Sencha is Japan's most popular type of tea, both within Japan and abroad. It is a steamed green tea made from small-leaf camellia sinensis bushes or Yabukita (North of the Bamboo Forest). During processing, it is rolled into a needle-like shape, steamed, dried, sorted, and blended.
In recent years, "Sencha" teas have been produced in China, South Korea, and other countries, though some question the authenticity of these teas given the differences in tea plants and processing techniques used.
What Does Sencha Taste Like?
Sencha tends to have a refreshing flavor that can be described as vegetal, green, oceanic, seaweed-y or grassy. Flavors vary with different types of Sencha. If you find it to be harsh or overpoweringly grassy, it may be that you are brewing it wrong or buying low-quality Sencha.
How to Make Sencha
A ratio of one teaspoon tea to one cup good quality water is a good place to start. Generally speaking, Sencha teas prefer a lower brewing temperature. Water that has just started to simmer is usually ideal. Also, very short brewing times are preferred for Sencha. Start around 20 seconds and see what you think. Some Senchas are best with about a 15- second steep, while others can handle even 90 seconds.
All that said, some very high quality, organic Senchas can taste perfectly lovely when made with boiling or near-boiling water. They don't taste the same as they do when prepared with a lower temperature, but they can still be quite nice.
If you're infusing them more than once, try dropping your steep time somewhat for the second infusions, then bringing it back up for the third and lengthening it a little more for subsequent infusions.
Types of Sencha
There are several different types of Sencha green tea, including:
- Shincha -- Also known as Ichiban-cha or New Tea, this is Sencha that was harvested in the spring. It tends to have a sweeter, more nuanced, and sometimes richer, more umami-filled taste than other types of Sencha.
- Asamushi Sencha -- This is a lightly steamed form of Sencha. All Sencha tea is steamed during processing, but the length of time for steaming varies. Different levels of steaming are different "mushi"s. Lighter steaming will result in a lighter, cleaner, more delicate, more astringent flavor, as well as a lighter color.
- Fukamushi Sencha -- Fukamushi Sencha is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Asamushi Sencha. Made with around 90 seconds of steaming, it's as deep-steamed as a Sencha can get. Due to a deeper steaming, it has more broken leaves than the needle-like Asamushi Sencha. Fukamushi Sencha has a bold, oceanic flavor with less nuance, and a correspondingly dark, rich color when it is dry and when it is infused. It also has a thick mouthfeel and buttery aroma and flavor that some associate with Gyokuro green tea. Like Bancha, it can be good for pairing with food.
- Chumushi Sencha -- This is the third "mushi" of Sencha. It lies in between Asamushi Sencha and Fukamushi Sencha and is steamed for around one minute.
- Genmaicha and Genmaimatcha -- These two types of teas can be made with Sencha or Bancha. Some are high grades even made with Shincha! They are both teas that are mixed with toasted brown rice. Sometimes, the kernels of rice pop when they are toasted, giving Genmaicha the nickname "popcorn tea". Genmaimatcha is a variation on Genmaicha that is dusted with a small amount of Matcha or powdered Sencha.
- Powdered Sencha -- This tea could be considered to be a variation on Matcha. Unlike Matcha, it isn't shade grown. It has a flavor that is vegetal and nice in springtime. It also works well for cooking with tea.
- Uji Sencha -- Uji Sencha comes from the famous Uji region of Japan. This small area is mainly known for its Matcha and Gyokuro, and it tends to be quite expensive.
- Shizuoka Sencha -- This is my favorite region for Sencha. It tends to be mostly Asamushi Sencha blended with a bit of Chumushi and/or Fukamushi Sencha (for color in the infusion). Opt for the higher elevation Asamushi Sencha, as it's produced more sustainably and tastes much better than the monocropped stuff from the lowlands.
- Kyushu Sencha -- Kagoshima and other southern parts of Japan also produce quite a bit of Sencha. Much of it is monocropped and not that great, but some of it is organic, and a few tea producers there are experimenting with making Sencha from different tea varietals. Keep a lookout and you may find some great teas from this area.
Where to Buy Sencha
Full Disclosure: the writer has previously done freelance work for In Pursuit of Tea and Samovar Tea Lounge.
- Lemon-Ginger Sencha Recipe -- You can also use Houjicha or Kukicha to make this, but I prefer it with Sencha. It can be made hot or iced.
- Green Tea Vodka Recipe -- This recipe added a complex, citrusy, peppery taste that was unexpected and invigorating, yet clean and easy to mix into cocktails.
- Green Tea Smoothie Recipe -- This recipe doesn't specify which type of green tea to use, but Sencha works very well, especially if you use strawberries.