The Refining Process for Sencha
While the basic form of tea is already formed when it’s crude tea, it’s still too rough to be sold. In this form the tea still includes stems, powder, and buds, as well as small hardened balls formed when the tea is roasted, and other components. The tea is still high in moisture content, and it’s unsuitable for long-term storage at home.
Tea is sold as crude tea on the market to tea finishers. Our company buys most of our crude tea from the tea market in Kyoto. We take this tea and refine it into a state which can then be sold.
What is Refined Tea?
In the refining process, crude tea is dried further, its shape is fine-tuned, and it is generally refined. Tea which has undergone this refining process is known as ‘Refined Tea’. In refined tea, the taste, fragrance, and color of crude tea are even further polished, and the tea becomes easier to use and store.
This refining process is undertaken by tea processors who buy cude tea, and at refining departments of crude tea processing factories. The refining process includes putting them tea through a series of sieves, blending together several different teas, and heating the leaves to further dry them. Just as with crude tea, the senses of a tea master are more delicate than a computer, and during this process they will work to bring out the flavor of the tea as much as possible.
While crude tea can only be made when the tea is picked, consumers can buy their normal tea at any time of the year. Even beyond areas of tea production, tea is well loved, and people have many different preferences for their tea. Tea processors who refine tea work skillfully work to bridge these distances of time and place, bringing out the wonderful character of tea so that it can be enjoyed casually. Raw tea is stored in a large tea storehouse, where temperatures and other variables are carefully controlled to protect the delicious taste and freshness of the tea. They will then take out tea from this store to work to process it.
The crude tea is polished, and in it’s even tastier form as refined tea it finally reaches our hands.
●The Process of Making Refined Tea - working for the smiles of those who drink tea -
Through the refining process, crude tea is processed into the final product drunk by consumers. The steps for processing are few, and they can be done at any time during the year, not just right after the tea harvesting season.
Steps for Refining Sencha
*Depending on the type of tea, and the processing plant, the steps are a bit different.
1. Sorting, and sifting
While crude tea may appear homogenous, when put through a sieve it’s easy to see that it’s a mix of various shapes of leaves and stems. When sifting, various sieves of different sizes are used to simply sort leaves by length and thickness. Leaves known as atamacha which are too big are cut and then put back, while the other parts are also adjusted to appropriate amounts and returned.
However, some parts are not returned to the mix, and are instead used for other purposes. For example fuwa, or floating leaves, can easily get stuck in the tea strainer of a teapot, so they are removes, arako, or rough powder, is used for Konacha, and hard leaves and stems are used for Bancha.
For blends, teas from different seasons or places are mixed together to create teas with well balanced flavors, fragrances, and color. This allows producers to provide teas to fit the varied preferences of consumers throughout the year. Black tea is typically blended, and most Japanese green tea is as well. This is a step which has an especially large effect on flavor, and it’s a great show of a tea master’s skill.
To be specific, there are many things which are considered when making a blend. When tea is in season it’s continually made, but during that period of time it also the characteristics of the tea slowly change as well. It also changes with the area of production and the type of tea. Even in the same field, at the same time of year, the tea could have good color but weak flavor, or it could have strong umami but be difficult to brew. Depending on the blend, you could take a tea with good brewed color, a tea with a strong umami flavor, and a tea with bright astringency, blend them together, and create a beautiful everyday tea with beautiful taste and color. This requires great skill in judging the qualities of tea, and it’s an important part of the job for the tea masters who work for each tea shop.
While crude tea is made up with 5% water, it is further dried to reduce this to 3%. In the old days, special drying shelves heated with charcoal fires were used. Today, hot wind is blow at the leaves, or they’re placed on a heated metal sheet to dry.
When the tea is then roasted, it improves the glossy color of the leaves, and also increases the fragrance. The color of premium Sencha is deepened through roasting, and it gains a glossy look. During the roasting process, the sound of the leaves colliding slowly turns to a genteel rustling sound. The amount of roasting directly affects the taste of the tea, which is why it is so important. Our company uses a small infrared emitting flame, gradually ramping up the intensity to create a unique taste.
The refined tea is weighed, and packaged in bags or cans. These are then sent directly to our customers. If tea leaves are exposed to light, oxygen, or heat, the quality will be degraded. This is why tea is typically sealed with nitrogen in highly opaque plastic bags. Our company strives to packaged our tea in small batches so that we can provide the freshest possible tea to our customers. Our tea is also stored in a cool refrigerator to prevent degradation of quality.
These are the many steps tea goes through before it reaches the consumer.