White and black craft handmade ceramic teapot with black ceramic mugs. katakuchi jug and blossoming cherry tree as decoration standing on marble table. Traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Teadrinking. (Photo by: Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
What Is Sencha, Japan's Most Popular Green Tea?
By Haldan Kirsch
After the monk Eisai brought tea seeds from China to Japan in the 1100s, the culture of Japanese tea drinking was born. Matcha tea was the most popular way to consume tea in Japan, but everything changed with the invention of sencha, which would eventually surpass matcha to become Japan's most popular variety.
Sencha, which The Japanese Green Tea Company defines as "roasting/simmering tea," is prepared by simmering whole tea leaves in water, a process which is significantly different from adding warm water to the fine powder required to make matcha. Popularized by the Kyoto tea seller, Baisao, sencha brewing was a way for a common person to enjoy the beverage of the elites in a simple manner.
A tea farmer named Nagatani Soen developed a form of preparation where tea leaves are steamed and rolled into tight spirals, locking in the flavor and nutrients and preserving them until they are ready to be brewed. This steaming method defines the modern forms of sencha tea, giving it a unique flavor compared to other toasted varieties of tea leaves.
Like all green teas, sencha comes from picking unmatured, young tea leaves, and the amount of direct sunlight or shade received directly affects their flavor. Unshaded sencha teas have a bitter flavor profile, tea leaves shaded for a certain number of days before the harvest tend to be sweeter, and those grown entirely shaded have a unique blend of sweet and savory flavors.