The World Is a Tea Party Presents: Your Guide to Japanese Teas – Teas S

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More on Senchas (煎茶)

Also called: “roasted tea”    “broiled tea”

The first picking for sencha (shincha) is done from March to the end of May, and after that new shoots and leaf buds begin to grow.

Most common, everyday tea in Japan. This tea has almost a needle-shaped appearance and a dark green color. It can also refer to tea leaves that are unshaded when compared to shaded teas such as gyokuro and kabusecha.

Sencha makes up about 3/4 of overall green tea production in Japan. The first flush of sencha is called shincha meaning “new tea”. It’s hand-picked on the 43rd day of spring, thus is rare and enjoyed for only a brief period each year. Another variety of Sencha is Matcha-iri Sencha which is a mix of Matcha and Sencha.

The sencha rolling method was invented by Uji tea producer Soen Nagatani in the mid 17th century. His new technique produced a brothy tea with a mellow taste that quickly be-came popular with Japanese tea drinkers for every day.

Compared with matcha, gyokuro, and hojicha, sencha is more astringent with a relatively higher concentration of tannin. The sharpness of sencha makes it an ideal palate refresher before and after a meal.

The flavor, color, and general quality of sencha is highly variable, and depends not only on origin but also season and the leaf processing practices locally employed. Later harvests of sencha have more bitter qualities, a more robust flavor, generally less aroma, and tea leaves that are generally less uniform. To prevent bitterness, infuse using water heated well below boiling.

Components of Sencha

The main water-soluble components

  • Tannin – the source of the tea’s astringency
  • Caffeine – the source of its bitterness
  • Theanine (an amino acid) – the source of its flavor
  • Vitamin C – the highest concentration per unit weight of all the green teas

Also rich in Vitamin E and catechins.

Sencha, depending on the season of harvest and cultivation process, will have a mix of catechins that create astringency and amino acids (particularly L-theanine) that create a sweet-savory combination.

How Sencha Is Made

Much is said of the shincha, the earliest becoming available in April in the south of Japan, and sold because of its high vita-min content, sweetness and superior flavor. Most regions make a number of kinds of sencha, which are named accord-ing to the kind of processing used. Sencha is the tea most likely to be offered in a Japanese household or restaurant. Certainly sencha is starting to appear outside of Japan in food stores, specialist food shops and even supermarkets. The high-er grades of sencha are available from some tea merchants, but the best teas remain largely unobtainable.

The leaves of the upper shoots (which are younger) are higher quality than those of the lower shoots.

Once the tea leaves have been picked, they are steamed less than one minutes to prevent oxidation. This process  is the main difference between Japanese and Chinese green tea (which is pan-fried instead of steamed).

Then, the leaves are dried and rolled. The leaves attain the needle shape and the juices inside them are released so that the taste is intensified.

How to Steep Sencha

  • For best results, use a Japanese teapot.
  • Heat the water to just before the boiling point (158ºF) in a tea kettle.
  • Add sencha to the teapot – one teaspoon of sencha (4 grams) per cup.
  • Pour water into the teapot and let steep for one minute.
  • Serve the tea in each cup, pouring a little into each one and going around until each is filled.
Sencha before and after steeping - Dark green and mostly whole leaf pieces when dry turns to bright green after steeping. You can do multiple infusions from the amount shown here.
Sencha before and after steeping – Dark green and mostly whole leaf pieces when dry turns to bright green after steeping. You can do multiple infusions from the amount shown here.

Sencha Varieties

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More on Shincha (新茶)

Also called: “new tea”

New harvest tea or first-flush sencha tea of the season. Some vendors only use this term for the very first tea of the new year. Others use it for the first flush of each season (Spring, Summer, Autumn). This tea is often hand picked and specially processed for tea competitions, so finding it on the market can be very difficult as well as expensive. The competition winners can wholesale for as much as $2,000 per kilogram (about half a pound).

The best is characterized by fluorescent green color, has an absolutely fresh taste, fresh aroma, sweetness and a wonderful scent. A good shincha is the highest goal of a tea farmer, the heart of his craft. Many learn the process of picking and production from their parents. Only a tea farmer with lots of experience can produce a good shincha.

Only the ichibancha that is sold specifically in celebration of the first pick of the year is called shincha. Use of the term “shincha” generally is to emphasize that it is that year’s earliest tea, and is timely and seasonal.

The remarkable fresh aroma of Shincha comes from a type of natural alcohol, the leaf alcohol that is found in fresh green tea leaves though a few hundred kinds of ester constituents create the refreshing aroma. This special leaf alcohol is only in Japanese green tea. The leaf alcohol is created by linolenic acid, a kind of fatty acid. The most leaf alcohol is in Shincha or “ichibancha” (the first tea of the year) since the fatty acids build up during the period between the autumn harvest and the first harvest. Leaf alcohol easily evaporates because it is volatile. Shincha retains its leaf alcohol only a few months, even if Shincha is specially finished and stored. Plus, if tea leaves are not allowed enough time to dry during the finishing process, the tea can easily deteriorate.

This leaf alcohol is not an intoxicant. It gives the tea a comfortable aroma of a lush green forest after rain and relaxes your mind and body. Infuse with water heated to a slightly higher temperature than normal for green tea.

Shincha / Sincha Varieties

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