Everything You Need to Know About Sencha

Sencha is the most popular green tea in Japan, and it's also one of the most diverse categories. In this video, we are going to discuss the different types of sencha, the history of sencha and how to prepare sencha. Whether you are new to sencha, or you have been drinking it for a long time, I’d love to invite you on a journey to explore this wonderful and flavorful Japanese green tea!

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Everything you need to know about Sencha Video

What is Sencha?

sencha

First, let’s start out by talking about what sencha is. Sencha is a type of Japanese green tea that is made from tea leaves that are steamed, rolled and dried. The dried leaves are then infused into warm water to create sencha tea. This makes sencha different from matcha, which is tea powder that is mixed directly into water.

Matcha was the most common way to consume tea in Japan prior to the invention of sencha. Leaves were ground into a powder and mixed into water with the bamboo tea whisk or chasen. This powdered tea was and still is used today in the Japanese tea ceremony, where tea is prepared according to a strict set of rules and principles. With all these rules and equipment involved in tea preparation, there were many who advocated for a simpler ritual of tea preparation.

 

History of Sencha Tea

A tea farmer named Nagatani Soen developed a tea that could be prepared in a simpler way. He found that by steaming the leaves and rolling them into these tight needle shapes, you could lock in the flavor until the tea was ready to be prepared. It was then a simple matter of infusing the leaves into hot water and then filtering them out with the clay teapot. It was here that sencha was born.

The invention of Nagatani Soen in 1738 earned him a shrine in ujitawara nearby the family home where he grew up. The upkeep of this shrine is funded by larger Japanese tea companies, in order to pay their respect to the father of modern Japanese tea. Sencha soon became popular all around Japan because of it’s flavor and its convenience. All it required was a teapot and some hot water to prepare. Farmers later experimented with different types of production methods to create the vast array of sencha we see today.


Where is Sencha Green Tea produced?

In this map, you can see the different areas where sencha tea is produced. In the north, we work with farmers like Mr. Masuda and the family of Sato who produce mostly Yabukita sencha tea. This tea plant variety holds up better to the colder winters of Shizuoka, as the leaves are thicker and more resistant to frost. While Shizuoka is Japan’s largest tea growing region, it is the least diverse in terms of tea cultivars, with 93% of the tea produced there coming from the Yabukita cultivar.


In the south of Japan, we see a much more diverse array of sencha green tea being grown. Mr. Henta in Kirishima for example produces 8 different types of tea plant varieties on a relatively small tea field. All of these tea plants produce slightly different tasting green teas and they can be either blended together to form the Henta Sencha, which combines the best aspects of all or they can be broken up into single cultivar sencha teas. These single cultivar teas like the Henta Saemidori sencha, the okumidori sencha and the asanoka sencha, celebrate the individuality and variety of tea cultivars. The saemidori sencha tea is syrupy and sweet with a strong green color. The okumidori sencha has a smooth, almost fruity taste to it and finally the asanoka sencha has a starchy or cereal flavor to it. This is a perfect example of the type of variety that can be grown in southern Japan, where the winters are far more mild and more delicate cultivars can be easily grown.

 

What are the different kinds of Sencha Tea?

Shading is perhaps the biggest factor in determining the taste of a sencha green tea. When it comes to the taste profile of a Japanese green tea, there is a battle between the sweet and savory theanine and the slightly bitter or citrusy catechins. When the tea leaf is exposed to sunlight, it begins to convert theanine into catechins to protect itself from the UV light. If a farmer wants to create a sweeter tea, he will attempt to block the sunlight from hitting the leaf and this is done through the use of kabuse netting. The amount of time the plant is kept underneath the shading, will determine the type of tea that is produced.

 

Unshaded sencha tea

Unshaded sencha is not shaded leading up to the harvest, and it will produce a slightly bitter or astringent taste profile. This does not necessarily mean the taste is inferior however, as many tea drinkers prefer the drier flavor profiles of an unshaded sencha. These teas tend to have tasting notes of late summer grass and citrusy fruit with less of this sweetness or steamed vegetable flavors.

Slightly Shaded Japanese Sencha

If a farmer wants to take away some of the bitterness, he can shade the tea for about a week or so. This allows the plant to maintain more of its theanine, and it gives it a slightly smoother taste with less of this astringency. It is also worth mentioning that the climate and surroundings of a tea farm can also create what is effectively a partially shaded tea. Heavy fog over a tea field can block out some of the sun and if there is a forest or high mountains around the tea field, this can block out the sunlight for at least part of the day. While this tea will still be labeled as an unshaded tea, they are known to have a smoother and sweeter taste profile, even without the use of the kabuse netting.


Kabuse sencha green tea

Kabuse sencha or kabusecha is the longest shaded of the sencha teas. This tea is shaded for between 10 and 21 days before the harvest, and therefore it has a significantly higher content of theanine. This gives the leaves a darker green color and the taste is much sweeter and smoother.


Gyokuro vs. Sencha: What’s the Difference?

If the tea is shaded for over 21 days it would be considered a Gyokuro, the most sought after leaf tea in Japan. Gyokuro is not a type of sencha, so this means that to be considered a sencha, the shading is between 0 days and 21 days.


In terms of flavor, gyokuro has this incredibly strong savory, almost brothy flavor profile. This brothiness, combined with the seaweed notes that you get from some of the more intense gyokuro teas, can be quite polarizing for a lot of tea drinkers. While Gyokuro is the most sought after leaf tea in Japan, it is certainly an acquired taste. Shaded sencha teas like Kabuse sencha lie somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, with a lot of the sweetness you might find in a gyokuro but without this intense brothy flavor. They also tend to have a little bit more of this citrusy flavor to them, particularly in the finish.


From Ichi Bancha to Aki Bancha, complete Harvesting Process of Sencha

Another factor that influences the type of sencha being produced is when it is harvested. In Japan, there are between 3-4 tea harvests that take place throughout the year, and when the tea is harvested will determine not only its flavor but also its price.

Stage 1 - Shincha / ichi bancha tea harvest

Shincha is the first tea to be harvested in early spring. The tea plant stores up nutrients from the soil all winter long and then releases them into the fresh buds. These young sprouts have the highest concentration of nutrients and the smoothest and sweetest flavor. This is why shincha has the reputation for being one of the sweetest and most delicious sencha green tea

Stage 2 - Ni bancha tea harvest

After the sprouts have been picked in the springtime, the tea plant will soon grow more buds. The second round of buds however will have a lower concentration of nutrients and a less complex taste profile. This is because the tea plant has less time to build up nutrients from the soil. This second harvested tea will be used in less expensive tea blends and it will command a lower price.

Stage 3 - San Bancha tea harvest

Is the third tea to be harvested in the year. This tea is only fit to be used for lower quality teas like those used in teabags and bottled tea. This tea commands a much lower price than Ichi bancha and Ni bancha, and the taste is less complex and more bitter.

Stage 4 - Aki bancha tea harvest

After harvesting the tea plant in the spring and summer, the tea plant can sometimes be harvested a fourth time in the fall. This will be called Aki bancha and it will yield the lowest quality green tea. Most farmers won’t even sell this tea and some organic tea producers like the watanabe family will actually turn it into a type of mulch to put in between the tea rows in order to return nutrients to the soil.

Japanese Sencha Green Tea Steaming Process

In addition to the shading and the harvesting of the tea, the farmers still have one last method that can greatly change the taste profile of the sencha. This comes down to the steaming of the tea. While Chinese green teas are heated in a large pan, Japanese green teas are steamed after harvest. This maintains more of the natural vegetable flavors of the leaves, and gives the tea a distinct green color in many cases.


The reason heat needs to be applied in both Chinese and Japanese green teas is to stop the oxidation from taking place. After tea leaves are picked, they will begin to oxidize naturally and eventually turn into a black tea. In order to produce green tea, this oxidation process needs to be stopped. When heat is applied to the leaf, it deactivates the enzymes that cause oxidation and allows the leaf to maintain its green color. This steaming process typically takes between 40-80 seconds, but a farmer may change the level of steaming to capture a specific taste profile. If a tea is steamed for between 40-80 seconds it is considered a normal steamed tea or Chumushi, but shorter and longer steaming times can produce unique types of sencha.


What are the different Sencha types based on the steaming process?

Asamushi

Asamushi is a shorter steamed tea made from leaves that have been steamed for between 30-40 seconds. This tea has a slightly more mild and dry taste profile compared with a normal steamed sencha.

Fukamushi

Fukamushi sencha is a longer steamed tea made from leaves that have been steamed for 80-200 seconds. During this longer steaming process, the tea leaves of fukamushi sencha are broken down further, allowing more of the leaf to flow into the cup. This produces an intense, cloudy green infusion and a strong vegetable, even fruity flavor.

Matcha-iri sencha or sencha matcha green tea

Another interesting type of sencha worth mentioning is matcha iri sencha or sencha matcha. This is made with a combination of matcha powder and sencha leaves, combining the best of both worlds. Matcha-iri sencha like the Shizuku sencha produces an excellent cold brewed tea. The matcha powder is released into the first brewing to create an extra strong infusion with a sweet and fruity taste profile.


When it comes to the shizuku sencha organic matcha is always used, so you don’t have to worry about the exposure of pesticides in the green tea. The caffeine content of this sencha matcha will be slightly higher, as the addition of the tea powder allows you to consume more of the leaf. This sencha matcha green tea will also be higher in theanine and chlorophyll, making it not only a delicious cold brew, but also one that is high in nutrients.


How to prepare Sencha?

Step 1

When it comes to preparing sencha, there are a few different factors to consider. The first is the leaf to water ratio. In this case, you can use the standard leaf to water ratio for most Japanese green teas, which is 5 grams of leaves and 150ml of water.

Step 2

The second important factor to consider is the water temperature. For sencha, the best temperature range to use is between 60-70 degrees Celsius (140-160 degrees Fahrenheit). You can use cooler temperatures for longer shaded senchas and warmer temperatures for unshaded sencha, as these are meant to have a bit more of that drier, more bitter flavor. For Fukamushi sencha, you can use a lower temperature as these senchas are easy to over brew.

Step 3

Finally, when it comes to brewing time, 1 minute should work for just about any sencha. This will give the leaves enough time to open up and release their flavor into the water. Fukamushi sencha tend to have smaller leaves, and therefore they can infuse faster. For these teas you can use 45 seconds, which should be more than enough time to extract plenty of flavor.


Which Sencha Green Tea is the best?

The question of which sencha is best comes down to a matter of preference. If you like your tea to be a little bit more on the sweeter side, you can go for a shaded sencha or even a Kabusecha. These teas will come with a higher price tag, but it is well worth it for the sweet and smooth flavor profiles. If you tend to be a fan of drier, more citrusy teas, you can go for an unshaded sencha. Finally, if you are simply looking for a tea that has a lot of strength to it, you can go for a deep steamed sencha. These senchas also have the added benefit of working exceptionally well as a cold brew.


When to drink sencha tea?

You can drink sencha tea throughout the day depending on how sensitive you are to caffeine. Sencha is a medium caffeine tea, with somewhere between 40-60mg of caffeine per cup. This puts it at less than half the level of a cup of coffee. We recommend not drinking sencha in the evening, but rather drink a lower caffeine tea like genmaicha or kukicha. It should be fine to drink sencha in the morning and in the early afternoon without it keeping you up at night.


What is the benefit of Sencha?

There are many benefits of sencha tea, but we can focus on some of the most important like theanine, catechins and chlorophyll. Catechins like EGCG (Epigallocatechin gallate) are exceptionally common in tea. These are produced as a protection against the UV light and they can actually have some health benefits to them. If you want to maximize the content of catechins in your tea, you can go for an unshaded sencha and brew it at a higher temperature. Of course this method will also produce a more bitter tea, as catechins are responsible for the more bitter tastes in green tea.


If you are looking for amino acids in your tea, you are looking for something known as l-theanine. This is the main amino acid present in green tea, and it is only found in one other plant, making it rather unique. This is what is believed to be responsible for the calm alert sensation people get when they drink green tea, and it is the reason why tea has been drunk during meditation for over a thousand years. If you want to maximize the content of chlorophyll and theanine in your tea, you should go for a shaded sencha tea. With these teas, you will also get a heavier dose of caffeine so just take that into consideration. If you use hotter water to brew the sencha green tea, you will extract more but the components inside the leaf, but the flavor will be less enjoyable. Luckily, theanine can be extracted at a lower temperature as well.


When it comes to the caffeine in a normal sencha, it is relatively modest so unless you are drinking it in the late afternoon or evening, you shouldn’t have much problem with it. You should consider the caffeine in a cup of sencha as anywhere from ⅓ to ½ that of a cup of coffee and proceed accordingly.


Where to buy sencha?

sencha tea sampler
When it comes to buying sencha, you really have to go to the source directly to make sure it is grown and produced properly. That’s why we have met with dozens of farmers over the past few years to hand select the best tasting, pesticide free sencha in Japan. You can find information about each sencha we have, as well as all about the farmer that produced it. If you have any questions about the sencha we offer, or if you need recommendations, please feel free to reach out to us on social media or via email.

If you are looking to try a bunch of different Japanese green teas at once, you can try out our mega sampler, which includes 10 different kinds of sencha as well as matcha, hojicha, gyokuro, kukicha, bancha, genmaicha and kamairicha. You also get a teapot along with your order so you can prepare the sencha teas the proper way!

  

Which Japanese Sencha should I start with?

sencha

While it may make sense to start with one of our green tea samplers to get a taste of a lot of different teas to try at once, you may be ready to take the plunge and start with a full pack of sencha green tea. If this is the case, we would recommend going for the Fukamushi Sencha Yamaga no sato. This is our most popular sencha tea and it is easy to see why. It is produced by the sato family in Shizuoka and its made using the deep steamed method. This smoothes out the flavor and gives it this intense green color.


The Yamaga no Sato also works incredibly well as a cold brewed japanese tea. This method really brings out the sweetness of the tea and reduces the bitterness even further. The lychee berry notes that once played subtly in the background now take center stage. If you want to enjoy this fruity, sweet and refreshing drink on a warm day, you can find it on our website and follow our tips to make the perfect cold brewed green tea.


We really appreciate you taking the time to read this article about sencha. If you are interested in learning more about Japanese green tea, please be sure to check out other articles that cover different topics. You may be particularly interested in this one about Gyokuro and this one about Hojicha