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What Kind of Green Tea is Served at Japanese Restaurants?

by Sugimoto Tea Company
Tea Guides, Japanese Culture

Want to know what types of green tea are served at Japanese restaurants? Here's a rundown of the typical Japanese restaurant teas you'll encounter.


Guide Contents:


7 Green Teas You’ll Find in Japanese Restaurants

Green Tea and Japanese Restaurants

It's typical for restaurants in Japan to give tea for free, similar to how Western restaurants give tap water. There are also establishments that offer self-service tea.

You’ll find different types of Japanese green tea served in Japanese restaurants, with each bringing their unique qualities that can affect the dining experience. For example, if you’re at a sushi restaurant, you’ll most likely get konacha since it serves as a palate cleanser between courses.

Here are five green teas you’ll typically find in Japanese restaurants.

1. Konacha

    Also known as "agari," konacha is traditionally known as the "tea of sushi restaurants." It's made from smaller fragments of sencha leaves, but tastes thicker and more full-bodied brew than sencha.

    Since it's a byproduct of sencha production, konacha is more inexpensive. This makes it ideal for teabag production and foodservice, especially for the restaurants serving tea for free.

    Aside from its price point, konacha’s bitter taste pairs well with fish and a great tea to refresh your taste buds for the next course. This is especially important if you’re eating different types of sushi in one meal. You won’t be able to fully taste the sushi if your tongue is still oily from the last sushi you’ve eaten.

    2. Hojicha

    Hojicha, a roasted green tea, is a typical restaurant tea in Kyoto and the Kansai region. It is usually roasted Bancha, fall-harvested tea, and this is why Hojicha is called “Bancha” in some regions. Hojicha has a nice toasty aroma that goes well with any meal. Also, it is easy to brew because you do not have to worry about water temperature being too hot. You can use boiling water, and the infusion color will be brown, which is expected for hojicha but not other green teas. This would make Hojicha preferred by many restaurants.

    Hojicha is low in caffeine, which also makes it appealing to many caffeine-sensitive people. Serving Hojicha for dinner makes sense for this reason, too.


    3. Genmaicha

    Another typical green tea you'll encounter in Japanese restaurants is genmaicha. This unique tea is made by combining sencha leaves with roasted rice, which gives it a characteristically nutty aroma. Since it has fewer tea leaves than other green teas, it also has the advantage of having a lower caffeine content as well.

    If you're eating heavier meals, genmaicha might not be the best tea to drink since it can fill you up easily. It's best enjoyed with lighter meals or sushi, with its flavor profile ideal for fattier fish.

    Since it has less caffeine, you can also enjoy it during dinner without worrying about having difficulty sleeping later on.


    4. Sencha

    Sencha is the most common green tea, widely used in various situations. Some high-end restaurants prefer using sencha than the cheaper konacha. There are many kinds of sencha, and a restaurant will pick a sencha that matches the character of the restaurant.

    If you're looking for a tea that has more caffeine than genmaicha, try sencha. It's made from the entire tea leaf so you'll get more caffeine out of your cup. It's a great tea to have to perk you up during a dinner out with friends or if sleepiness is creeping in during the meal.

    Sencha is also ideal as an after-meal tea since it's good for digestion.

    5. Gyokuro

    If you’re at a higher-end restaurant and you’d like to treat yourself to something special, you can order gyokuro. This premium green tea is shaded around three weeks before harvest, which produces an attractive emerald hue and an unrivaled umami flavor that's highlighted by sweet overtones upon brewing.

    Gyokuro goes well with sushi that has a strong umami flavor, such as fugu sushi.


    6. Bancha

    Bancha is a typical tea for everyday use and for making hojicha. Since it’s pretty inexpensive, bancha is a popular choice for restaurants, too. It’s also commonly used in commercially-produced bottled teas.

    Bancha has a light, refreshing taste with a hint of bite, which makes it an ideal after-meal tea. It also has a low caffeine content, which makes it ideal for dinner.


    7. Sencha Powder

    As the garbage problem increased in Japan, Sencha Powder became popular as a restaurant tea, especially for Kaiten Sushi (conveyor-belt sushi restaurants). Sencha Powder is placed in a small container with a small scoop in front of a hot-water dispenser, which allows customers to make tea by themselves. Unlike tea bags, there is no trash.

    Sencha powder is ground-up green tea leaves, so by drinking it, we can intake the entire nutritions of tea leaves. For this reason, sencha powder is healthier than brewed sencha.


    Pairing Japanese Teas With Food

    You don’t have to leave the comfort of your home to enjoy delicious Japanese tea and food pairings. Here are some dishes that go well with Japanese teas, and which specific tea they’d work well with.

    • Umami-rich food such as oysters, tuna, shiitake mushrooms, and seaweed. These foods pair well with gyokuro and high-grade sencha.
    • Kukicha and matcha pair well with desserts.
      • Kukicha has a natural sweetness from its L-theanine content, making it a nice complement to desserts.
      • In Japanese tea ceremonies, ceremonial matcha is served alongside traditional Japanese sweets called wagashi. The bitterness of matcha is a nice complement to the sweetness of the wagashi.
    • Hojicha and matcha both go well with chocolate.
    • Gyokuro is a good pairing for steamed white fish.
    • Boiled, steamed, or grilled chicken go well with kukicha.

    Aside from pairing food with teas, you can also integrate them into recipes for both savory and sweet dishes. For more recipes that use Japanese tea, you can download our free Green Tea and Beyond recipe book, which features ideas for tea-infused cocktails, seasonings, entrees, desserts, and more!

    Want to recreate the Japanese restaurant experience at home? Check out our shop for Japanese green teas that'll go well with your Japanese dishes.

    Additional Reference:

    [1] Zavadckyte, S. (2017). Japanese Tea: A Comprehensive Guide [Amazon Kindle]. Retrieved from Amazon.

    [2] van Driem, G. The Tale of Tea: A Comprehensive History of Tea from Prehistoric Times to the Present Day [Google Books]. Retrieved from Google Books.

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