Third in a series on the teas of Japan.

Around three-quarters of Japan’s annual production is classified as sencha.  All sencha is not created equal, but for the most part it seems safe to say it is one of the world’s most extraordinary—and expensive—teas.  Quality ranges from fair to finest, which is rightly reserved for special occasions.  Usually the finest is first flush, known as ichiban-cha or number one tea.  This has a softer, more delicate character than second flush or niban-cha, which is plucked after 15 May and thus grows in stronger sunlight.  Even the best sencha is now mechanically harvested; like gyokuro, it is manufactured by first killing the leaf by steaming, then withering to reduce moisture and finally repeated rolling and quick drying to obtain the needle-like leaf shape often called spiderleg.  Due to the machine-plucking, one assumes, this tea contains a high proportion of leaf fragments and dust.  The taste is delicately herbaceous, quite unlike the vegetative taste characteristic of China greens.  (Unbeknownst to most Westerners, Japan also has a sencha tea ceremony, which is the subject of Patricia Graham’s excellent book Tea of the Sages: The Art of Sencha.)

Read next: Bancha, Kukicha, Hojicha, and Genmaicha

Photo “Tea ceremony” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License to the photographer Beatrice Murch and is being posted unaltered (source)