What is Japanese Sencha?

Wednesday, 17 July 2019  |  The Tea Makers of London

What is Japanese Sencha tea?

Japanese Sencha - the world renowned healthy green tea, offering that succulent and fresh taste that keeps you drinking more and more! As well as being rich in vitamins, this tea also has a wealth of Japanese tea history, dating back to the 8th century! Read more on how this great tea changed-up the traditional tea ceremony; how it is meticulously produced, and how it is best brewed for that full, grassy flavour.

Delving into Sencha's History

Sencha tea consumption began many years ago, when tea ceremonies were implicated with religion; and yes, Sencha is greatly linked to the ever-popular and untimely green tea powder, Matcha. As time evolved, Sencha tea made its way over to the Western world, freshening our brews with its green tea goodness and history.

But, where did it all begin?

According to records, Japanese diplomats brought tea into the country during the 8th century, after a visit to China. This is during the year 729,  where tea was served  as a gift to the monks at a Buddhist ceremony by the Emperor Shomu, the 45th Emperor of Japan.   At this time, tea was only available to Japanese nobility and the Buddhist monks.

During the Heian period, (from 794 - 1185) tea was made from dried and steamed tea leaves ground into a powder. This was the introduction of Matcha.  However, as tea captivated warriors and artistocratic societies, it became popular beyond the temples and palace for celebrations and parties. This growth took away the spiritual implications initially associated with the tea ceremony, until Chanoyu was introduced years later.

In the 15th century, Chanoyu was implemented by founder, Juro Murata. He wanted to bring the mindful Buddhist teachings and humble considerations back to the Matcha tea ceremonies; he created a special room for chanoyu to take place, where the act of tea followed a certain order. In his tea ceremony, he introduced four values:

- Kin, humble reverence

- Kei, respect for the food and drink

- Sei, purifying of both body and spirit

- Ji, a Buddhist teaching, being mindful and denoting ease

It wasn't until the end of the 16th century that this refined ritual was fully established. Tea was practised as it first had been in year 729, until Sencha tea came along.

A tea farmer, named Soen Nagatani, invented the breakthrough processing of green tea without the shading of the leaves.

His mission: to roll and dry the leaves at the same time, which was unheard of before! This was later called the Temomi process, which we will explore below.

His result after 15 years of trial and error: Sencha green tea.

Nagatani wanted to sell his fresh tea revelation and travelled to the cultural hub of Edo (Tokyo). There, it became very popular with the locals, in particular with a man, Yamamoto Kahei, who owned a tea shop called Yamamotoya. As demand grew for Sencha, so did the tea shop owner's relationship with Nagatani; yearly, he bought more of his tea, and both Nagatani and Yamamoto became wealthy.

During the 17th century, a new tea drinking ceremony became popular amongst the Japanese intellectuals - an informal Sencha tea ceremony. Rather appreciating religion, these ceremonies were created to appreciate the arts, philosophy, education and politics. Drinking Sencha tea then became the new craze and to this day, it is the most popular tea in Japan - representing about 80 percent of Japanese tea production. 

The Process 

Sencha Processing

Nagatani's traditional Temomi process involved meticulous hand-rolling, which is the work of machines in our modern world. The basics of the Temomi process involve:

 

  • Steaming

When producing Japanese Sencha green tea, the leaves are not ground as with other teas. It is slightly steamed to prevent oxidisation of the leaves. Once steaming has finished, the leaves are carried to a drying table (hoirou). Placed in top is a large sheet of paper (jotan) which is the surface for the leaves to be rolled. However nowadays,  electricity or gas is used to complete this first step.

  • Haburui - first step of Rolling

This is when the tea leaves are dropped into the jotan numerous times. It can take between 30-50 minutes, and by this time, the weight of the leaves decreases by roughly 30%.

  • Kaitenmomi 

At this point, there is moisture inside the leaf that differs from the outer layer, which is the tea's natural flavour. A rolling technique (kaitenmomi) is used to aid this.

  • Tamatoki 

The leaves are now rolled with little pressure, horizontally. This helps loosen any lumps that have been formed.

  • Momikir 

The leaves continue to be rolled, but by this point, the hand-rolling motion changes to in the middle of the palm. Once enough moisture has gone, they are then dropped into the jotan.

  • Dengurimomi 

This is when the leaves are rolled against each other. During this moment, this is when the typical dark green colour of the leaves takes form.

  • Shiagemomi - last step of Rolling

Reaching the last crucial rolling step now, focus is on attaining the customary needle-shape of the leaves. This is done by dividing the leaves in the jotan into different sections and rolling them with both hands. This ensures the tea leaves are rolled evenly. 

  • Drying (hot-air drying)

Originally, Nagatani used a furnace for this step. The tea leaves are evenly spread on a 70 jotan, with a hole made in the middle. This is crucial, as the space stops the heat from burning the leaves. This step allows the long term preservation of the leaves, capturing their grassy, distinctive flavour..

  • Sorting

The last step of the sencha process is sorting. This is when the stray stems, buds and flakes are filtered out, with the Japanese tea philosophy in mind - to respect the tea plant and to use all of the harvest.

 

The flavour of the tea develops during the different season of the year. The First Flush, spring picked Sencha is considered to be the most delicious and fine version of the tea, as Nagatani also realised during his findings.

The flavour also varies from region to region. At The Tea Makers, we work very closely with the producers of this tea and import only the very best quality Sencha.

How best to brew

Our expert tea tasters have found the best way for you to brew our Sencha tea:

  • Boil 200ml of water at 80 degrees. Use filtered water to enhance the flavour. 
  • Add 2-3g (1 teaspoon) of tea to an infuser or teapot.
  • Brew for 2 minutes. 
  • Pour and enjoy!

 

The Tea Makers' Sencha

  • Japanese Sencha, No.51

This Great Taste award-winning Sencha from Ise Bay imparts a delicate yellowish-green liquor that has a grassy, sweet and mildly astringent flavour. 

The dry leaf has a distinctively sweet and fresh aroma with a subtle hint of grassy meadow and fresh spring air. The brewed tea has a transparent green hue with reflections of sunny yellow and  imparts a grassy and sweet flavour with a light, umami astringency.

Ise Bay in Mie Prefecture, Japan has been producing high-quality tea over 800 years!

 

 

This finest quality Sencha Supreme green tea from Ise Bay in Mie Prefecture, Japan is our most revered, award-winning tea. The supreme quality of this exquisite loose leaf tea is delicately cultivated by our exceptionally talented Japanese tea farmers, whose tea expertise has been passed from generation to generation for over 800 years.

The fresh sea breeze of the bay area is reflected in the tea’s complex flavour and intoxicating aroma.

Information for Tea Connoisseurs 

Sencha green tea is the most popular tea in Japan, representing about 80 percent of Japanese tea production. The Japanese enjoy Sencha hot in the cooler months of winter and chilled during the hot months of summer.

We work very closely with our Japanese tea farmers to ensure that only the most exceptional and high-quality tea leaves end up in your teacup. Supreme Sencha is grown in full sunlight and is delicately handpicked by skilled tea farmers. When producing Japanese Sencha green tea, the leaves are not ground as with other teas.  It is slightly steamed to prevent oxidization of the leaves. Then, the leaves are rolled, shaped, and dried. This step creates the customary, thin and cylindrical shape of the tea leaf which has a very fine and fragile structure. Finally, after drying, the leaves are fried to aid in their preservation and to add flavour.

  

 

 

Health Benefits

A cup of Sencha is exceptionally beneficial for your health! Here's why:

  • It is rich in Vitamins C and E
  • It contains high amounts of catechin/'free radicals' - an antioxidant that helps prevent genetic/cellular damage by neutralizing unstable molecules in the body
  • It is thought to do wonders for the skin
  • It is known to help facilitate weight loss
  • It is known to help prevent tooth decay and bad breath

 

For more information on Sencha green tea, please do email us at tea@theteamakers.co.uk!

 

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The Tea Makers of London