Sencha is currently the mainstay of Japanese tea—in 2015, 68% of the tea produced in Japan was sencha (Zavadckyte 2017:30)! Yet its popularity is measured in decades rather than centuries.
Although developed back in 1738, in what is now Kyoto Prefecture, by tea maker Nagatani Soen, sencha wasn’t commonly consumed until after World War II when it overtook its predecessor, tea that was cooked and boiled into an extract (Brekell 2018:51).
Sencha is a first-flush green tea whose harvested leaves are steamed and then rolled and dried (read more about sencha production). When produced from tea leaves that have been grown in full sunlight, it’s simply “Sencha.” When produced from tea leaves that have been shaded, it’s Kubuse Sencha or Kabuseicha. Growing conditions affect flavor and astringency, with shaded teas having more umami than those grown in sunlight (read more about shaded teas), for example.
Signs of a high-quality sencha?
Dark green, lustrous, needle-like leaves that are uniform in color and size.
Smaller leaf pieces are separated out because they release their flavor more quickly than larger pieces (as in teabag tea, for example)—and the object is to have all the leaves release flavor at the same rate.
Lighter-colored stems will also be sifted out.
So what happens when a very nice sencha is blended with matcha?
Well, it’s rather a treat!
The Sencha with Matcha shown above was purchased from the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco and was recently given to my family.
According to their website, this is the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States:
Originally created as a “Japanese Village” exhibit for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition, the site originally spanned about one acre and showcased a Japanese style garden. When the fair closed, Japanese landscape architect Makoto Hagiwara and superintendent John McLaren reached a gentleman’s agreement, allowing Mr. Hagiwara to create and maintain a permanent Japanese style garden as a gift for posterity. (“About Us,” japaneseteagardensf.com)
Further, it was Mr. Hagiwara who introduced fortune cookies to the U.S., adapting the recipe for western tastes (“Tea House,” japaneseteagardensf.com).
But back to the tea!
Imported from Japan, this Sencha with Matcha was grown in the Uji district in Kyoto—a region that has been growing tea plants since the year 1207 (Brekell 2018:50)!
We eagerly brewed up a pot! However, we brewed the leaves at 194°F rather than the boiling water suggested on their packaging.
Although when we measured out the tea leaves they looked pretty much like sencha, without much visible evidence of matcha (ground tea), the matcha was definitely present!
The tea brewed up a light green-yellow, with a full-bodied, flavorful aroma that delivered on its promise.
The liquor was satisfyingly viscous yet smooth. The bright vegetal grassiness of the sencha balanced the umami of matcha (which, if it’s genuine matcha, is shade grown; read more) for a warm and slightly sweet, nutty, cup. There was a hint of raw pumpkin seeds.
A second infusion of the tea leaves brought out the rich umami a bit more, I thought, and was equally delicious.
I would love to have more of this tea, but, sadly, the Japanese Tea Garden does not have an online store. Still, we are greatly savoring what we have, sharing a pot of this warm, satisfying, tea on a frigid evening here in Michigan.
Our room was rather dark so on a whim we shone a flashlight directly into the tea—and were rewarded with this luminescent cup!
Beyond the mundane. A hint of the spiritual.
Because it’s always more than tea.
Sources: (1) The Book of Japanese Tea, by P. O. Brekell, Tankosha Publishing, Japan, 2018; (2) Japanese Tea, by S. Zavadckyte, Kyoto Obubu Publishing, 2017; and (3) Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco, 2009, http://www.japaneseteagardensf.com/index.php.