Types of Sencha
When "Ochatsubo Dochu", a procession carrying the year's first harvest of tea in 18th Century Japan, would pass through a village, residents knelt on the ground as a mark of reverence. Although the respect might have been inspired by the Shogun, the beneficiary of the procession and the recipient of the tea, it would be fair to assume that some it was also evoked by the tea.
The Ochatsubo Dochu procession was after all carrying a tea considered one of the finest by tea connoisseurs even today - Sincha.
Sincha belongs to the category of tea commonly recognized as Sencha. Its picking starts on Hachijuhachiya or the 88th day after the first day of spring. As the first harvest of the year, it can be considered as the "first flush" tea of Japan. Besides Sincha there are several other kinds of Sencha, determined by the season and the style of manufacturing. The harvest times may vary by a week or two depending upon the location of the tea garden in the country.
Shincha, or Ichibancha, first-picked sencha of the year (April;-May in Uji region)
Nibancha, the second harvest of sencha (June-end to July-end in Uji region)
Kabuse Sencha or Kabusecha, covered sencha
Asamushi, lightly steamed sencha
Chumushi, middle steamed (30-90s)
Fukamushi or fukamushicha, deeply steamed sencha - 1-2 minutes
Manufacturing SenchaOne of the major differences between the manufacturing process of green teas from China and Japan is that in the latter the freshly harvested tea leaves are first steamed. In China they pan-fry the leaves first.
After steaming, which is believed to give Japanese green teas its characteristic vivid-green color, the leaves are rolled and then shaped into the fine "needles" before the final drying. The needle-like shape is also unique to Japanese green teas.
The making of Sencha is relatively new. It is attributed to Sohen Nagatani (1681 - 1778), a resident of Uji region, and he is said to have come upon the method in 1738. Instead of "patenting" his technique, as we would be wont to do in our times, Nagatani actively shared his knowledge with all tea farmers. Till this day Japanese tea traders visit his shrine every year to pay tributes.
Gyokuro and Kabusecha
The pre-harvest step of shading the tea bushes may sound familiar for Gyokuro and Kabuse Sencha. However, for Gyokuro the shade-growth is much longer (at least 20 days) as opposed to Kabuse Sencha where the bushes are shaded just for a week before the harvest.
The technique of shading tea bushes before harvest is unique to Japan and is used for making some of their best teas including matcha. Whole plantations are brought under shade by erecting temporary "roofs" of reeds and rice straws. In some cases they also wrap the bushes directly in special screens. The shading is believed to raise the levels of theanine, reduce bitterness and enhance the full-bodied flavors of gyokuro and matcha.
Our sencha comes from Miyazaki prefecture in southern Japan. It is a lightly steamed with a sweet-grassy and slightly salty flavor.