Among the many Rokucha teas, Sencha is well known as one of the most commonly drunk varieties. As an especially ubiquitous drink in Japan, there are also many varieties of Sencha available for sale in plastic bottles.
Typically tea is a product produced when raw tea leaves raised on a farm are further processed. From the time they are picked, raw tea leaves begin to change through oxidation (and fermentation), but when fresh Rokucha is processed with heat, this process stops the oxidation, and makes the tea non-fermenting. That’s why tea leaves are taken to a tea processing plant immediately on the day they were picked.
The process undertaken at this facility is the standard process for Japanese Rokucha, wherein the raw tea leaves are heat-treated, the shape of the leaves is organized, and they are dehydrated to a point where they can be stored.
One of the types of tea under the umbrella of Rokucha is Sencha. One of the method for the farming of tea involves putting a cover over the tea field to shade the plants from the sun.
This sun cover is placed from April or May when buds first appear, and left until just before the tea is picked, and this cover over the plants is placed in order to allow the plants the new buds to grow in dim light. The covers deflect from 70% to 90% of the natural light, and this is changed depending on the growing environment. Rokucha can be categorized depending on the amount of sunlight deflected.
On average, leaves shaded for over 20 days will be used for Matcha or Tencha. Tea from plants covered for around seven days is known as Kabusecha, and tea from plants which have barely been covered is Sencha.
## Unique Qualities of the Taste of Sencha
For Sencha, new leaf buds are exposed to the sun as they grow. This is why each year Sencha is the first tea to be ready for sale, and the vast majority of all tea available as Shincha (or freshly grown tea) is Sencha.
Compared to Matcha and Gyokuro, Sencha undergoes much more photosynthesis. When tea leaves undergo photosynthesis, it increases the amount of Catechin they contain. This adds a bit of astringency to their flavor, and helps produce a strong fragrance.
Catechin has highly antioxidant properties which are beneficial to health and beauty, which is why it is receiving attention now. Matcha and Gyokuro also contain Catechin, but Sencha contains higher levels, which is why Sencha is such a popular choice among those who drink green tea for health reasons. (However Gyokuro and Matcha are also rich in vitamins and Theanine, which are beneficial for health and beauty as well.)
## The Tastiest Way to Drink Sencha
Low quality Sencha has a strong astringent flavor, and high quality Sencha has well balanced astringency and umami. The umami is different from that of Gyokuro, and Sencha has a lighter mouth feel, and is more fragrant.
According to our company’s guidelines, the proper way to brew a high quality Sencha which costs over ¥2,000 per 100 g is as follows.
Temperature: 70 degrees Celsius
Tea leaves: 8 g (about 2 tablespoons)
Amount of hot water: 80 ml
Brewing time: 1 minute
We recommend the following method for brewing lower quality Sencha.
Temperature: 80 - 90 degrees Celsius
Tea leaves: 6 g (about 1.5 tablespoons)
Amount of hot water: 80 ml
Brewing time: 30 - 50 seconds
* For tea with small tea leaves, 30 seconds is plenty of brewing time for the flavor to come out. For tea with larger leaves, 50 to 60 seconds is a good estimate.
## A Detailed Explanation of the Flavor of Sencha
The flavor of Sencha is a balance between astringency and umami, and a cooling after tastes is said to be good.
There are many varieties of Japanese tea, including Gyokuro, Sencha, Bancha, Hojicha, and others, but all of these types contain tannins (catechin) which give them their bitterness and astringency, caffeine which lends bitterness, amino acids which give umami and sweetness, and sugars which lend sweetness.
For Sencha, the balance between the bitter astringency of the tannins, and the umami from the amino acids is thought to be especially important.
Premium teas like Gyokuro or high-quality Sencha contain a large amount of amino acids and their strong umamir is prized, where as more common teas like Bancha and Hojicha contain fewer amino acids, ideally giving them a clean astringency and a cooling taste.
This is why premium Sencha is best brewed with cooler water of about 70 degrees celsius. Tannins aren’t easily released except at high temperatures, so this reduces tannins, while releasing and highlighting the flavor of the amino acids, which can still be released at lower temperatures.
A larger amount of tea compared to water is used, and the brewing time is lengthened to a leisurely 2 minutes, creating a stronger flavor, while about 50 ml of liquid per person is used.
On the other hand, when brewing a standard Sencha, hot water of about 80 to 90 degrees is used, encouraging the release of tannins. At the same time, the amount of tea leaves compared with water is decreased and the brewing time is shortened by a minute, creating a slightly lighter brew with more tannins. More liquid is used for standard Sencha than for premium Sencha as well, with 80 ml per person.