The Ultimate Guide To Japanese Sencha Tea (2021)
Perhaps the face of Japanese loose leaf green tea. Let your Japanese tea journey start.
This article was last modified November 24th, 2021. by Yuki
Many green teas claim that they are Sencha when in actuality they aren't. Don't be fooled, the true Sencha is a powerful and graceful tea which is carefully prepared for the perfect mindfulness moment. Learn all about the TRUE meaning of Sencha here.
What is Sencha?
Sencha Leaves in a spoon
If you're new to Japanese green tea, Sencha is a great place to start - let's take a look at why.
Firstly, with Sencha you can enjoy a great balance of the sweetness, umami, astringent and bitter tastes of green tea. Hence, you'll be enjoying both the umami component and the astringent component of the green tea at the same time.
If you're more used to Chinese green tea, some of these concepts may be new to you. With Japanese green tea, you enjoy the full-bodied taste that comes with the Umami, and also a sense of thickness that comes from the astringency of the tea. Quality Japanese tea really hits the mouth with power and the thickness rolls down your throat as you consume. This is in contrast to many Chinese tea which has more aroma but a lighter hit to the mouth.
One of the keys about enjoying Japanese green tea is actually enjoying this pleasurable thickness of the tea, as well as the astringent side of the taste. Sencha gives you a great introduction to this.
Secondly, it's a very accessible option of Japanese green tea - even outside of Japan! It is the most commonly consumed type of tea in Japan. However, just because it's highly accessible doesn't mean that the quality is low - In fact, Sencha use leaves from the first or second harvest of the year, which is generally much higher in quality.
But be careful! The term "Sencha" is used vague and wide. You may not be getting true Sencha even if it says "Sencha" on the package. (Especially in some of the teabags you'll find!) We'll touch on this more later.
Thirdly, it is a refreshing and healthy drink that contains no calories on top of an array of great health benefits, making it a great candidate for your "everyday Japanese green tea" choice. A habit of drinking a cup after dinner can provide a slew of benefits - as it contains high levels of Catechin. We'll look into some of the details of Catechin and it's health benefits below.
The name "Sencha" in Japanese actually means "infused tea". It's a straightforward name that references how it is prepared.
What does Sencha smell like?
Let's dive a little bit deeper into the characteristics. First the aromatics.
The first thing you may notice - even before taking a sip - is the aroma. It's the greenish fresh scent of the tea leaves. You'll find it has the freshness and rawness in the leaves as if they were just freshly picked.
The levels of fresh aroma is strong in a Sencha. It is higher than say, a Bancha. As a matter of fact, the aroma will reduce significantly if you look for lower quality teas.
As compared to a Chinese green tea, you won't be getting the high flower notes in a Sencha. They tend to be more of the fresh vegetal green notes, and a ocean-air breeze that's driven by the umami. The aroma may seem more wet and contained in a Japanese green tea.
How about the taste?
Next, the taste.
You'll taste the rich balance - with the umami and sweetness, but also the pleasurable astringent and bitter tastes as well. This balance will be different depending on the grade of the Sencha.
In a high-grade Sencha, you'll get a powerful "Umami hit". It's a thick savory taste that then brings out this subtle sweetness in the mouth. The Japanese producers of tea are really focused on bringing out this umami texture in the tea. Therefore, higher the grade, the more umami you will get. The astringency components will be lower, therefore the thickness of the tea is primarily produced by the power of the umami in your mouth.
In a lower-grade Sencha, the umami levels will reduce. They will not have the Theanine, which is the compound responsible for the umami taste, as much as a high-grade Sencha. Instead it will have higher amount of astringency. The astringency is produced by a somewhat bitterness that gives a pulling texture in the mouth. For the lower grade tea, this texture will be contributing to the thickness in the tea.
Again this is in stark contrast with the Chinese green tea which has more of a light taste.
So why does Sencha have these rich characteristics?
The secret to the richness of the tea lies in the cultivation process of the tea leaves used for Sencha. How a normal tea plantation works is that they will harvest the tea leaves about 3-4 times throughout the course of the year. They will start roughly from around spring time to harvest their first tea, which is called the Shincha or the Ichibancha, and the final harvest ending up around autumn or winter.
Because the tea trees will build and store the nutrients during winter, they will have a stockpile of nutrients by the time the first harvesting will take place. The more the nutrients, the richer the tea. Theanine is one of these nutrients.
This results in the tea leaves harvested in the earlier parts of the year having the most nutrients by far. The end product will have richer aroma and higher levels of umami.
So in summary here - and well, this can be said for all types of Japanese green tea - is that the earlier the harvest the higher the quality of green tea.
The Sencha - going by its accurate narrow definition - use leaves from the first or second harvest periods, allowing for this fine aroma and rich umami.
The astringent taste comes from a nutrient called Catechin. This is a nutrient that tea leaves generate from Theanine when they are exposed to sunlight. Since the cultivation method of Sencha allows full exposure of the leaves to the sun, a high level of Catechin is produced. This is different compared to the likes of Gyokuro or Kabuse-cha which restrict the sun from hitting the leaves.
The Health Benefits of Sencha
Why is Sencha considered such a healthy drink?
Apart from the obvious of being zero calories and a great substitute for sugared drinks (unless you mix it with sugar of course!), it also contains a great mix of nutrients coming from the tea tree.
One most important nutrients is one we touched on already - it's Catechin.
Catechin is a type of polyphenol, and has a multitude of health benefits.
It starts with the anti-oxidation effects that it possesses - which is up to more than 10 times that of Vitamin C or E!
On top of this, Catechin also....
- facilitates reducing body fat
- reducing blood cholesterol
- inhibits high blood pressure
- bad breath prevention
- prevents tooth decay
Well, the great thing is... Japanese green tea (including sencha) is absolutely loaded with Catechin!
Catechin is not the only notable nutrient in Sencha. There are Theanine, Vitamin C, and others. I'll dig in deeper into the wonders of Catechin and other nutrients here.
About the term "Sencha"
Narrow and Broad Definitions of Sencha
Shin-cha / Ichiban-cha
How best to enjoy Sencha?
Here is some guidelines on how to brew Sencha.
Water temperature and brewing time
|Normal-Grade Sencha||High-Grade Sencha|
Leaves (roughly in teaspoons)
Brewing time (Seconds)
Chart: Instructions for brewing Sencha
Take 2 teaspoons (4g) of leaves to prepare for 200 ml of water. The temperature of the water is important when brewing Japanese green tea. For a high-quality sencha's case, brew the tea for 90 seconds with hot water of 70 degrees Celsius.
It's important that you don't directly use boiling water. If the water is too hot, the astringent and bitter tastes may become too strong.
You should also check the package for information on how to brew the tea, as the recommended temperature is different depending on the grade of the Sencha.
However, depending on the pack (including the pack of some of the Sencha we carry as well) the instructions will be vague and may say something like "between 70 and 80 degrees".
Don't let that fool you. Don't underestimate the difference of tea brewed at 70 degrees and 80 degrees. The taste will actually be vastly different. Our recommendation is to really keep it at 70 degrees as you will be able to enjoy the umami tastes much better.
You can refer to this video on how to brew Sencha.
Reusing the tea leaves for second and third infusions is also recommended with Sencha.
As the umami level has lessened due to the first infusion, the second and third infusions should focus more on savoring the astringent and bitter tastes of Sencha. For this, use boiling water, and quickly brew for about one minute.
For this, use boiling water, and quickly brew for about one minute. Here are step-by-step instructions on how to brew delicious Sencha.
Soft water with hardness of between 30 to 80 is said to be the best for extracting the taste and aroma of green tea.
A cup of Sencha
How is it made? (Manufacturing Method)
The plant used for sencha is Camellia Sinensis, also called Chanoki in Japan.
This is the exact same plant used for all Japanese green tea. While the species of the plant are all the same, there are actually numerous breeds of this tree in Japan, with each tree carrying different characteristics.
For Sencha, a breed called Yabukita is the most commonly used. Yabukita is a strong plant which is relatively easy to grow, and actually compromises the majority of the tea tree used in Japan. Because it is relatively resistant to frost, which is a weak point for many other types of Chanoki, it allows for stable production - the key reason behind the popularity of this breed.
Cultivation and Harvesting
When harvesting time comes, generally the leaves from the first or second round of the year would be considered as "Sencha".
Throughout the year, the harvesting can happen up to three or four times. A normal tea plantation will start the harvesting of the leaves around spring. The final harvest will take place around autumn.
It is considered the earlier the harvest, the higher quality the green tea. Sencha use tea leaves from either the first or second harvest.
Heat the leaves to stop oxidization by steaming the leaves immediately after harvesting.
Organize and re-shape the leaves.
Reduce the humidity so it can be stored.
The sencha's steaming process is relatively short, and could be just a matter of 30 to 40 seconds. This immediate steaming after harvesting softens the leaf and preserves the nutrients in the tea leaf.
You have many types of Sencha in your online shop. How do they differ?
The prices of the tea will increase as the grade of the tea will increase.
The grade of the tea is determined by several factors. The biggest factor is whether they are made from first flush leaves or not. (Whether they are a Ichibancha/Shincha or not)
Any tea that uses Nibancha (second harvesting) or later will be much lower in grade and price. For the Tealife online shop, all our Sencha are first flush. So this wouldn't be the difference for us.
Perhaps the next biggest factor is the "depth" of picking during harvesting. Normal picking is harvesting the bud and four to five leaves from the bud. But if you reduce the number of leaves and opt to pick only up to three leaves, or two leaves, the tea is really concentrated towards younger tea leaves rich wich umami and less in astringency.
This will naturally be a higher grade, but more expensive as well.
Which Sencha in your tea shop do you recommend? (There's a lot!)
The Eighty-Eighth Night tea is a solid Sencha where you can enjoy the notes of the Uji Sencha.
For those who are looking for a really high quality tea, I recommend the Sencha Umejirushi. There are other tea of higher grades, but the Sencha Umejirushi is already very high and lower in cost.
Both are heavily repated products in our shop.
We will also be introducing a new Sencha from Shizuoka soon, one which I can confidently recommend as well.
Why is my Sencha water color yellow? Shouldn't it be green?
A golden yellow color is the correct color for Sencha tea. Since Sencha is only steamed roughly 30 seconds to stop the oxidation, it will not emit enough color and nutrients to turn the water green.
If you recall drinking a sencha with a very green water color, chances are it is actually a Fukamushi-Sencha instead.
What is the relationship between a Sencha, a Ryokucha, and a Nihoncha?
Ryokucha is a Japanese name for "Green Tea". It is a very broad concept that covers all unoxidized tea, not only Japanese green tea, but also Chinese green tea, Taiwanese green tea, Korean green tea, Vietnamese green tea, etc.
Japanese tea is MOSTLY green tea. However, it has some tea that do not fall into the green tea category. For example, there are some fermented tea such as Goishicha.
And finally, Sencha is a name of a type of green tea in Japan.
Relationships between Ryokucha, Nihoncha, and Sencha
Can you eat Sencha leaves?
Yes you can, if it is a high-quality Sencha. For lower quality Sencha, the leaves may be a bit too hard for direct consumption.
Eating the Sencha directly is a fantastic way of obsorbing all the nutrients within the tea. Mix used leaves in cooking or add seasoning to enjoy them in various ways.
This is how you can make some Sencha furikake. We'll be adding more recipes to our blog in the future.
Yuki is the Editor-in-Chief AND Community Manager at Tealife. He bleeds Japanese Tea and loves being a part of the Japanese Tea journey of others. Writes, does events, conducts tasting sessions, drinks, drinks and drinks tea! Easily accessible - hit him up on whatsapp (+65) 85882980.