Sencha (煎茶, lit. ’infused tea’) is a widely popular type of Japanese green tea, prepared by infusing the processed whole tea leaves in hot water. This tea variety differs from Matcha (抹茶), a powdered Japanese green tea, where the green tea powder is mixed with hot water, and the leaf itself is included in the beverage. Sencha represents about 80% of the tea produced in Japan and is distinguished from other specific green tea types, such as Gyokuro, which is shaded for a longer time, or Bancha, harvested later in the season.
The Flavors of Sencha Green Tea
Sencha green tea’s flavor varies according to the season and the place of its production. Shincha or ‘new tea’ from the first flush of the year is considered the most delicious, featuring tender new leaves that sprout in spring with concentrated nutrients. The Shincha season starts in early April and lasts until late May, around the 88th day after Setsubun, which falls on February 4. Setsubun or Risshun marks the beginning of the sexagenary cycle, and by drinking Sencha, one can enjoy good health throughout the year.
The Ideal Color and Flavor of Sencha Green Tea
The ideal color of the Sencha beverage is greenish-golden. Depending on the temperature of the water used to prepare it, the flavor of Sencha green tea can range from mild to astringent. Some Sencha varieties even expand when steeped, resembling leafy vegetable greens in smell, appearance, and taste.
The Production Process of Sencha Green Tea
The production process of Sencha green tea and other Japanese Ryokucha differs from Chinese green tea varieties, which are pan-fired initially. Japanese green tea is steamed for 15 to 20 seconds to prevent oxidization of the leaves. Then, the leaves are rolled, shaped, and dried, creating the thin cylindrical shape of the tea. Finally, the leaves are sorted and divided into different quality groups.
The Difference between Japanese and Chinese Green Tea
The initial steaming step creates a difference in flavor between Japanese and Chinese green tea, with Japanese green tea having a more vegetal and grassy flavor, and some Sencha varieties tasting like seaweed. Infusions from Sencha and other steamed green teas are also greener in color and slightly more bitter than Chinese-style green teas.
Types of Sencha
There are several types of Sencha, which include:
- Jō Sencha (上煎茶), also known as superior Sencha
- Tokujō Sencha (特上煎茶), also known as extra superior Sencha
- Hachijūhachiya Sencha (八十八夜煎茶), Sencha harvested after 88 days (respectively nights) after spring begins (risshun)
- Kabuse Sencha or Kabusecha (かぶせ茶), covered Sencha
- Asamushi (浅蒸し), lightly steamed Sencha
- Chumushi (中蒸し), middle steamed (30–90 seconds)
- Fukamushi (深蒸し) or fukamushicha, deeply steamed Sencha – 1–2 minutes
- Shincha (新茶) or ichibancha (一番茶), first-picked Sencha of the year
Shincha: Shincha (新茶), also known as “new tea,” is the earliest harvest of the year and the first tea of the season. It is the same as ichibancha (一番茶), which is characterized by its fresh aroma and sweetness. The use of the term shincha emphasizes that this tea is the earliest and freshest available.
Kabusecha: Kabusecha (冠茶) is Sencha grown in the shade to increase amino acids such as theanine, which give it its distinct flavor. A week before the tea leaf buds are picked in the spring, a screen is placed over the plantation to filter out direct sunlight. This process results in a milder tea than standard Sencha. Kabusecha Sencha has a softer flavor and more subtle color than Sencha grown in direct sunlight. Special nets (kabuse) are hung over the plants to obtain natural shade without completely blocking out sunlight.
Read more: Factors Affecting Different Types of Sencha
Japanese Sencha Green Tea is a refreshing and healthy beverage that can be enjoyed at any time of day. The following steps outline how to brew a delicious cup of Sencha Green Tea:
- Step 1: Choose the Right Teaware
To make the perfect cup of Sencha Green Tea, you need to start with the right teaware. A Kyusu teapot is recommended as it is designed for brewing green tea and brings out the rich, complex flavors of the tea leaves. It is best served in yunomi cups that can hold 3 to 5 ounces of liquid.
- Step 2: Use Boiled Water
Water quality is crucial for brewing delicious Sencha Green Tea. Springwater or filtered water is ideal, and we recommend boiling water and then cooling it down to the desired temperature.
- Step 3: Preheat the Teapot and Cups
To achieve the optimal temperature for steeping Sencha Green Tea, preheat the teapot and cups by pouring in hot water and allowing it to warm up the teaware. The recommended water temperature for Sencha is between 158°F (70°C) – 176°F (80°C). The cups should be preheated with boiling water to cool down the water and get an accurate measurement of how much tea to brew.
- Step 4: Add Sencha Tea Leaves to the Teapot
Using at least 5 grams of tea per 7 oz of water, add the Sencha tea leaves to the teapot. Using enough leaves is crucial for getting the right flavor, and experimentation may be required to find the perfect brew for you.
- Step 5: Enjoy the Tea at Different Brew Times and Temperatures
The first infusion usually takes from 45 to 90 seconds. Both steeping time and temperature influence the cup of tea you drink. For the second brew, try hotter water and a shorter steep time. The third infusion can be around 30 to 60 seconds long.
Sencha green tea is a popular beverage in Japan, consumed on a daily basis by many households. Green teas such as Genmaicha, Hojicha, Gyokuro, and Matcha have been the subject of numerous studies that suggest they can help promote a healthier and longer life with improved quality. To make the most of the health benefits associated with green tea, it’s important to pay attention to the brewing method.
Some of the potential health benefits associated with Sencha green tea include its anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-aging properties. It may also help prevent neurodegenerative diseases, virus infections, aid in weight-loss, lower bad cholesterol, and prevent tooth decay. So, not only is Sencha a delicious and refreshing beverage, but it may also offer a range of potential health benefits to those who enjoy it.
Senchadō (煎茶道 ‘Way of Sencha’) is the formal art of enjoying Sencha. It involves the high-grade Gyokuro class and is a traditional Japanese tea ceremony that emphasizes harmony, respect, and tranquility. The ceremony follows a particular set of procedures and uses specific equipment, such as a teapot, tea cups, and a chaki, which is a container used for powdered tea. The participants sit in a designated area and take turns preparing and serving the tea to one another. Senchadō is a highly valued cultural tradition in Japan, and the ceremony is considered an important form of etiquette and a way to socialize with others.