between China and Japan so special. In China they tend to fry their green teas in a large wok or tumbling frier, giving the leaves more of a lightly complex, sweet, verdant and refreshing quality. While in Japan they use hot steam making the teas much richer, with an emphasis on umami and a complex vegetal flavour.
Jade Sword ™ or Sencha: The Taste Test
Firstly, a little bit more background on these teas. Jade Sword ™ comes from the organic Baotian garden in Hunan province, China. It’s hand-picked in spring and crafted using the juicy buds and young leaves from the plants. The fixation is done using a pan fryer for a focus on the lighter and more refreshing sweetness.
Our Sencha was picked a little later in spring and comes from Sasamodo garden in Shizuoka, Japan. This tea was produced using the umami rich Yabukita cultivar which is native to the area, and the leaves are picked using hand held machines (as it’s done in Japan) with the fixation then being applied using hot steam for a deep umami, vegetal and sweet infusion.
For this taste test, I’ve infused both teas using our glass tea-iere with 4g of leaf to 250ml of water. For each I’ve used the recommended 80˚C water, which is key to avoid extracting too much bitterness and instead the richer and sweeter notes. The teas were infused for 3 minutes and to highlight and compare the best of both we’ll go through the results in 5 easy categories:
Aroma – Sencha has a deep and vegetal aroma, think more sweet vegetables like fresh garden peas and sweet, steamed carrots. There’s also a herbaceous note of bay leaf and typical umami that reminded me of seasoned tomatoes. On the other hand, Jade Sword ™ comes through with a much brighter aroma full of meadow and grassy notes that give it a delicate sweetness and more of a refreshing sensation.
Taste – Infusing both teas at 80˚C meant that neither tea had any bitterness, and both were cool enough by the time I poured them out that I could enjoy the best of their flavours right away. Starting with Jade Sword ™, the lighter of the two, it’s instantly sweet and easy going with plenty of that grassiness I found in the aroma along with some pleasant floral and sappy top notes to give it a nice balance. By comparison, the Sencha is much deeper and rounder, the steaming of the leaves during processing brings out a noticeable vegetal umami flavour of asparagus and buttered green beans. Plus, an underlying salty and marine quality to it which adds to the complexity.
Texture – The texture of both these teas are quite different, with Sencha being more rounded which you can really feel at the side of the tongue. Jade Sword ™ is slightly less thick, but with a delicate sweet and syrupy feeling, making it much more easy-going to drink.
Finish – Both infusions have loads of flavour and an equally long finish, the sign of well processed teas. Jade Sword ™ is coating with most of the deeper grassiness transforming into a long-lasting sweetness. While the finish of the Sencha is much more focused on the savoury and umami flavours which linger at the back of the throat adding to the boldness of this infusion.
Feeling – Jade Sword ™ leaves me with a bright and uplifted feeling. It really captures the essence of spring with its sweetness and delicate texture. Sencha, being much deeper, has a more satisfying and almost warming quality that reminds me of hearty stews and minerally, coastal breezes.
Which one’s for you?
Both of these teas are excellent examples of the different styles of tea processing from China and Japan, so I would highly recommend trying them side by side if you can. You’ll learn a lot about what makes each so special and which origin you might want to explore more. However, if you’re just getting into green teas and can only pick one then here’s what I’d suggest. For a tea that’s easy to drink, hits all the right notes and has plenty of sweetness I’d say go for Jade Sword ™ . But if you’re after a tea with a bit more strength, perhaps as a replacement for coffee or if you just prefer something a little bolder, then Sencha is the one for you.