Savoring Japanese Tea
―New takes on a classic drink

Photography by Wataru Nishiyama

Japanese tea, harvested in renowned centers of produce all over the country, is known for its vitamin- and catechin-rich features that are said to have health and sterilizing benefits. Enjoy  these fun-to-make and delightfully refreshing drinks by Japanese tea instructor Setsuko Honma as part of your everyday lifestyle, for a little peace of mind in the coming seasons.

Tea Varieties

Regular sencha
The most mainstream type of green tea. Young new-growth leaves are picked, steamed to deactivate enzymes, and then dried and rolled into needle-like shapes. Has a well-balanced combination of sweetness, umami, and slight bitterness. Higher-quality sencha will release more umami when steeped in slightly lower-temperature hot water. (Photo 1 and 4)

Japanese-style black tea
After the tea leaves are picked, they are allowed to oxidize and ferment according to the black (English) tea production method. This tea tastes and smells sweet, has minimum bitterness, and feels mild on the tongue. More growers are producing varieties to make black tea, and demand for this type of tea is increasing. (Photo 2 and 8)

Shade-grown for about a month before harvesting, the tea leaves used to make matcha are steamed, dried, and ground into fine powder in a stone mortar. (Photo 3)

Steamed tamaryokucha
After picking, the tea leaves are steamed to deactivate enzymes; as they dry, they are rolled into curled shapes. The sweet umami and mild flavor of this tea make it an enduring favorite. (Photo 5)

This refers to various types of tea leaves that are roasted after initial production. Fragrant, low in caffeine, easy to drink. The color, sweetness, and body will vary depending on the roasting method. (Photo 6 and 9)

Fukamushi sencha
After picking, the tea leaves are steamed longer than those used for regular sencha. Rolled into elongated shapes as they dry, the leaves release flavor quickly, yet make a more robust and full-bodied brew. (Photo 7)

Pan-roasted tamaryokucha
After picking, the leaves are roasted in a pan to deactivate enzymes, then rolled during drying to produce curly leaves. Has a sweet aroma and a clean taste. (Photo 10)


Recipes: With Herbs
Simply combine fresh herbs with the tea leaves in the pot. The light aroma of the herbs will be released, yet the drink will retain the savor of authentic Japanese tea. Try it for a new taste experience.

1. Roughly chop about 4 g of the herbs to be steeped together with the tea. Reserve a few leaf tips for garnish and place them in the serving cup.
2. Combine the tea leaves with the herbs in the teapot, add the hot water, and steep.
3. Pour the steeped tea into the cup to serve.
For the matcha drink, steep the mint in 90ºC water separately. Allow to cool to 70ºC; remove the mint, pour the infusion over the powder and whisk, then garnish to serve.

(Photo, counter-clockwise from top)
>Regular sencha + Japanese butterbur
4 g tea leaves, 240 ml hot
water at 80ºC; steep for 1 minute
Lemongrass also works
well with sencha.

>Hojicha + apple mint
5 g tea leaves, 240 ml hot water at 90ºC; steep for 1 minute
Dill or basil will also work well with hojicha.

>Pan-roasted tamaryokucha + lemon balm
4 g tea leaves, 240 ml hot water at 80ºC; steep for 1 minute
Rosemary also works well with pan-roasted tamaryokucha.

>Fukamushi sencha + lemongrass
4 g tea leaves, 240 ml hot water at 80ºC; steep for 30 seconds
Coriander also works well with fukamushi sencha.

>Fukamushi sencha + dill
4 g tea leaves, 240 ml hot water at 80ºC; steep for 30 seconds

>Japanese-style black tea + kinome Japanese pepper leaves
4 g tea leaves, 240 ml hot water at 90ºC; steep for 2 minutes
Chamomile or apple mint will also work well with black tea.

>Matcha + spearmint
2 g matcha powder, 100 ml hot water at 70ºC

>Regular sencha + shiso leaves
4 g tea leaves, 240 ml hot water
at 80ºC; steep for 1 minute


With Soda Water
Once the tea leaves have opened in the hot water, add the soda water. No further steeping time is required, so this is a quick way to have a cooling drink. It makes a light, gently carbonated beverage that can be enjoyed with a meal, just like an alcoholic drink.

1. Place tea leaves in a teapot and pour hot water over.
2. Let stand for 1 minute to allow the leaves to open.
3. Slowly pour in unflavored soda water and let stand for 1 minute.
4. Stir lightly and strain into a glass.
For the matcha drink, sift the matcha into a tea bowl, add hot water, and whisk with a tea whisk before adding the soda water.

(Right photo, from left)
>Japanese-style black tea + soda water
6 g tea leaves, 20 ml hot water
at 90ºC, 200 ml soda water

>Hojicha + soda water
6 g tea leaves, 30 ml hot water at 90ºC,
200 ml soda water

>Matcha + soda water
4 g matcha, 40 ml hot water at 70ºC, 200 ml soda water

>Regular sencha + soda water
6 g tea leaves, 20 ml hot water at 80ºC,
200 ml soda water

With Alcohol

>Sencha gin
1. Place 3 g pan-roasted tamaryokucha or regular sencha in a glass and add 50 ml gin.
2. Let stand from 3 hours to overnight to extract color and flavor.
3. Place 1/2 teaspoon sugar in a glass and strain the liquid over.
4. Stir, then carefully add 150 ml soda water or white grape juice as desired.

>Matcha beer
1. Sift 2 g matcha into a bowl.
2. Add 10 ml water and work into a paste with a tea whisk.
3. Add 10 ml hot water and blend with a tea whisk to release aroma.
4. Add 50 ml water and whisk the liquid into a thick foam.
5. Pour 350 ml beer into a glass and slowly add the matcha mixture to it.


New Ways to Enjoy Japanese Tea
Text by Setsuko Honma

In setting up a culinary class for sweets and desserts, I encountered a very knowledgeable tea merchant who told me about a new tea-instructor certification system. I wanted to learn more about Japanese tea and I thought this knowledge could also enhance the content of my class, so I obtained the certification. Taking this course renewed my appreciation for Japanese tea. From my perspective as a dessert maker, I developed some Japanese tea recipes that suit today’s lifestyles and present Japan’s traditional beverage in a different light.

I believe that Japanese tea is meant first and foremost to be brewed and enjoyed plain. At the same time, I believe it’s important to use up tea leaves while they’re at their best, which isn’t always easy. Making tea is really quite simple: put tea leaves in a teapot, boil water, let it cool to the right temperature, steep and drink the tea, and throw away the spent tea leaves. But if you’re pressed for time, sometimes even this can seem like too much to handle. And before you know it, a month will have gone by since you opened a package of tea, and it will have lost much of its flavor and aroma. That inspired me to devise some novel and refreshing recipes for tea-based beverages that would give people a reason to drink tea more regularly.

Japanese tea goes well with sweeteners or milk, and it’s also enjoyable in combination with any number of add-ins—soda water, herbs, vegetables or fruits—that offer an unexpectedly delicious taste experience. In addition, Japanese tea is said to be healthy, has antiseptic properties, and is rich in vitamins. It’s a great beverage either for reviving yourself or for winding down.

I hope that these recipes will open your eyes to a new perspective on Japanese tea and help you make it a more familiar presence in your everyday life.

Setsuko Honma
An expert on confectionery and Japanese tea, Honma operates “atelier h,” a culinary class for sweets and desserts, out of her home. She has authored cookbooks and magazine articles, and takes part in tea-related events and seminars.

This article is an excerpt from a Kateigaho International Japan Edition 2018 Autumn/Winter feature, based on Setsuko Honma’s book Atarashikute oishii nihoncha recipe (New and Delicious Japanese Tea Recipes; Sekai Bunka Publishing) with text by Motoko Soma and styling by chizu. 


2021 Spring / Summer

Inside Japan’s West