I discovered sushi late in life. Having a strong aversion towards fish, it seemed unlikely that I’d develop a palate for it. But life works in mysterious ways, and I found that it was one of those foods that I could eat every single day. And in my final year of college, I did. What I discovered later however, is the way that beverages enhance the flavour of a roll of maki or a sliver of sashimi. Green tea, the biggest surprise of all.
Green tea is the most popular type of tea in Japan. The famed tea ceremony that has been an integral part of Japanese culture since the 12th century, is centred around green tea. The tea ceremony, which is heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism, usually employs matcha, a powdered green tea. However, occasionally, sencha is also used, in which case the ceremony is referred to as senchado.
Green tea is not just a part of special occasions, everyday life is also dotted with cups of green tea. Both at home and at restaurants, this beverage is an important constituent of a meal. The subtle, grassy flavours are delicious, but it also has several health benefits that make it an excellent drink to keep sipping on throughout the day - it is said to have five times the amount of Vitamin C as a citrus fruit, contains very powerful antioxidants and and also an aid in digestion.
Green tea differs from black tea in the way it is processed - although both come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, black tea is allowed to oxidise before being dried, whereas oxidation in green tea is stopped by either steaming or pan-firing. This is why black tea has a stronger flavour, and a darker colour than green tea.
The wonderful thing about green tea is that there are several versions of it, with each one having a distinct flavour and aroma - perfect for pairing with different kinds of food. Although popular belief has it that sushi is best paired with sake, green tea makes for interesting combinations as well, each one highlighting a particular flavour of the sushi. Here are some of the combinations to try the next time you’re out for sushi.
This is the most common variety of green tea available in Japan. Yabukita leaves are used to make this tea which has a delicious richness and a smooth finish. This makes it the most popular option for pairing with sushi. To really bring out the flavours, pair sencha with a salmon nigiri - the light butteriness works well with the heavy umami of the salmon. Although this is a compelling enough reason to try sencha, it also has the advantage of having anti bacterial properties, that help in oral hygiene.
This tea is made from genmai (roasted brown rice) that is mixed with tea leaves. Heavier than sencha, this tea has a faint nuttiness from the roasted rice that is reminiscent of sesame. Paired with a fish like tuna, the fattiness of the tuna is offset by the tea. Splurge for a toro maki and welcome to sushi nirvana. Genmaicha is also known for reducing plaque buildup in the arteries - a good property when you’re eating an indulgent meal.
This tea is extremely expensive, but is very high in umami as a result of a process called shading, where the the leaves are protected from direct sunlight. This tea, which is served at high-end sushi restaurants is perfect with sushi that are high in umami - fugu sashimi, made from puffer fish, is an excellent combination. If you don’t like bitterness in your tea, Gyokuru is the right choice for you. It also has the added benefit of keeping the blood glucose levels in the body from fluctuating too much.
Produced by roasting bancha leaves, this reddish-brown tea has an extra layer of flavour as a result of the roasting. The end product has a subtle nutty, caramel-like sweetness to it that is almost reminiscent of coffee. The roasting reduces the amount of caffeine in the tea, so if you’re looking for a low-caffeine option, this is is a good option. Hojicha is a good tea to end your meal with - the caramel tones, work well with desserts, and the lowered caffeine levels will ensure a good night’s sleep.
We have covered all the classics. And even though your neighborhood sushi place may say so - Jasmine Green Tea is not a traditional pairing with your sushi. You may politely decline!