“Sencha” (pronounced “sen-chŭ“) is the name of the most popular of all of the green teas in Japan. It’s name actually means “common tea” and is a staple in most Japanese households. Sencha, however, is everything but! Sencha is by far my favorite and it’s probably why I started with it first! It has a very light bitter taste along with a slight sweetness. Lower quality Sencha tea is called Bancha. Over seventy five percent of all tea grown and harvested on Japanese tea plantations is Sencha. This green tea preferred because of it’s tanginess and fresh qualities complemented by a leaf of high uniformity and deep emerald hue. Sencha was once prepared by roasting but today Sencha is steam treated before further processing with hot-air drying* (see article on the right) and is finally pan-fried as a final step. Sencha is also referred to as I-chi Ban Cha, or “the number one pick”.
Where Sencha is grown: Most arable regions of Japan grow a number of different kinds of Sencha and they are commonly named according to the kind of processing used. Needle leaf Sencha is processed in Shizuoka and in the Yame region of Fukuoka. In other areas, including Kyushu, the comma-shaped leaf form is processed.
Popularity of Sencha: Sencha is the most common type of green tea grown in Japan. It is made from the young leaves of uncovered plants. Over three quarters of all tea produced in Japanese tea gardens is Sencha. It is the green tea most likely to be offered in a Japanese household or restaurant. The higher grades of Sencha are widely available both in and outside of the borders of Japan. Most of the Sencha grown in China is grown especially for export to Japan because of it’s high popularity.
Qualities of Flavor and Aroma: The flavor, color and quality of Sencha varies, depending not only on origin but also season and leaf processing practices employed. Later harvests of Sencha have more bitter and astringent qualities, a more robust flavor and a less pronounced aroma than those harvested earlier in the growing season.
The earliest season Shincha (the first month’s Sencha harvested crop) is available is in April in the southern regions of Japan, and is highly prized for its high vitamin content, sweet taste and superior flavor. After that first crop is harvested it is believed that the soil has been leached of a sufficient amount of nutrients to degrade the taste of the rest of the seasons crops.
Types of Sencha green tea:
Shincha tea represents the first years harvest of Sencha. Over three quarters of all tea produced in Japanese tea gardens is Sencha, a tea selected for its pleasant sharpness and fresh qualities complementing a leaf of high uniformity and rich emerald color. Today Sencha is steam treated before further processing with hot-air drying and finally pan-frying.
Where Sencha is grown: Most regions make a number of different kinds of Sencha, which are named according to the various methods of processing used. Needle leaf Sencha is processed in Shizuoka and in the Yame region of Fukuoka. In other areas, including Kyushu, the comma-shaped leaf form is processed.
Popularity of Shincha: Available for a limited time during the first crop of tea it is popular in Japan and is available in only limited amounts outside of it.
Qualities of Flavor and Aroma: The earliest season Shincha (first month’s Sencha harvest) is available in April in the south of Japan, and prized for its high vitamin content, sweetness and superior flavor.
Genmaicha is the Japanese name for green tea combined with roasted brown rice. It is sometimes referred to colloquially as “popcorn tea”.
Processing: Genmaicha is a blend of bancha green tea and Genmai (roasted rice grain). The proportioning of tea to rice is important, the more aromatic Genmaicha teas have a higher amount of rice. Other blends are known including Matcha and Genmaicha. The tea can be infused with high temperature water and for longer infusion periods than most Japanese teas.
Where Genmaicha is grown: Produced in almost every tea-producing region.
Popularity of Genmaicha: A very common beverage in Japan, Genmaicha can be drunk late into the evening without disturbing sleep. The tea is said to help digestion, and is often served after a meal in Japan. Genmaicha are seen as a modest source of vitamin B1 and like bancha and hojicha contain less caffeine.
Qualities of Flavor and Aroma: The flavor of Genmaicha is a mixture of green tea and roasted rice. The roasted aroma of genmai in tea has the effect of lightening the bitterness of the lower grade sencha. The brown rice gives the tea a nutty flavor. Like green tea, genmaicha should be prepared using hot, but not boiling, water.
Unlike most Sencha cultivated in un-shaded gardens exposed to direct sunlight, Kabuse-cha Sencha requires shading tea plants a few weeks prior to harvest. Special nets (Kabusé) are hung over the plants to obtain a natural shade without completely letting out sunlight.
Qualities of Flavor and Aroma: Kabuse-cha Sencha has a mellower flavor and more subtle color than Sencha grown in direct sunlight. The taste is a little sweeter and has a particularly fresh and “shady” or “fruity” aftertaste. To steep one should use lower water temperatures (about 65-70°C) with pure water.
Where Sechibaru is grown: Grown in Sechibaru located in the hills north of the town where tea is grown to an elevation of up to 450m. Kabusecha is mostly prepared in the Kagoshima district and is called “The champagne of Japanese green teas” by some.
Popularity of Sechibaru: Produced in very limited amounts, it may be hand harvested and the best of the crop is costly.
Kamairicha teas do not undergo the usual steam treatments. After a short withering, they are fired in hot iron pans of up to 300°C with repeated agitation to prevent charring. The different rolling techniques used produce teas of different leaf form. Kamairicha is processed as a pellet or a flat leaf.
Regions: Several southern regions are known for making fine Kamairicha. Sechibaru and Ureshino are two of the most respected for their pan-fried manufacturing process.
Popularity of Kamairicha: Kamairicha is generally not available in the West, however a few specialist tea merchants are making this tea more well known.
Qualities of Flavor and Aroma: This Kamairi process develops sweet, mildly roasted flavors, which are very similar to the pan-fried teas produced in China today. It is sometimes referred to as ‘Chinese green tea’ by the Japanese because of the pan-frying process utilized.