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How to prepare and drink sencha

Every time I would go to someone's house in Tokyo, they would likely offer me sencha before I even settled onto my zabuton or chair. Sencha is made by steaming green tea leaves, shaped into thin rolls, dried and then pan-fried or fired to lock-in the flavor. Pretty common in the U.S. as well, most people encounter sencha in Japanese restaurants (it is light green in tint) or at their local Trader Joe's in tea bags (which might even be bancha, see below). As a side note, I will mention the different types of teas made from green tea leaves in Japan (although this post is about sencha).

Types of Green Tea

Gyokuro Made from leaves that are grown in the shade (highest quality stuff), steamed and dried. Gyokuro tastes smooth and mellow.

Sencha Made from leaves that not hidden from the sun (ranges in quality), steamed and dried. Sencha tastes grassy and bright.

Macha Made from grinding steamed, dried leaves into a fine powder. Macha tastes bitter but nutty and almost kind of sweet.

Houjicha Made from leaves roasted in a porcelain container. Houjicha tastes earthy and clear and has a red-tint to it.

Bancha The name translates as "Common tea" and is made from leftover green tea leaves (from higher quality varieties), stems and twigs. Bancha tea leaves are harvested at the end of the season. Bancha is even more earthy tasting than houjicha - almost hearty but not as clear as the other types.

Before I left Japan, the owner of Washio, a tiny bar/izakaya that specializes in seafood and seats six people, gave me two packs of "shin-cha" sencha. Shin-cha literally translates as "new tea," but explained more accurately by describing it as the first pick of the harvest. Shin-cha means that the leaves pack the punch as far as nutrients, brightness and depth of flavor.

And here are the two packages of shin-cha sencha that he sent my husband and I to America with.

How to prepare and drink sencha

These leaves were grown and harvested in the most coveted region for green tea, the southern Japanese island of Shikoku. This tea leaf company is called Hirakien.

How to prepare and drink sencha

Open the package and store in an air-tight container. Store in a cool, dark place.

Boil water until your tea kettle is rocking back and forth or whistling furiously (approximately 100°C). Turn off the heat.

How to prepare and drink sencha

Have your teapot (kyusu) ready on the side and scoop a heaping teaspoon of sencha and put into your teapot.

How to prepare and drink sencha

How to prepare and drink sencha

Wait until your water cools down a little bit to about 80°C.

Pour the water into your teapot. Wait for 60-90 seconds.

How to prepare and drink sencha

Pour all the content of the teapot into tea cups. You want to avoid water soaking the leaves for extended amounts of time.

How to prepare and drink sencha

You can pour hot water again into the teapot another 2-3 times and still extract flavorful tea.

When drinking from a teacup, there is a particular way to hold the cup to avoid burning yourself. Grab the cup with one hand with your thumb and fore or middle finger at the top third of the cup - the lower you try to grab it, the hotter it is. Support the underside of the cup with your other hand.

How to prepare and drink sencha
Achiiii! (hotttt!)

My Japanese husband tells me that if your fingers do get uncomfortably hot, you can diffuse the heat in your fingers by pinching your earlobes.

How to prepare and drink sencha
Column: Japanify
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27 comments

  • Hahahaaa, wonderful pictures!

    Also, great tips, I think I’m soaking the leaves for too long. 90 seconds max, got it.

    Anders on

  • Anders, yes – 90 seconds max or else it’ll get all bitter.

    Seri – Really? You don’t make that face every time? That’s disappointing.

    yoko on

  • I do the earlobe thing! Maybe not while making that face, though… haha

    I need to get a good teapot.

    seri on

  • Nobuko, thanks for dropping by to read my post. I had never heard of that earlobe thing until I went to Japan!

    yoko on

  • haha i always pinch my earlobes to diffuse the heat in the fingers. Thanks for sharing that!

    Nobuko on

  • I love Matcha! I love making it with my spoon and whisk from Tsukjiri in Kyoto.

    I always love a good Early Gray with a splash of cream!

    Mimi on

  • My grandma used to do the earlobe thing in Japan. She also said to put soy sauce on burns but I think that was a joke.

    Sakura on

  • My current favorite way to drink tea is drinking black tea with milk at afternoon tea. However, I’m hoping that someday someone will do the Japanese version of afternoon tea with Japanese tea and variety of “wagashi” & Japanese finger foods!!

    Takako on

  • nice! I have a feeling that a rolling boil is too hot for sencha, might wanna let the kettle sit for a bit before pouring it over the leaves. Tea love is real. My fave is a 3 way tie between: 1. a hot grassy sencha alone cupped between two hands watching the sunrise. 2. black tea (earl grey, pu-erh or even oolong) w/ coconut sugar & a heavy splash of cream with friends over pastries or 3. a tart rose hip & spicy ginger-citrus herbal tea with spiced rum to cure anything that ales ya!

    andrea on

  • Love the photos here!

    My favorite tea is genmaicha. I get a couple good pinches of loose leaf – always try to have a few popped rice grains in there. Then brew it in an iron teapot. If I’m feeling fancy, pour into one of the few yunomi I have; otherwise, just a mug. (I use light-colored ones to see the color of the tea.)

    L on

  • I love my tea plain and steaming hot.

    Sara J on

  • When someone you love makes it for you!

    Jennifer Goold on

  • My favorite way to drink tea is loose leaf in my blue beehouse teapot. My favorite tea is genmaicha on a foggy day because the brown rice brings so much warmth. I am going to try the earlobe trick because I am always picking up my tea cup when it is still too hot!

    Laura on

  • I made a mistake with my email in the earlier comment! I did not want to miss out on the giveaway. Thanks.

    Sara J on

  • I like to make a cup of black tea in the afternoon, no milk with a cookie or pastry and in the evening a cup of green tea, no milk.

    Maree Sperle on

  • Normally I drink Chinese green tea iced all day in lieu of sodas or water. But I also love both sencha and macha, particularly if the macha is part of a tea ceremony!

    Jim Windle on

  • Great section explaining the different types of green tea! I like matcha the best, whisking it with warm water in a ceramic bowl for a matcha “shot”. In the afternoon, I like pouring the shot over milk with a bit of honey for a matcha latte. Yum!

    Danny on

  • What a great post! I liked learning about the different types of tea.

    I personally like making matcha tea with vanilla soymilk at home. I like the slow process of whisking the matcha and milk together and seeing if become a beautiful a spring green and delightful beverage. I love enjoying it with a side of black sesame shortbread cookies!

    Nathalie on

  • My favorite way to drink tea when is when it is offered by a friend. It means I can try all sorts or types of tea that I might not try otherwise and always over pleasant conversation!

    K. on

  • Green tea is my BLISS! Whether matcha, genmaicha, or whole leaf I enjoy a cup every night to wind down and reflect on the day. It’s part of my daily ‘me’ time.

    CarolynF on

  • Two fave ways but always, everyday.

    1. Out of a pint glass, in the car on the way to work. This is usually a sloppily-made strong, bright green tonic made by me personally.

    2. Delivered to in bed by Russ who takes more care and picks a cute (handle-free) cup for me.

    Allison on

  • My favorite continues to be making a double strength batch of ITO EN’s Buckwheat tea (seriously one of the best purchases I’ve made at Umami Mart) that I then chill to have over ice. It always hits the spot on a warm day and fondly reminds me of being pregnant last summer and discovering this to be such a delicious treat.

    megan on

  • I love black tea, earl grey preferably! I like to add some milk to my tea, which also helps cool it down because I am impatient

    I love Umami Mart! Thanks for this giveaway

    dana on

  • i love when sencha is prepared for me. i can’t do it well. i had a wonderful sencha the other day out at a cafe. it was prepared, however, with water that was too hot. i like to enjoy it slowly and allow the mellow grassy flavour to blend in with my mood and bring me an increased sense of peace.

    naomi calnitsky on

  • last year during a layover in Tokyo so i could eat ramen, and other…

    one thing that i was able to enjoy was a 7 Courses J Tea Experience

    One of the courses was steeped gyokuro. That by itself was very nice, but afterwards, the tea master took some of the tea leaves and drizzled ponzu over the gyokuro to eat. this way was quite lovely, vibrant and rather interesting.

    so Pro-Tip: if you’re planning a trip to tokyo, and have a spare hour or two; and want to try something different… Souen 櫻井焙茶研究所

    they also serve traditional J sweets from Higashiya with several courses.

    samayou kodomo on

  • Constantly getting offered a cup of sencha reminded me of the Moroccan culture of serving mint tea (although it’s made of Chinese gunpowder tea).

    I love enjoying iced jasmine tea as an afternoon pick me up and especially with boba! I love a cup of warm tea on a cold, rainy day though.

    Angela Seo on

  • Hi Yoko. thanks for your post – i am wondering… what category of teas that you listed above does genmaicha fall under? That is my favorite.

    I live near a beach, and my morning ritual is to get up a few minutes before the sun comes up, open my windows, sit in bed with my tea and listen to the waves.

    Sage on

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