As I mentioned to my esteemed editor when I proposed this article, some of the worst teas I’ve ever tasted were sencha. On the other hand, some of the best teas I’ve ever had the pleasure to sample were sencha. Which is something that could probably be said about many varieties of tea – Assam is one that immediately springs to mind. There’s a wide range of quality even within some of the most narrow categories of tea, but for some reason sencha is the one that stands out for me.
Though they produce modest amounts of black tea, Japan is best known for its many varieties of green tea. According to one informed source, about 80 percent of all tea grown there is sencha and the quality and price varies considerably. Processed sencha leaves typically are long, thin, straight and reminiscent of a needle, with a deeper green color than many other green varieties.
Kabusencha and shincha among the various types of sencha you might run across. I haven’t been able to find a reliable definition for what distinguishes the former from other sencha, but shincha is essentially just another name for the highly coveted sencha that comes from the first harvest of the year, in spring.
When sencha is steeped it produces a color that, in my experience, can range from a pale golden hue to a very deep vibrant green. While I haven’t made anything close to an in-depth study of the matter, my unscientific observation is that those senchas that brew up to the deeper green colors tend to be the ones with the fullest and most sophisticated flavor. The latter of these also tend to be infused with a fine powdery sediment and thus are somewhat on the cloudy side. While this is not so desirable with other types of tea, I’ve learned that for sencha it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Regardless of whether you’ve laid your hands on “good” or “bad” sencha it’s like most green teas, in that it benefits from being steeped with water that’s considerably below the boiling point and for a period of time as little a minute or less. Of course, you’ll want to fiddle around to see what works for you.
Good sencha is likely to produce at least two or three flavorful infusions and in looking back at some of the better ones I’ve reviewed at my site I came across one that I described as having a flavor so intense “that I’d walk ten miles in a blinding snowstorm just for a taste.” On the other hand I described a decidedly less memorable sencha as straddling “that nebulous zone between being undrinkable and yet not quite so bad that you can bring yourself to toss it in the garbage.”
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