Korean vs. Japanese Tea: What Makes Them Different?

We touched on some of the key differences between Korean and Japanese matcha in one of our other articles, but today we will take a closer, as well as a broader look at green tea as a whole. Certainly, the similarities are rather pronounced, so keep reading to discover how these two cultures prepare their unique styles of tea!

The Similarities

Tea’s introduction and development in both countries have had similar trajectories. Tea and tea culture from China was brought to both countries by Buddhist monks. China’s tea trends and culture would set the standard for development in both countries for centuries. 

This would stay consistent until the turn of the century when Japan became an imperialist power and tried to establish itself as the center of influence in Asia over China. This would change tea and tea culture in the region up into the modern era.

The Differences

The differences between Korean and Japanese tea are quite intriguing. As mentioned above, during the 18-1900’s with Japan becoming the Empire of Japan, tea processing changed, too. 

Traditionally, tea leaves were steamed and compressed into bricks. Later on, during the Ming and Qing dynasties in China, tea begun being pan-fired as well and these techniques migrated to Korea as well.

However, as the Japanese tried to break away from Chinese influence and as they became more modernized and industrialized, tea processing was also mechanized. A special steaming, rolling, and drying machine was developed and used, which produced a stark contrast in relation to the hand processing methods which were still used in China and Korea. 

This is significant because the steam processing and the pan-firing processing methods lead to different flavor and aroma profiles. The steaming method leads to flavors as exemplified by sencha leaves. Steamed leaves are darker in color, can range in flavor from bitter and astringent to sweet, and have vegetal, herbal hints, flavors, and notes.

Korean tea has developed a long tradition influenced by both China and Japan. Thus, even though most Korean green teas undergo the pan-firing method, some are also steamed. This has led to an intriguing synergy in Korean green tea leaves. Pan-firing imparts leaves with a warm, roasted, toasty, bright, slightly sweet, and savory flavor and aroma profile. Korean green teas also possess a refreshing vegetal and herbal profile. The color is usually more light-green or deep yellow. 

In addition to processing, tea plants also undergo different cultivation methods. Modern Japanese tea plants are often artificially shaded and grown in nitrogen-enhanced soil. Korean plants, however, usually rely on organic soil and natural methods of shading including proximity to forest tree lines, mountains, and cloud formations.

What Makes Korean and Japanese Green Tea Unique?

Though they developed out of a shared cultural tradition imported from China, Korean and Japanese green tea have some notable differences. The tea plants are cultivated differently, the tea leaves are processed differently, and the finished products sport different aromas, colors, and flavor notes. Of course, the best way to discover the differences between these two types of green tea is to try them first hand.

Travis Joynson

Travis Joynson

Travis Joynson is the founder and chief editor of the Professional Tea Taster.

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