Chinese and Japanese Green Tea: The Significant Differences

Jill Caren

Having a cup of green tea in the middle of the day is something that I enjoy the most. Sometimes I’m not sure whether to …

Categories Green Tea, Tea

Having a cup of green tea in the middle of the day is something that I enjoy the most. Sometimes I’m not sure whether to sip Chinese or Japanese green tea. Which one should I pick, and why?

So, what are the main differences between Chinese and Japanese green tea?

The main differences between Chinese and Japanese green tea are the color and flavor due to the different processing methods. Chinese green tea is pan-fired, imparting a toasted taste note and a yellowish hue to the brewed tea. Steamed Japanese green tea has a grassy taste and a light green to brownish appearance.

Other differences exist between these two seemingly identical but actually unique green teas. Let’s look at the additional distinctions between these green teas. Ultimately, you can decide which one is ideal for you.

Chinese and Japanese Green Tea: The 6 Main Differences

Before we go into details about Chinese vs. Japanese green tea, here is a short table that presents their main differences.

Japanese Green TeasChinese Green Teas
SteamedHeated (pan-fired)
Needle shape or short flat “arrows” Shaped into variety forms: spirals, balls, tight rolls
Fresh, vegetal and grassy flavorVegetal, toasted and nutty flavor
Pale green to reddish brown tea liquorPale yellow to dark green tea liquor
Larger pot, less leaf more waterSmaller pot, more leaf, less water
More L-theanineLess L-theanine
Less readily available for purchaseMore readily available for purchase
The main differences between Japanese and Chinese green teas


After plucking, green tea leaves go through a fixation process, which involves heating the leaves at a high temperature to stop the oxidation.

This process differs in China and Japan, resulting in diverse varieties of tea with unique tastes, colors, and final leaf forms.

Chinese green teas are pan-fired. The tea leaves are heated in a pan, basket, or spinning mechanical drum.

During the processing of Chinese green teas, they may be fired more than once. Manufacturers may alter the flavor and color of the final brewed tea depending on the number and type of firings.

A pan-fired Chinese green tea would often have a yellowish-green appearance and a grassy, earthy roasted taste.

Japanese green teas are steamed. Steaming is a method used by Japanese green tea makers to avoid oxidation.

It is also worth noting that many Japanese green tea types are grown in the shade (for a brief period before plucking), which results in a greater chlorophyll concentration. This signifies that Japanese teas have a greenish liquid.

Within hours of plucking, the tea leaves are treated with steam heat. Steaming stops the oxidation process and brings out the beautiful green color of the tea leaves.

Using steam instead of pan-firing results in a more vegetal or seaweed-like taste profile.

The Shape of Tea Leaves

Another phase in the manufacturing process separates Japanese and Chinese green tea. This is clearly visible. That is the shape of the tea leaves.

Chinese green teas are “shaped” into a variety of forms, including spirals, balls, and tight rolls. Shaping or rolling the leaves helps to break the tissue of the leaves, allowing the juice to seep onto the surface. This allows more flavor and aroma to be released when brewing your cup of tea.

Japanese green teas, on the other hand, are typically rolled into identical needle shapes or short flat “arrows.” When brewed, this results in a more intense flavor. Yes, we must include the most well-known type of Japanese green tea, matcha, which comes in powder form.

Shape of Japanese vs. Chinese green tea
An example of the difference in shape between Japanese and Chinese green tea

Chinese green teas are more visually appealing than Japanese green teas. When rolled Chinese green tea balls are placed in hot water, they expand. This adds a touch of uniqueness and elegance to the tea-drinking experience.

Flavor Profile and Color

The flavors of Chinese green tea are often vegetal, toasted, and nutty. The leaves are typically pale to dark green in appearance, and the liquid turns pale yellow to dark green after brewing.

I should note here that different types of Chinese green tea have different flavors. The flavor profile of a cup of Chinese green tea depends on the farm conditions where it is grown when it is harvested (early spring tea leaves are usually sweeter compared to ones plucked later), processing methods, and so on.

Japanese green tea is typically described as having a fresh, vegetal, and grassy flavor. Because it contains more chlorophyll, some individuals find its flavor too “grassy” for them.

Japanese green teas usually retain their vibrant color. Because they are processed soon after harvesting, they have minimal to no oxidation effects. The color of the brew varies from pale green to reddish-brown depending on the type of tea made.

Because the steaming process in Japan truly locks in the flavor of the tea as it is plucked, you get vibrant green colors that are much more vibrant than in Chinese tea.

Sencha green tea, for example, creates a nice yellowish green brew with a fresh vegetal, somewhat sweet, and aromatic flavor. On the other hand, Genmaicha has a yellow-green brew color with toasted rice overtones.

Maybe you are new to green tea and these two names are unknown to you. For this reason, I have a beginner’s guide to green tea where you can learn more about the different green tea types and get more basic information on this popular beverage.


One of the primary differences between Japanese and Chinese green tea brewing is that the Chinese style uses smaller containers and a higher leaf-to-water ratio (more leaf, less water) with less brewing time.

In contrast, Japanese green tea uses a larger pot and a lower leaf-to-water ratio (less leaf, more water) with longer brewing times.

Why is this the case? The enrichment of the leaves throughout the growth phase (such as shade or enriching the soil) makes Japanese teas considerably more flavor concentrated, and you don’t need quite as much leaf-to-water ratio.

Steeping time is very important to avoid bitter notes when brewing green tea. No matter if it is Japanese or Chinese green tea.

When it comes to green tea, the brewing temperature is critical. Different types of green tea require different brewing temperatures to get the ideal flavor while avoiding bitterness.

It is always a good idea to check the label of your green tea and ask your tea supplier about the brewing temperature.


Theanine, also known as L-theanine, is a non-protein amino acid found in green tea and some mushrooms (Boletus badius). L-theanine is essential because it enhances the umami flavor (taste) and sweetness of green tea.

The major benefit of L-theanine is that it promotes relaxation by increasing alpha brain wave activity. Furthermore, it interacts with caffeine to induce a state of relaxed alertness.

Learn more about green tea’s caffeine content here.

L-theanine allows you to experience the improved concentration impact of caffeine (also contained in green tea) without the anxiety and restlessness that comes with it.

Japanese green teas contain a lot more theanine. Theanine is significantly better protected in Japanese green tea than in Chinese teas because it is built up through soil fertilization, protected by shading, and then locked in by processing.


China, as we all know, is a big country. This permits China to grow a wider range of cultivars and a higher volume of green tea overall than Japan.

China is the world’s leading producer, exporter, and consumer of tea. In 2020, China produced 2.74 million metric tons of tea, accounting for almost 45 percent of the world’s tea output. Green tea accounts for almost three-fifths of China’s tea production.

Green tea’s domestic output in Japan was estimated to be over 70 thousand tons in 2020.

In 2020, China was the world’s biggest exporter of green tea in the packaging of less than 3 kilos, with exports worth around 734.14 million US dollars. Japan was in second place that year, with a green tea export value of around 81.33 million US dollars.

As a result, Chinese green tea is significantly more widely available than Japanese green tea, and its availability makes it far less expensive. The majority of green tea on shop shelves and restaurant tables is Chinese green tea.

Which Green Tea Is Better: Japanese or Chinese?

To begin with, there is no winner here. Green teas from China and Japan are both fantastic.

I feel that the final flavors of both green teas illustrate the differences between Japanese and Chinese cultures.

Japanese green teas are more focused on an excessive, standardized focus on consistency and quality, as opposed to Chinese culture, which is more focused on letting nature do its thing and seeing what we can get out of it via creativity and adjustments.

It all comes down to personal preference and what you expect from your green tea. For instance, if I want something more natural, bright, and elegant, I will choose Chinese green tea. If I want a green tea that will make me feel good, one that is rich in savory flavor, thick, and vibrant in color, I will select Japanese green tea.

Finally, it is a good idea to try both kinds of green tea. Experiment with Chinese green teas first, and then move on to Japanese green teas.

It’s helpful to understand the differences between them, but as we all know, there’s no debate about the flavors. So, regardless of whatever green tea you pick, you will not make a mistake.

At the end of this post, we encourage you to make a perfect cup of tea, whether it be Japanese or Chinese green tea. Enjoy!