Last month, we looked at the not-so-well-known hojicha, a roasted green tea. This month, I’d like to introduce two even lesser known green teas: bancha and konacha
Many people are aware that green teas are rich in antioxidants; however, many are not familiar with factors that affect the levels of antioxidants in a tea leaf and which teas are the richest in antioxidants.
First, let’s look at the most abundant antioxidant in green teas, a plant compound called EGCG (short for epigallocatechin gallate). More specifically, EGCG is a catechin, which in turn is a type of flavonoid. Many of the potent antioxidants found in plants (e.g. berries, citrus, and chocolate) are flavonoids. As with most flavonoids, the levels of EGCG in a plant leaf increase with the amount of sunlight the plant receives.
Bancha (番茶), short for shuutoubancha (秋冬番茶), is tea from leaves harvested at the end of the growing season. They are grown over the summer months, soaking in the sun during the longest days of the year. Because of this, they also develop the most catechins, including EGCG.
Konacha (粉茶), on the other hand, does not refer to leaves from a particular harvest. Konacha is a byproduct of sencha and bancha production. When the leaves and stems are separated, leaf fragments fall out of the mix. Rather than throwing away these leaf bits, they are collected and made into konacha. Due to the large relative surface area of leaf fragments, this tea brews quicker and much darker than sencha. Many more of the nutritional constituents of the leaf are extracted into the infusion. Hence, the catechin concentration in konacha is much greater than sencha.
For those who want a mild tea rich in catechins, bancha is an excellent choice. For those looking for a bold, complex taste or the most nutrient-rich loose leaf tea, konacha can’t be beat. Best of all, these are the two most economical Japanese green teas. Konacha, in particular, is a favorite of sushi restaurants in Japan for it’s pungent flavor and low cost.