Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Tea Appreciation: Sencha

Sencha (煎茶) is a Japanese green tea (ryokucha/緑茶) that represents 80% of the tea consumed in Japan.

In the first half of the 18th century, a monk by the name of Baisao popularized sencha by traveling around Kyoto and selling tea.  He prepared his sencha (boiled tea) by added loose tea leaves to boiling water before serving.  A tea grower acquaintance was inspired by this new demand for non-powdered teas to develop the distinctive rolled needle shape of sencha.  Following Baisao's death, hocha (hot water poured over leaves) was introduced, as well as a formalized tea ceremony dedicated to sencha called Senchado (煎茶道).

Growing, Harvesting, Processing
Sencha is grown in direct sunlight, developing higher levels of vitamin c and tannin than shaded teas.  The leaves are harvested in early April to late May and are steamed within the first 20 hours of plucking.  Steaming generally takes 15-20 seconds and stops oxidation to retain color, aroma, and nutrients.  Next, the leaves will be rolled to soften them, breaking the cell walls to develop and release flavor, and forming the distinctive needle shape.  The leaves will then be dried and sorted.  Buds, stems, and fannings will be separated, as well as larger, tougher leaves which will become bancha.  The remaining needle-shaped tea leaves will be sorted by size and shape.

Shincha (新茶) or ichibancha (一番茶):  Shincha, meaning "new tea" (or ichibancha, meaning "first tea") is harvested in early April to mid-May.  The first tea harvest tends to be sweeter and less astringent than later harvests, with lower caffeine and more amino acids.

Hachijuhachiya (八十八夜):  Sencha harvested 88 days and nights after Setsubun/Risshun, the first day of Spring.  

Asamushicha (浅蒸し茶): Sencha, lightly steamed for 15-30 seconds.  This is the most common length of steaming for sencha.

Chumushicha (中蒸し茶):  Sencha, mid-steamed for 30 seconds to 1.5 minutes.

Fukamushicha (深蒸し茶):  Sencha, deep-steamed for 1-2 minutes.

Kabusecha (かぶせ茶):  Sencha, shaded for up to two weeks to bring out a more delicate taste, higher amino acids, and a darker leaf color than unshaded sencha.  Not to be mistaken for gyokuro which has a longer shading period.

Jo Sencha (上煎茶):  High-grade sencha, usually made from the newest, most tender leaves.

Toku Jo Sencha (特上煎茶):  Premium sencha, made from the first plucking and the newest, most tender leaves.

Heat water to  to 175°F/79°C and steep for 1-2 minutes before serving.  
For more delicate sencha like fukamushi or kabusecha, a shorter steeping time or lower temperature may bring out the best flavor.

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