In Japan, Sencha is the most commonly produced tea. The key difference between Sencha and other types of tea such as black tea and oolong tea is in its production method. To produce Sencha, oxidation of the tea leaves has to be stopped as soon as the leaves are picked. This is also why most people associate Japanese green tea with freshness!
The first harvest season in Spring (late April to early May) is also known as "Shincha", which translates to “new tea”. This tea is harvested and sold immediately after processing and not meant to be stored, and is considered the finest in quality terms of flavor and freshness. In Japan, Shincha is usually has sold out by the end of July. Subsequent harvests would yield tea that is less adored by fastidious tea drinkers. They are know as the second harvests, third and sometimes fourth. The later harvests are known as "Bancha" which is a more economical tea that is easy on the pocket if consumed everyday.
The method that Japanese employs to halt oxidation and fermentation of tea leaves is steaming. Through that, the tea leaves preserve their green colour and at the same time, the undesirable “grassy” odour would be removed. The steaming process is performed within 12 – 20 hours after the leaves are picked. Depending on the duration of the steaming process, different categories of Sencha is produced. The steaming process is usually categorized into 3 types – light-steamed (asamushi), mid-steamed (chumushi) and deep-steamed (fukamushi), depending on its steam duration. In Fukamushicha, the tea leaves’ cell membranes breaks down during the long steaming resulting in a cloudy liquor with bright greenish colour and minimal astringency. Light-steamed Sencha –Asamushicha, on the other hand, retains the classic Sencha character with long and slender leaves. It yields a pale-jade colour which is very different from Fukamushicha.
Drying and Rolling
After the steaming process, the tea leaves are then cooled down rapidly using cool air. This cooling process helps the leaves to preserve their colour as well as flavor and aroma. Once the leaves are cooled, the rolling process starts. During this step, the fibers are softened, allowing the tea's flavor components to be released. There are several stages of rolling, starting with a loose rolling and culminating with a tight twist, giving the leaves their characteristic thin needle shape. The rolling and drying process helps to remove most of the water content in the leaves. This effectively prevents the quality of the leaves from changing, thereby maintaining the original character of the tea.
The last step is the sorting of tea leaves. Buds, stems and flakes (which break off during the rolling process) are filtered out. The sifted leaves are then brewed and enjoyed by us.
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