Sencha: The Most Popular Japanese Green Tea
When it comes to green tea, many people regard it as a type of tea. However, green tea is a collective name that includes many varieties. There are many subcategories of green tea, depending on the plants, and how it is produced, processed, and consumed. Sencha is a type of green tea and is the most popular tea in Japan.
What is Sencha
Contrary to matcha, sencha is a whole-leaf tea that can be drunk hot or cold. Different from Chinese green tea, sencha is not pan-fried. In Japan, the tea leaves are steamed after plucking to prevent oxidation and preserve the color and flavor. The leaves are then rolled, shaped, and dried. Due to the different processing methods, Japanese sencha has more of a botanical flavor and a greener color than Chinese green tea.
The ideal color for a sencha is greenish gold. Depending on the temperature of the water, the flavor varies. Sencha is more mellow and more bitter with hot water. In addition to the way of brewing, the flavor of sencha also depends on the origin and season. Generally, shincha (new tea) is considered to be the most delicious one. Shincha refers to the tender buds of tea trees that sprout in the springtime. Depending on the region where the plantation is located, the shincha period extends from the beginning of April to the end of May.
History of Sencha
In the 15th century, the first Kamairicha (roasted green tea) was introduced to Japan by the Chinese. However, Japanese matcha dominated until the 17th century. In the 17th century, Ingen, a monk, calligrapher, and poet from China, came to Japan and introduced the tea ceremony and tea utensils.
In the 18th century, a tea farmer named Nagatani Soen developed a simpler way to prepare tea. Replacing frying with steaming, sencha was invented and earned Soen the reputation as the father of modern Japanese tea. Sencha became popular throughout Japan because of its flavor and convenience. In Kyoto, a Zen poet and monk named Baisao was dedicated to promoting sencha.
Baisao was also the first senchado master. He opposed the elite and rigid matcha ceremonies, which were becoming a showcase for the power and expensive teaware. His ideal role model was the Kung Fu tea of the Tang Dynasty, which is humble and simple. This carefree tea ceremony was widely accepted by Japanese intellectuals. They created senchado (sencha tea ceremony) based on the tea ceremony of the Chinese Song Dynasty, combined with Zen philosophy. Today, senchado is still held throughout Japan.
Types of Sencha
Shading is one of the most important factors in determining the flavor of sencha. When tea leaves are exposed to sunlight, they begin to convert theanine (which tastes sweet) to catechins (which taste slightly bitter). There are three types of sencha that are determined by the amount of time they are kept in the shade.
Unshaded Sencha: These are not shaded before harvest. They have a slightly astringent taste with grass and citrus aromas.
Lightly Shaded Sencha: These teas are shaded for about a week before harvest. They are less harsh and have a softer, sweeter taste.
Kabuse Sencha: These teas are shaded for 10 to 21 days before harvest, which endows the leaves with a darker green color and a sweeter, smoother flavor.
In addition to shade, the time of harvest and the time of steaming also has a significant impact on the flavor of sencha.
Shincha: It is harvested at the beginning of the spring and is considered to be the best. It tends to have a sweeter, more delicate, and richer flavor.
Asamushi: This is a lightly steamed sencha (about 20 to 30 seconds). The lighter steam produces a cleaner, and more delicate sencha.
Chumushi: It is the sencha between Asamushi and Fukamushi. It is steamed for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Fukamushi: This is a deeply steamed sencha (at least 1 minute). It enjoys a bold flavor with a darker color.