Aracha is a type of Japanese green tea made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis. The name comes from a Japanese phrase meaning "crude tea" or "rough tea" and refers to the fact that aracha is itself an early stage in the production of other types of green tea. Unlike many other types of tea, it contains all parts of the tea leaf, including the steam and leaf hair. In addition to its role in creating other types of tea, aracha is drinkable; it has a very strong flavor.
Aracha is only one of a large number of different varieties of Japanese green tea. The qualities of each variety depend on the growing conditions of the tea, as well as on the sorting and processing of the tea leaves after harvest. Japanese tea connoisseurs prize the finest grades of tea, which can command high prices.
The Japanese tea harvest occurs 88 days after the start of spring, usually in early May. Steaming occurs shortly after picking, usually within a day. Steaming the leaves preserves their color and fragrance. The next stage of the process, rolling and drying, softens the leaves and gives them their characteristic rolled shape.
After the steaming, rolling and drying process is finished, stems and leaves are still mixed together. As a result, the tea produced by this process is aracha or unprocessed tea. The next step is to sort the tea leaves.
Sorting tea leaves into different grades produces different varieties of green tea. Sorting the stems of the tea leaves produces kukicha or "stem tea," while other teas consist primarily of the leaves themselves. Other varieties of tea result from different methods of processing. Tencha or "heaven tea" is made from tea with the veins of the leaves removed, while maccha or "paint tea" results from grinding tencha into a fine powder. All of these types of tea result from further refining the initial aracha.
Other tea varieties result from the growing conditions of the tea. Gyokuro or "jade dew" is a highly prized tea which results from a complicated growing process during which the tea plants grow in shade during the last four to six weeks before harvest. After the leaves undergo steaming, rolling and drying, the resulting tea is called gyokuro aracha. Sorting the leaves from the stems produces the finished gyokuro tea. Sencha or "steep tea" is a lower grade of tea than gyokuro, and the unprocessed form is similarly called sencha aracha.