Thursday, November 7, 2013

My Cuppa: Sensational Sencha!

One of my favourite teas is Sencha. This is a green tea most popular in Japan which accounts for 80% of the tea produced there. I love the aroma of Sencha, which is sweet and grassy. Something you would not normally think of for tea.

Harvesting tea leaves for Sencha usually occurs around April or May. Once plucked, the leaves are steamed in order to prevent them from oxidizing. This also gives the leaves their bright, green colour, and strong, sweet aroma. How long the leaves are steamed will depend on the manufacturer. A light steaming will result in a stronger aroma and lighter, pale green liquor, whereas a longer steaming will result in a lighter aroma, but deeper green liquor. Following the steaming process, the leaves are cooled-down to room temperature. Then, they are pressed and even exposed to hot air to remove some moisture. The leaves then go through a mechanical process of rolling and twisting. Additional drying may also be applied to reduce moisture. This rolling and drying process might occur a few times until Sencha’s characteristic appearance of thin grass-like needles is achieved. After a final drying, the leaves are sorted, weighed, and ready for distribution.

Dry Sencha

To prepare Sencha, use a small vessel with a capacity of about 250 ml of water. A Japanese teapot called a kyusu is most appropriate, but if you're like me and don't have this fine tool, use any small teapot you have. I have tiny glass teapot with a built-in filter that works perfectly well for me, but it is best to pour the tea leaves directly into the teapot to provide sufficient room and allow better expansion of the leaves. A sieve can then be used to separate the leaves when pouring the liquor into cups though the spout may become clogged with the leaves. 


My mini-teapot

For optimal flavour and aroma of Sencha, I usually follow the steps below which are pretty much what you’ll find online: 

1.   Bring water to a full boil. This will be approximately 90-100 degrees Celsius.

2.   Pour some of the boiled water into your vessel and drain. This will warm up the teapot.

3.   Pour some of the boiled water into your tea cups and drain. This will warm up the cups.

4.   Allow the water to cool down to 70-80 degrees Celsius. This is a good temperature for Sencha.

5.   Scoop about 2 tablespoons of Sencha into your teapot.

Scooped Sencha

6.   Pour the now cooled water over the leaves. Amount of water should be about 250 ml.

7.   Infuse for about 1 - 1 ½ minutes. No longer than 2 minutes as this will result in a bitter brew.


8.   Pour a little tea into your cups alternating from one another until each cup is full. If you have 3 cups to fill, start with 1, 2, 3, then 3, 2, 1, and starting with cup 1 again until all cups are full. This will provide even distribution of flavour and strength. You don't want to leave any water behind otherwise the tea remaining will continue to brew. If you have a filter like I do, none of this is an issue. Just remove the filter and pour away.

Filter removal

Tea pouring

9.   Your tea is ready for drinking.  Woo-hoo!

Sencha goodness

10.   Don't discard the leaves yet! You can do additional infusions. You may need to brew it longer with each new infusion or use a higher temperature of water along with a shorter brew time until all flavour and aroma have disappeared. In my experience, 4 infusions work out well with this amount of tea.

Infused leaves

The aroma and flavour is wonderful! Sencha has a grassy aroma. Seaweed, spinach, and rapini are other scents I get. Everyone has their own unique senses though, and so you may detect entirely different aromas. The liquor is a golden, pale green. It’s a fairly clear tea, but you may get some specks of the leaves poured out as well, and that’s okay! The taste is a fine balance of natural sweetness and astringency. I do get flavours of spinach or broccoli. I always joke about how I’d love the take the leaves and sauté them with garlic, olive oil, and butter! Yum!

I love Vimeo, which is a video sharing site. During my tea research, I found a beautiful film on handmade Sencha. The video is about 7 minutes long, but worth watching. Credits are within the movie. Make yourself a pot of Sencha, sit back and enjoy the video!

Handmade Sencha

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