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What is sencha tea?
Sencha tea is the most common type of green tea in Japan, made from tea leaves that have been steamed, rolled and dried. Even though this may seem like a simple definition, sencha green tea is one of the most diverse categories, encompassing a wide array of growing, shading and steaming techniques. If you would like to learn more about Japanese sencha green tea, you can read this article here
Our sencha tea is exclusively sourced from reputable Japanese tea farmers
We work with dozens of talented farmers who produce exceptional quality tea. After sitting down with these farmers and tasting their teas in person, we have selected a small number we think are exceptional. These are the teas we chosen to share with people all around the world.
Our sencha tea is 100% organically grown and pesticide free
Organic sencha green tea is important to strive for. After visiting tea farms all across Japan, we have had a chance to compare organic tea fields with non-organic tea fields. We found that the tea fields that used pesticides and chemicals weren’t creating a healthy ecosystem for plant and animal life. The organic tea fields had much more biodiversity, with insects, birds and even mammals thriving between the tea plants. By switching to organic sencha green tea, you are not only making a better choice for yourself, but also helping to create a more sustainable tea industry. At Nio, we believe that tea fields should not only produce great tea, but also become a habitat for other plants and animals.
History of sencha
In medieval Japan, the most common way to consume green tea was in powdered form. What can be thought of as an early form of matcha, rose in popularity because of its use in the Japanese tea ceremony. In the early 1700’s, people began to advocate for an easier way to prepare tea, without all the rules and principles
A tea farmer by the name of Nagatani Soen developed a tea that could be prepared in a simpler way. He found that by steaming the leaves and then rolling them into these tight needle shapes, you could lock in the flavor until the tea was ready to be infused into hot water. This means that you just need to brew the leaves in a teapot and then filter them out as you pour. It was here that senchatea was born.
Flavour profile of Japanese sencha green tea
It is difficult to describe the taste profile of sencha tea, because it is such a broad category. In sweeter green teas, you get notes of tropical fruit, sweet corn and steamed vegetables. On drier senchas, you will notice more of these citrusy flavor profiles, with notes of straw and late summer grass.
Harvesting Process of Sencha
Stage 1 - Shincha / ichi bancha tea harvest
This is the first harvest of the tea plant, which can be sold for the highest price. During the winter time, the tea plant is able to spend months absorbing nutrients from the soil and then it releases those nutrients all at once into the fresh sprouts of the springtime. These sprouts contain the highest amount of nutrients and they have the smoothest and sweetest taste. S
Stage 2 - Ni bancha tea harvest
The second harvest of the year can be used to make slightly lower quality teas. This harvest usually takes place in the late spring or early summer and the tea plant hasn’t had quite enough time to store up nutrients from the soil. As a result, the later harvest sencha tea will have less nutrients and a slightly more bitter taste.
Stage 3 - San Bancha tea harvest
Most japanese sencha farmers will stop at the second harvest, but some will continue into the 3rd harvest or the “summer harvest”. This harvest is used to produce lower quality teas, like those used in teabags and bottled teas.
Stage 4 - Aki bancha tea harvest
Occasionally a producer of japanese sencha will decide to produce a fall harvest or Aki bancha. This occurs in October and it will produce the lowest grade of green tea. Some sencha tea farmers will harvest the leaves in the fall not to make a tea, but to make a mulch for the tea plant. By returning excess nutrients from the plant back to the soil, it allows the plant to build up for the next spring!
Sencha Tea Shading process
Another way to categorize sencha tea is based on shading. If a farmer wants to produce a sweeter tea, he will cover the tea plants in a type of netting before the harvest to block out the sun. Normally, the tea plant would convert theanine into catechins when it is exposed to sunlight, but when it is shaded it retains more sweet and savory theanine and minimizes the more bitter catechins.
Stage 1 - Unshaded
Unshaded sencha tea have full sun exposure throughout the growing process. This means that the plant maximizes the production of catechins, which it uses as a protection against the UV light. This creates a slightly drier, more astringent flavor in the tea. This doesn’t necessarily make unshaded sencha teas “worse” as some tea drinkers prefer to challenge their palate a bit with these more astringent flavors.
Stage 2 - Slightly Shaded
Sometimes a farmer wants to shade the tea plant for just a couple of days, to take away a little bit of the astringency. This is done by putting netting over the plants for around 1 week before the harvest. This creates a balance between the catechins and the theanine. An important thing to note is that some sencha teas are marked as “unshaded” when they are actually partially shaded. This has to do with their surroundings, as trees, tall mountains or even dense fog can provide partially shading at different times throughout the day.
Stage 3 - Long Shaded
If the tea plants are shaded for 10 days or more, they can be considered a kabuse sencha or a kabusecha. To be considered a gyokuro tea, the plants need to be shaded for 3 weeks or more. As a result, if a tea is called “kabuse sencha” it is likely shaded between 10-20 days. These teas have a smooth and sweet flavor, without the powerful umami flavor you get from a gyokuro tea.
Sencha Tea steaming methods
In addition to deciding how long to shade the tea, producers of japanese sencha have one more trick up their sleeve and that is the steaming process. While all japanese sencha green tea is steamed after the harvest, different teas are steamed for different times, producing surprisingly different results.
Asamushi sencha or short steamed sencha tea is made from leaves that have been steamed for just 20-40 seconds. In these sencha teas, you will find larger needles shapes and a slightly drier taste profile. The color of the liquor will be bright yellow and almost transparent.
These are the so called deep steamed sencha teas, made from leaves that have been steamed for between 80-200 seconds. During this time, the cell membranes of the leaf are broken down allowing more of the leaf to flow into the cup. Here you will see smaller leaves and the color will be a vibrant, cloudy green. The flavor of these fukamushi teas are juicier, with notes of tropical fruit, steamed vegetables and edamame.
Chumushi is a term you will rarely hear used to describe sencha tea, because it refers to the normal steaming time of between 40-80 seconds. If the teas doesn’t mention Asamushi or fukamushi, chances are it’s a “middle steamed” sencha tea with taste characteristics of both.
What do you need to prepare sencha green tea?
Unlike matcha, sencha green tea only requires 1 piece of teaware and that is the kyusu teapot. The kyusu teapot is the best tool for preparing Japanese green tea, offering a wide base for the leaves to unfurl and also a built in filter to sift them out as you pour.
The kyusu teapot also has a hollow side handle to make it easier to pour your sencha tea. All you need is a quick turn of the wrist to pour out the tea, and the hollow side handle keeps the teapot cool to the touch so you don't burn your hands.
Watch our complete Sencha Tea complete brewing guide
Step 1 - Water Ratio
For Japanese sencha, you will want to use a ratio of 5 grams of leaves to 150ml of water. This is not quite as extreme as the Chinese gongfu brewing method, but it creates a far more concentrated cup of tea compared to the western brewing style. At Nio, we believe that it is better to have a smaller amount of super flavorful tea than a larger quantity of more watered down tea. If you disagree, we can totally respect that!
Step 2 - Water temperature
For water temperature, you will want to use between 140-175 degrees fahrenheit. Use the lower end of the temperature spectrum for sweeter, shaded teas and the higher end for later harvests and bancha. The higher the water temperature, the more bitterness you will extract from the sencha tea, so make sure to keep it low if you are trying to produce a smooth and sweet cup of tea.
Step 3 - Brewing time
When it comes to brewing time, 1 minute is the perfect time for most types of sencha tea. The one exception is Fukamushi sencha, which can sometimes be okay with a 45 seconds steeping time. The deep steamed sencha teas have smaller leaf particles, which means they infuse quicker.