3 High Caffeine Japanese Green Teas

Japanese green teas often get the reputation for being low caffeine, but there are some teas that contain as much caffeine as coffee! The amount of caffeine in a tea plant depends on a variety of factors, ranging from the growing of the tea plant to the production of the tea itself. In this article, we’re going to talk about how the caffeine levels in a Japanese green tea are influenced by how it’s produced and which teas are the highest in caffeine. Without further ado, let’s get started!

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Why Does the Tea Plant Produce Caffeine?

The tea plant produces caffeine as a defense mechanism to protect itself from insects. There are quite a few insects that like to eat tea leaves, and by forming a protective layer of caffeine on the outside of the leaf, the tea plant is able to make its leaves very distasteful and even poisonous to insects.

Somewhat ironically, this caffeine has made the plant more desirable to humans. The monks were the first to take note of the energizing qualities of tea. Tea was first brought to Japan by monks who found that it helped to improve their focus during long periods of meditation. We now know that this is due to the combination of caffeine and l-theanine, which work together to create the so-called “calm alert” feeling that tea drinkers enjoy.

How Shading of Japanese Green Tea Affects Caffeine

One of the things that  makes Japanese green teas unique is that they are sometimes shaded prior to the harvest. This is done to improve the flavor, but it also has a secondary effect on the caffeine content.

When the tea leaves are exposed to sunlight, they convert theanine into catechins as a protection against the UV light. Catechins are the more bitter components of the tea, while theanine is responsible for the more smooth and sweet flavors in a Japanese green tea. If a tea farmer wants to minimize the bitterness of a green tea, he will cover the tea plant in a type of netting called “kabuse” before the tea harvest.

This shading process can be incredibly stressful for the tea plant. It produces more chlorophyll to compensate for the lower amount of sunlight and it produces more caffeine to defend itself from insects. As a result, shaded green teas tend to be higher in caffeine than unshaded green teas.

How Picking of Japanese Green Tea Affects Caffeine

Another factor that can influence the caffeine content of a Japanese green tea is how it is picked. A farmer decides which parts of the tea plant should be used, depending on the type of tea they are producing. Some teas like bancha use more mature tea leaves, others use the stems, but the most desirable tea varieties are made from the youngest sprouts of the tea plant.

The younger sprouts of the tea plant are more tender and vulnerable to insects. The tea plant produces more caffeine to safeguard these precious tea sprouts and as a result the teas made from these leaves are significantly higher in caffeine.

How Processing of Japanese Green Tea Affects Caffeine

While the caffeine content of a tea is mostly influenced by the growing and the picking of the tea, the processing can have some effect as well.

Depending on the type of tea being produced, a farmer will “sort” the harvested leaves to get rid of any impurities. For some teas, the stems will be separated from the leaves. The stems of the tea plant have a mild, straw flavor to them and while this can be enjoyable in teas like kukicha and karigane, it is discouraged in teas like gyokuro and matcha. If the stems are removed, it raises the caffeine content of the tea because the stems have about ⅓ the caffeine of the leaves.

Some Japanese green teas like hojicha are also roasted during the production process. While this doesn’t have a huge impact on the caffeine content, the roasting process does remove some of the caffeine from the leaves. Hojicha also tends to be made from the older leaves and stems, so it becomes a low caffeine tea.

Matcha Tea and Caffeine

Matcha tea is like the perfect storm of a high caffeine tea. The tea plants are shaded for 3 weeks before being picked, the youngest 3 sprouts are selected and they have their stems removed.

Finally, what makes matcha tea unique is that it’s actually ground into a powder. With normal teas, you extract the caffeine over time in multiple brewings. While the first steeping of a green tea has by far the most caffeine, it doesn’t have all of it. The caffeine is extracted gradually from brewing to brewing, as the leaves are continuously infused into water.

Matcha tea on the other hand is mixed directly into water, so you get the caffeine all at once. Gram for gram, you will get more caffeine from a high quality matcha than any other tea, but you tend to use less. The recommended serving of matcha is 2 grams of powder for 100ml of water, while the recommended serving for a typical Japanese green tea is 5 grams of leaves and 150ml of water.

High Quality matcha contains around 34mg of caffeine per gram of powder. If you were to use the recommended 2 grams, you are at around 68mg of caffeine per bowl of matcha tea. The reason why matcha tea gets the reputation of being a high caffeine tea is because you can just simply add more powder.

A regular 8 ounce cup of coffee contains around 95mg of caffeine. If you were to prepare the same amount of matcha tea, you are already at 136mg. This means that matcha tea has the potential to have more caffeine than coffee, depending on how it’s prepared.

You may not feel the same effect as you do with coffee because of the l-theanine. L-theanine is an amino acid that is present in green tea and it’s thought to slow the absorption of caffeine. Instead of getting a rapid jolt of energy and then a crash later on in the day, you may notice a long-lasting energy throughout the day.

Not all Matcha Tea is Created Equal

You may notice we keep specifying “high quality matcha” and the reason for this is certain steps are often skipped in the production process to create a less expensive matcha. All of these shortcuts will lead to a lower caffeine content in the tea. If the shading step is skipped, older leaves are used or the stems are not removed, the resulting matcha powder will have less caffeine.

This might be a good thing for people that enjoy an afternoon matcha latte. The matcha powder used for matcha lattes has about half the caffeine as the premium stuff. The downside of these powders is that they tend to be much more bitter, but this can easily be fixed by adding your favorite plant based milk and some sweetener!

Gyokuro and Caffeine

Gyokuro is another high caffeine Japanese green tea. Sometimes referred to as “the Emperor’s tea”, gyokuro is sought after for its powerful sweet and savory flavor. The production process of gyokuro is very similar to that of matcha, but it is not ground into a powder. Like other teas, gyokuro is infused into warm water and then the leaves are separated out.

Compared to matcha tea, gyokuro has a much sweeter flavor, but it is still quite high in caffeine. A regular serving of gyokuro can have 120-140mg of caffeine. This gives gyokuro more caffeine than a cup of coffee if you use 5 grams of leaves and infuse the tea three times.

Gyokuro can be considered a good coffee replacement. Not only is it much sweeter than coffee, it also gives you a more sustainable energy. Just like with matcha, gyokuro is high in l-theanine, which can work in synergy with the caffeine. Because the tea plant is cut off from sunlight for so long, it maintains more of its theanine, which makes it great for a morning cup!

When preparing gyokuro, you may want to use a lower temperature water and a longer brewing time. Gyokuro is tightly rolled into these leaves that look almost like pine needles, and they need a full 2 minutes to open up fully into the water.

The theanine doesn’t need a high temperature to be extracted, so by using a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit and 2 minutes, you can extract plenty of flavor without making the tea too bitter.

Kabuse Sencha and caffeine

Finally we come to the third tea on our list, Kabusecha. Sencha is the most common type of tea consumed in Japan, but it’s also the one with the most categories. The caffeine content of a sencha of course depends on how long it has been shaded and how it is picked, and in the world of sencha, Kabusecha is the real star.

To be considered a Gyokuro, the tea plant needs to be shaded for 21 days or more prior to the harvest. To be considered a Kabusecha, the tea plant needs to be shaded for 10 days or more prior to the harvest. That means that sencha tea shaded for between 10-21 days is considered Kabusecha. The flavor of this tea begins to approach that of a gyokuro, but with less of this overpowering savory flavor. The caffeine is on the higher side, somewhere in the range of 60-70mg per serving.

A more common, unshaded sencha may have between 50-60mg of caffeine per serving, making it a good tea for the late morning or afternoon.

As you can see, a lot of different factors influence the caffeine content of a Japanese green tea. Some of the most carefully produced green teas tend to be the highest in caffeine, while the more common varieties tend to be lower in caffeine. If you are looking for a boost of energy in the morning, consider these 3 teas your new best friend!

Caffeine estimates of Japanese Green Tea: