Sencha (green tea) (煎茶)

Sencha is a kind of Japanese tea.

The word "sencha" is often used either in the narrow sense or in the broad sense. The 'sencha' in the narrow sense means the tea made from finely processed burgeons of tea plants grown without covers to shutter the sunlight. It differs from gyokuro (refined green tea) and kabusecha (covered tea), which are both made from the leaves of tea plants grown under covers to shutter the sunlight, as well as from bancha (coarse green tea), which is made from large-size leaves and stems. The 'sencha' in the broad sense means 'senji-cha' (tea for decoction) from which the tea is extracted by boiling it in hot water (decoction), in contrast to maccha (powdered green tea, also called tencha), which is made by powdering dried tea leaves without kneading.

Sencha (in the broad sense)
As sencha is a kind of green tea, i.e., non-fermented tea, its manufacturing method is uncommon in the world in the sense that steaming is used to deactivate the enzyme in the tea leaves. Its production and consumption are basically limited to Japan. However, the term sencha also includes kamairicha (kiln-dried tea), which is made through a process similar to that of Chinese tea.

Initially, the term 'sencha' literally meant 'tea for decoction,' with which the tea was prepared through the extraction of ingredients by decocting tea leaves in hot water, so that preparation for drinking tea wasn't as easy as today's method of using a kyusu (a small teapot). In Japan, after the medieval period, there were two methods to drink tea -- 'senji-cha' and 'hiki-cha' -- the latter consisting of stone-ground tea leaves. At first, the plucked tea leaves were either steamed or boiled to stop the function of oxidase, and were then dried on 'hoiro' (a tool to dry tea leaves) and under sunlight. Then, in the early-modern times, a process of 'momi' (kneading) was added. Unlike the old senji-cha, today's sencha (prepared by placing tea leaves in a kyusu, which is therefore also called 'dashicha') whose manufacturing method has increasingly become prevalent along with the popularity of sencha, has become dominant among various Japanese teas.

Since the Meiji period, the hand-kneading process has been replaced by newly devised, highly efficient methods of machinery manufacturing, and now sencha is manufactured through the six processes of steaming, coarse kneading, crumpling, secondary kneading, precise kneading and drying. Quality-wise, thin needle-shaped tea leaves and those that retain the fresh scent of first-picked burgeons are considered good. Flavor-wise, a balance between their own delicious taste and modest astringency is important. Thus the characteristics of quality are emphasized, so that close attention is paid to a brief steaming with subsequent drying at low temperature in the manufacturing process.

Sencha (in the narrow sense)
Early picked burgeons such as the first or second picked ones are used for the tea leaves of sencha. However, their tea plants are grown in the open air from the start to the end, as opposed to those of gyokuro, which are shut out from the sunlight by kanreisha (butter muslin or cheesecloth) or other coverings attached to 'tana' (racks or pergola) before harvesting. Generally, sencha is placed in water of around 70 degrees centigrade for one or two minutes for percolation. The tea with well-balanced sweetness and bitterness or astringency is considered good.