Sencha green tea is the most common type of green tea in Japan, accounting for 75% of the total green tea production. Sencha tea is grown in direct sunlight and is made from the buds and new leaves.
The first harvest of the season (late April to early May) produces a type of sencha green tea known as "shincha." This tea is not for storage – it is placed on the market immediately after processing and usually has sold out by the end of July.
Sencha green tea was traditionally processed by roasting the raw tea leaves, but modern sencha tea is steamed. This halts the oxidation process that turns the leaves dark, and is the first step in processing the leaves after they have been picked.
After they have been steamed, the tea leaves for sencha green tea are dried in a hot air furnace to reduce the moisture content. After this initial drying, the leaves are rolled to create an elongated twist shape. This is followed by a second drying and second rolling, and finally the sencha tea leaves are dried for a third time to reduce their moisture content to about 5 percent.
Steaming Sencha Green Tea
Sencha tea is produced in every tea region of Japan, and there are slight variations of sencha tea depending on where it was produced. Fukamushi sencha, for example, is steamed for a longer time than other sencha teas. This produces a finer tea leaf and the resulting brew is thicker than other types of Japanese green tea.
The correct steaming time is critical, however, as tea leaves which are steamed too long will lose their refreshing aroma, and tea leaves which are not steamed long enough will not have a good taste.
The steaming process is the most critical aspect of making sencha green tea. Steaming requires the skill of an experienced tea master who judges the correct steaming time based on the size and thickness of the fresh leaves.
Drying Sencha Green Tea
The other processing step that affects the taste of sencha green tea is the amount of time it spends in the drying furnace. Most sencha teas are dried for a short period of time, but some are dried longer to give them a roasted aroma. This process is called "hiire" and teas which are classified as hiire have a roasted aroma and require a short brewing time. Hiire green teas are popular for iced sencha tea.