Chinese Vs. Japanese Greens
Sorry this post is long and I hope it doesn’t turn people away. I want to pose a question but feel I have to give you some background first.
With so many varieties to choose from, I understand there may not be a “better” tea, it’s all subjective and a matter of personal taste. I am mostly a Chinese Green Tea drinker but occasionally enjoy a cup of japanese green tea.
It seems to me that, generally speaking, Chinese Greens are of higher quality than Japanese greens. For example, hand picked Chinese Greens have longer leaves, less dust, and the leaves seem sturdier. In contrast, most Japanese greens seem more “rough cut,” the leaves are hardly ever whole, and they have a lot of dust or fannings that remind me of the stuff inside cheap tea bags.
As far as flavor and aroma goes, I enjoy Chinese and Japanese greens for different reasons. I love the more pronounced and complex flavor profiles Chinese greens offer, but I have to admit Japanese teas are more aromatic and I thoroughly enjoy their pungent, seaweedy scent, though they have less flavor.
Another thing to consider is the amount of land each country has. Japan has a very high rate of tea consuption but has very little land and not all of it is suitable for tea growing, so it seems we, westerners, get a lot of their “left overs” while China, with its vasts lands, has more capacity to produce and export teas.
So, to make an extremely long story short, do you find Chinese teas to be, in general, of higher quality than Japanese teas?
Keep in mind I am not referring to how much you enjoy specific teas or why, some people may enjoy bagged tea more than loose leaf and it doesn’t mean bagged teas are of higher quality.
I’m not a good judge of quality, but I do prefer Japanese greens much more than Japanese (especially when it comes to sencha)… although it is odd that the only 2 greens I don’t like happen to be Japanese lol.
I think the main reason our experience of Japanese and Chinese greens is so different is not because of the amount of land but the cost of labor.
I have read (sorry I don’t have the reference here) that it costs a Japanese farmer SEVEN times more to have a tea handpicked, but they can only charge about double (or a bit more) the normal price.
MANY Chinese (and Indian) teas are handpicked because labor is so much cheaper there. Obviously, being hand picked doesn’t make a tea high quality, but it is necessary in order for a tea to really be of the best quality. I think that is one reason you will find a lot more broken leaves and/or fannings in Japanese greens as opposed to Chinese.
Furthermore, Japanese greens, as I’m sure you know, are steamed, which breaks the leaves down. Most Chinese greens don’t undergo the same kind of processes that break the leaves down as much (I could be wrong there, but that is my basic understanding). Especially since the Fukamushi method came out (deep steamed), you will find a lot more Japanese greens that have broken pieces.
Broken pieces does not necessarily mean lower quality IF it is due to this steaming process. There are some hand-picked teas that are deep steamed to change the flavor profile, but when you get the actual dry leaf, it will appear to be fannings, when in fact it is just what happened to those whole leaves once they were broken down.
There is still a tradition of premium, hand-picked, hand-processed tea in Japan that is being kept alive, called “Temomi” (Temomi cha), or “hand-rolled” teas. You may already know about them, but they are, as you said, pretty much consumed solely in Japan. They are considered more “traditional” and not as much of a marketable product, probably because of the investment required by the farmer and the cost (something like a minimum of $1/gram, easily more). There are a few companies (that I know of) that sell hand rolled teas, but for the most part I get the impression those are for friends, family, and as gifts. I HAVE found it available here though – Sugimoto America offers a Temomi Shincha once per year in April. You should give that one a try. Another company that I’ve found (though never tried) is Kaburagien (Japanese co.). Their prices are expensive, but not ridiculous (maybe $30-$40 for 100g.
I think in the past, Japanese green teas were a very different thing than what most of the market sees today. I think they were probably higher quality, and a lot more processed by hand, as more Chinese teas are today.
The one thing you can count on about Japanese teas though, is generally higher manufacturing standards. I have heard of some Chinese teas (certainly this wouldn’t be the case for most) being processed and dried by driving trucks over the leaves, with the pressure of the tires and the heat from the exhaust to help speed the process!
Sorry for the long response!
Btw, here’ an article on the temomi shincha: http://www.teageek.net/blog/?p=287
I generally don’t like most Japanese green teas and I love most Chinese green teas. But still I don’t think it’s fair to say Chinese green teas are of higher quality than Japanese green teas. There is no way to compare apple with orange.
Export can be a complicated problem too. Although there are lots of high quality Chinese teas in US and European markets, generally I am still amazed how many cheap teas China is exporting (which most steepsterites wouldn’t have but they are commonly seen in many Asian groceries). It seems to me that larger exporters in China and larger importers in US are only interested in dealing cheap teas (because dealing cheap teas in tons make them more money than dealing good teas in pounds), which is partially why prices of many good teas are still too high to be reasonable in US and Europe.
You make good points, especially with the apples and oranges which is sometimes easy to forget.
On a side note, could you recommend a good dragonwell that’s easy on the wallet? I’m looking to expand my experiences with tea and experiment a bit more.
Unfortunately authentic dragonwell gets very expensive these years, even in China. It has always been expensive, but got a bit crazy in the past several years. Currently we have a pre-Guyu (harvested in early spring, but not the earliest harvest) dragonwell which is probably the most wallet-friendly dragonwell from its original production region. Even I myself can’t find more of this product at the same price :-p
Besides, you can also consider starting with dragonwell that’s not from the central production region, but other regions of its home province (such as Da Fo Long Jing). High quality dragonwell of this kind is much less expensive without too much sacrifice of flavor.
Also bear in mind that even extraordinarily high quality, hand-picked Japanese Greens are frequently finished after drying by cutting the leaves lengthwise to produce the narrow, shredded needle-like appearance and accelerate brewing. Bitterness and astringency are actually sought after to an extent for fresh Shincha and this really does assist with expression of these without going overboard as long as water is cool enough.
As many have said, in well defense of Japanese greens. Leaf quality is judged differently when you’re comparing Japanese to Chinese. In the end, your point of view, (or rather what I like to call ‘point of taste’) affects your judgement of visual quality. Quality upon taste, upon my opinion, should be left to be compared at the level of the same type of tea or others with similar taste. (ie; a sencha to another sencha) But this is not a taste by taste comparison like you said.
It’s what like Ginko said, there’s no real point to compare an apple to an orange. It’s just by the ‘standard’ we both call them ‘green tea’. And forget to appreciate either one by their tastes. Because both the Japanese and the Chinese deliberately process their tea to achieve the flavor you taste.