When you go to a sushi restaurant, you would typically be served tea with your sushi. Tea is a common beverage in Japan and accompanies many meals. But what tea will you most likely find at such restaurants?
Traditional Japanese restaurants will usually serve a mild green tea called agari. The origin of this term goes back to the Edo period when visitors to the red-light districts would be served cups of green tea. Odebana was the name of the first cup of tea which was served, which literally translates to served flower. Agaribana, meaning “last flower”, was the last cup of tea to be served. The term agari was incorporated into diction by restaurants and continues to be used today.
Types of Japanese green tea or agari
Since sushi is a salty dish, you will feel the need to quench your thirst with a drink. A hot green tea serves this purpose by hydrating you and enhancing the flavor of your dish simultaneously.
Konacha is the traditional green tea which is served at most sushi places. This tea is lowly priced and is often offered for free at restaurants. This tea is made from the leftovers of the leaf after processing teas like gyokuro or sencha. Konacha varies from mild to bitter in taste and complements that taste of your sushi. It refreshes your palate and does not distraction your attention away from your food.
In addition to konacha, you can also find other tea options at sushi restaurants. Genmaicha, gyokuro, sencha, shincha, and kabusecha are some other varieties that also go well with sushi. They have grassy flavors which form a good foundation for consuming sushi.
Genmaicha is created by roasting brown rice and mixing it with tea leaves. Due to the texture of this tea, it goes pleasantly well with sushi of thicker variety like the toro sushi. It is slightly heavier and bitter than the other tea varieties but flavorful to taste regardless.
Gyokuro is an expensive tea variety that is also high quality. Fine dining restaurants often serve gyokuro and it accompanies highly savory sushi like the fugu sushi. Gyokuro is also mild and least bitter of all Japanese green teas.
Sencha is another green tea that creates a great balance between flavors of various sushi. Sencha is produced from the first and second flushes of tea leaves. Sencha has a rich and strong flavor that enhances the flavor of your sushi.
Shincha literally translates to the “first pick” of the season. The name shincha is also used interchangeably with ichibancha which is the same green tea. The scent of new leaves gives shincha its refreshing taste. Shincha has low caffeine and catechin content which makes it less bitter and astringent in comparison with the later picks of the season. A high portion of amino acids gives it a sweetness.
Kabusecha is a type of green tea that is kept shaded from sunlight for five to 10 days before it is harvested. This gives the tea its dark green color and lower astringency than sencha.
Role of green tea in Japanese culture and cuisine
Green tea was introduced in Japan in the 9th century from China. Since then, it has been the most popular tea in the country. Some of the oldest Japanese traditions have centered around the celebrated tea ceremony which includes brewing and sharing green tea with family and guests.
Green tea plays a major role in Japanese culture and hospitality. Most Japanese meals are accompanied by a cup of green tea. It is consumed several times throughout the day. Green tea also has many health benefits like lowering of cholesterol, prevention of heart diseases, and improvement in blood flow. Learn more about the positives of drinking green tea here.
In Japanese restaurants, you may notice that green teas are often unusually hot. The heat is meant to cleanse your tongue and remove the oil the stays in your mouth after consuming sushi. Since each piece of sushi offers a unique taste, the taste cannot be fully enjoyed if the oil from the last sushi is still lingering in your mouth.
On your next visit to a sushi restaurant, make sure you try out green tea. This drink is a perfect complement to your sushi and will thoroughly make you enjoy your meal.