The most popular tea in Japan, sencha is a green tea with fresh, green color and taste. It is a whole-leaf tea that can be enjoyed hot or cold and makes up over half of Japan's yearly tea harvest.
- Origin: Japan
- Alternative Names: Japanese green tea
- Temperature: 170° F
- Caffeine: 20–30 mg per cup
What Is Sencha?
Sencha is a steamed green tea made from small-leaf Camellia sinensis (tea bushes). Japanese sencha tends to have a refreshing flavor that can be described as vegetal, green, seaweedy, or grassy. Flavors vary with different types of sencha and how they are brewed.
After picking, the processing of sencha green tea starts with a quick steam of the fresh tea leaves, preventing oxidization and locking in the green color and flavor. The leaves are then rolled, shaped, and dried.
Sencha teas are also produced in China, South Korea, and other countries, though the teas can differ greatly from their Japanese counterparts given the differences in tea plants and processing techniques used. These teas are frequently used for blending and have a more toasted, nutty flavor than grassy Japanese sencha.
Sencha is frequently consumed warm and at all hours of the day in Japan. With moderate to low levels of caffeine, it can provide a nice boost without keeping you up at night. With a vibrant green color and fresh flavor, it also makes a refreshing iced tea.
How to Drink Sencha
Senchadō is the traditional Japanese way of brewing and serving sencha green tea, and it involves a number of special tools and dishes. Entire rooms and buildings (tea halls) are dedicated to the art of tea brewing and drinking.
For casual, at-home enjoyment, use a ratio of 1 teaspoon tea to 1 cup pure, fresh water (not distilled). Japanese sencha teas prefer a lower brewing temperature of around 170 F—if you don't have a thermometer, use water that has just barely started to simmer. Sencha also requires a short brewing time. How long will depend upon the variety, how hot your water is, and how much tea you use. Some senchas are best with a 15- to 30-second steep, while others can handle up to 2 minutes.
Whole leaf tea is usually superior to tea bags, especially when drinking sencha. However, some high-quality whole leaf tea bags are available. Follow the brewing instructions on the box.
Infusing for too long and/or at too high of a temperature can give sencha tea a bitter flavor, overshadowing its fresh qualities. If your tea comes with brewing instructions, follow them closely for the best results. If you're infusing your tea more than once, try dropping your steep time a bit and using slightly hotter water for the second infusion, then brew the third infusion for a minute or two (slightly longer than the first infusion).
Caffeine Content in Sencha
Green tea, including sencha, contains a moderate amount of caffeine. Depending on the variety and brew, sencha can contain between 12 and 75 milligrams of caffeine, comparable to 80 to 200 milligrams of caffeine in a cup of coffee. Thanks to a short brew time, most cups hover around 20 to 30 milligrams. Chinese sencha, which is typically roasted, has lower levels of caffeine than most Japanese green teas. Shade-grown green tea has higher levels of caffeine.
When brewed properly, sencha is not highly acidic. A long brew time or water that is too hot can give the tea an astringent taste.
Buying and Storing
Sencha green tea can be found in grocery stores, Asian markets, health food stores, tea shops, and online. For an authentic experience, look for young sencha that is grown and harvested in Japan. The whole, rolled leaves will have a deep green appearance.
Store green tea in an airtight container away from heat and light. Sencha, especially tea picked early in the season, is best used within a few months. The tea won't go bad after this time, but it will lose some of its fresh flavor. Chinese sencha that has been roasted will keep for at least six months.
Sencha can be used for a variety of drink recipes and even a rice dish. Keep the recipes simple to best enjoy the tea's signature flavor.
Types of Sencha
There are several different types of sencha green tea, differentiated by when they are harvested, how they are processed, where they are grown, and more. Most are divided into categories based on their mushi, or how long they are steamed.
- Shincha: Also known as ichiban-cha or "new tea," shincha is sencha that was harvested in the spring at the beginning of the growing season. It tends to have a sweeter, more nuanced, and sometimes richer taste than other types of sencha. It is prized in Japan, and most shincha is sold inside the country.
- Asamushi: This is a lightly steamed form of sencha (about 20 to 30 seconds). All sencha tea is steamed during processing, but the length of steaming time varies. Lighter steaming will result in a lighter, cleaner, more delicate tea.
- Chumushi: This is another mushi of sencha. It lies in between asamushi and fukamushi sencha, and is usually steamed for 30 seconds to a minute.
- Fukamushi: It is steamed for at least 1 minute and sometimes longer. Due to a deeper steaming, it has more broken leaves than asamushi. Fukamushi sencha has a bold, oceanic flavor with less nuance and a correspondingly dark, rich green color.
- Powdered: Sencha that's powdered could be considered a variation on matcha, but unlike matcha, it isn't shade grown. It has a flavor that is vegetal and nice in springtime and works well for baking.