Sencha: Japan’s Favorite Green Tea

In Japanese sen means pouring and cha means tea. Put those words together and you get sencha, the most popular form of green tea in Japan: about 70 percent of Japan’s tea is sencha. Sencha is one of many Japanese teas that include the popular matcha and other types less famous in the West like gyokuro and kukicha. Like matcha, sencha is sold in grades that range from relatively low to high.

After a monk named Eisai made tea-drinking popular in Japan after returning from China, Japanese farmers began growing it in the Uji region in the Kyoto Prefecture. Obuku is a small area within Uji that has long been known for producing the highest quality sencha; it holds that reputation to this day. The weather and soil quality in this part of Japan is uniquely suited to tea cultivation. 

After being harvested, sencha leaves get steamed. Steaming prevents oxidation and is what makes green tea from Japan different from the Chinese variety. 

As with matcha, the processing of sencha tea was greatly influenced by Sohen Nagatani. Nagatani discovered that rolling the tea leaves made them infuse faster into water. He pioneered his method — known as the Uji method — in the 18th century, and it is still the dominant method of tea processing in Japan today. 

Sencha flavor profile

Sencha is often described as tasting green or even grassy, but the flavor can differ considerably between grades with the lower grades being more likely to have the grass taste. Steeping is essential as well. Steeping affects the flavor of all teas but none more than sencha. Experts recommend that you not brew it for much longer than 2 minutes as this can release more tannins into the tea. The additional tannins can affect not only how the tea tastes, but they may also detract from its health benefits and cause it to be harsh on your stomach. In addition to the shorter steeping time, your water should be cooler as well. The water should be below the boiling point; almost at the simmering point but not quite. 

Health benefits of sencha

When it comes to the health benefits associated with green tea consumption, sencha is considered to be one of the richest sources. The healthy components in sencha are:

  • Catechins: Green tea is good for providing catechins like epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) that are responsible for many of its most significant health benefits.
  • L-Theanine: L-theanine is the amino acid responsible for the relaxative effects of green tea. Sencha does not have as much of it as matcha and some other types of green tea do, but it still contains a considerable amount.
  • Vitamins: Sencha contains moderate amounts of vitamins A and C.

You can use sencha to treat or prevent health issues like:

  • Cardiovascular illness: There is quite a lot of research showing that green tea varieties like sencha are beneficial for preventing heart disease and stroke.
  • Diabetes: Studies show that people who drink 6 or more cups of green tea daily reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by a third.
  • Cancer: Sencha and other green teas have been shown to inhibit carcinogens, which may result in a lowered risk of developing cancer.
  • Parkinson’s disease: Sencha is naturally high in caffeine, which may be effective for preventing Parkinson’s disease.

Common uses

The most common way to use sencha is to steep it as a warm beverage. To make it the traditional way, you should use loose leaves rather than an infuser. Sencha powder can also, like matcha, be used in baking, particular with pastries.