Non-alcoholic beverages are becoming increasingly popular these days. According to Nielsen IQ, sales of non-alcoholic drinks in the US increased to $395 million, showing a 20.6% growth between 2021 and 2022.
Many people drink non-alcoholic beverages to take better care of themselves, but how do you switch your favorite glass of beer, wine or cocktail at your dinner table to something delicious yet with no alcohol?
Enter Japanese tea.
Even if you are not familiar with Japanese tea, there are great reasons for you to try it as your dinner companion.
Easy Food Pairings
Japanese tea is very handy to pair with food.
It contains lots of umami, which is called the fifth taste after sweet, salty, bitter and sour. You can find umami in various Japanese and western dishes, such as onions, tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, bacon and soy sauce.
There are various types of Japanese tea, each of which offers a different level of umami, sweetness and bitterness to play with.
James Kent of the Michelin-starred Crown Shy in New York is inspired by Japanese tea and enjoys matching global tastes on his dishes with classic Japanese tea flavors.
For example, Gyokuro, often regarded as the most refined style of Japanese tea, is packed with umami. When it is grown, the leaves are shaded from the sun for about three weeks before harvesting. This process maximizes the umami and sweetness of the leaves.
Kent pairs Gyokuro with his beef short ribs. Cooked gently for 48 hours at a steady temperature, the meat is soft and flaky and full of its own umami. Naturally, it is ready to merge with the umami of the tea. The sweetness of the tea also goes very well with the roasted sweet potato in season that is served with the meat.
Hojicha has a very different flavor profile from Gyokuro. In order to make it, green tea leaves undergo gentle roasting and as a result, it develops a nutty, toasty fragrance.
Kent matches his foie-gras and egg custard with mushroom broth with Hojicha. The delicate earthiness of the chanterelles, porcinis and black trumpet mushrooms is highlighted by the inherent earthiness of the tea.
Some tea pairings can be more inventive.
Zach Mangan of Kettl, which supplies Japanese tea to Kent, came up with the idea of serving carbonated Sencha with Kent’s Hamachi crudo. The sashimi-style fish is accompanied by persimmon kimchi, pickled daikon radish, tomato dashi broth and dried shrimp powder.
Sencha is the most popular type of Japanese tea and people love it for its pleasantly grassy, refreshing flavors.
It is highly untraditional to carbonate Japanese tea. Mangan decided to use premium Sencha from Yame, the famous tea region in Fukuoka Prefecture, for his experiment to carbonate authentic tea with sparkling water.
When you sip his carbonated tea by itself, there is an elevated, pungent acidity in the glass—a little alarming. However, once you have a morsel out of the dish, you understand why he did it: the acidity in the tea and the dish beautifully synergize with each other along with the sweet, vegetal note of the tea.
Mangan says, “Japanese tea is extremely versatile and satisfying on its own as well as being paired with food. You don’t have to think too hard because there are a whole variety of flavors to choose from.”
The Healthfulness of Japanese tea
The health benefits of Japanese tea have been well-proven and that is another reason to drink Japanese tea as a replacement for your glass of alcohol.
Green tea is loaded with many antioxidants, including EGCG. EGCG has been shown to help with various health aspects, such as reducing inflammation, fighting cancer, preventing heart disease, supporting immune functions and breaking down fats efficiently.
Japanese green tea also contains plenty of L-theanine. This amino acid is associated with multiple mental health effects, such as stress reduction, improvement in mood and cognition.
If you are sensitive to caffeine, you may wonder if you should consume tea in the evening. The good news is that there are different types of Japanese tea that has almost no caffeine yet with tons of flavors.
Hojicha mentioned above is one of them. The roasting process of the tea lowers the caffeine content of the leaves.
Kukicha is another one, which is also called Karigane in Kyoto and Shiraore in the Kyushu region in the south of Japan. This tea is made of stems, stalks and twigs of the tea plant. Premium kukicha is made with the top part of the plant that is soft and delicate, and it provides uniquely calming flavors with a very low caffeine content.
Where To Buy Japanese Tea
In 2021, the export value of tea from Japan reached over 20 billion Japanese yen, doubling the figure in 2015. The top destination was the U.S., which accounted for half of the total.
It means that now premium Japanese tea is more widely available outside Japan and you can purchase high-quality Japanese tea in English at various locations, including online tea shops, such as Mangan’s Kettl, Ikkyu and Yunomi.