Sencha is a popular Japanese green tea, with various types that offer different flavor profiles. The tea leaves are processed by steaming, giving them a fresh and grassy aroma, unlike other countries that roast the leaves for a nutty flavor. Sencha is made from the Camellia sinensis var Sinensis tea plant and is often cultivated with the Yabukita cultivar.
Some farmers prefer to cover their tea plants before the harvest to improve their flavor. When the tea plant is exposed to sunlight, it converts theanine into catechins, which can give the tea a more bitter flavor. To maintain more of theanine, the tea plant is covered with a type of netting called a Kabuse. This allows the plant to retain more of its theanine content.
Unshaded sencha tea is the most common type of sencha, grown in full sunlight until harvest, resulting in the highest catechin content. These teas can be bitter or astringent, but many tea drinkers enjoy their fresh and citrusy taste profiles with a strong finish. Brewing unshaded sencha at a hotter temperature maximizes the antioxidants, but also produces the most bitter tea.
If the farmer wants to reduce bitterness, they will cover the tea plant in Kabuse netting for just the final week before harvest. This reduces some of the citrusy flavor profiles, producing a balanced taste with slight grassy and sweet steamed vegetable notes.
If the tea plant is shaded for 10 days or more before harvest, it is considered a Kabuse sencha, which is very sweet, only one step down from the highly sought-after Gyokuro. If the tea plant is shaded for 21 days or more, it is considered Gyokuro. Kabusecha has a nice balance between slight grassy flavor profiles and sweet steamed vegetable notes. The flavors of Gyokuro and Kabusecha are a bit different, with Gyokuro having deep savory notes and Kabusecha focusing more on the sweetness.
Sencha green tea is a popular Japanese tea with a unique production process that requires steaming the tea leaves after they are harvested. This crucial step stops the oxidation process that would otherwise turn the tea leaves brown and transform the flavor. There are three types of steaming used in the production of sencha green tea: asamushi, chumushi, and fukamushi.
Asamushi sencha is a type of short-steamed green tea that involves steaming the leaves for 30-60 seconds. As a result of this light steaming process, the tea has more citrusy or mineral characteristics, which may be challenging to the palate. Nonetheless, some tea connoisseurs prefer this type of tea because of its unique taste.
Chumushi sencha is the most commonly produced type of sencha, and it involves steaming the leaves for 60-90 seconds. This process locks in the natural vegetal characteristics of the tea and brings out notes of edamame, baby spinach, and asparagus. You will not usually see “Chumushi” on the label because it is the standard process used for sencha.
Fukamushi sencha is a type of deep-steamed green tea. It is steamed for a longer time, usually 90-120 seconds, which allows more of the leaf to dissolve into the tea. This process breaks down the cell membranes of the leaves, creating a rice-like, cloudy green infusion with fewer bitter notes. Fukamushi sencha teas are known for their steamed vegetable flavors, which can sometimes drift into fruity notes, such as lychee berry notes in the Fukamushi Sencha Yamaga No Sato.
After the process of steaming and drying, sencha tea leaves are ready to be blended and packaged. Blending can involve mixing different tea plant varieties, as well as combining the tea leaves with other ingredients. Here are some interesting examples:
A seasonal tea, sakura sencha is made during the cherry blossom season. It consists of sencha tea leaves mixed with cherry blossom petals. While visually appealing, the petals don’t contribute much to the flavor of the tea.
Genmaicha tea is a well-known blend of toasted rice and green tea leaves. It is usually made with bancha, but sometimes with the younger sencha leaves. This results in a higher price and caffeine content, but it’s worth it for sencha lovers.
Matcha iri Sencha
Matcha iri sencha is made by blending sencha leaves with matcha powder. This combination provides a balanced taste, and certain brands like the Shizuku sencha from Chiran are perfect for cold brewing. The matcha powder is released during the first infusion, resulting in a rich and cloudy infusion with a smooth and fruity taste.
With so many different types of sencha available, there’s no doubt that you’ll find the one that suits your taste buds perfectly.
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