JAPANESE TEA: shincha, sencha and houjicha
TEA AND ZEN
Japan is home to an unmistakably unique tea culture, the reasons for which are complex and varied. However you could argue that chado (the art of tea) has been profoundly influenced by Japanese Zen Buddhism, a tradition that has a particular focus on disciplined meditation. So it is against this spiritual backdrop that Japanese tea developed, with keen attention to details and specific classification of leaves being major aspects. Among the many styles of loose tea leaves from Japan, three have made the most prominent impact globally: shincha, sencha, and houjicha.
It’s important to note that all tea comes from the same plant: the Camelia Sinensus (or a variation known as Camelia Assamica). It is the way these leaves are grown, harvested and processed that determines style and profile - as well as the region in which it’s grown.
Shincha and premium Sencha picks are harvested during what’s known as Ichibancha season (literally ‘number one tea’), and are the most prized. These are essentially tea leaves that are harvested throughout Spring and boast a light, fresh profile. The term ‘first flush’ often applies to Shincha, which translates as ‘new tea.’
Sencha leaves are, chronologically, harvested afterwards and brew grassier, less subtle profile. Sencha translates to ‘infused tea,’ and the leaves are usually steamed shortly after harvest, part of the processing technique that develops Sencha’s renowned flavour.
Houjicha, translating to ‘roasted tea,’ is harvested during the winter season known as Shuutoubancha. In a technique developed in 1920’s Kyoto, these older leaves are roasted over charcoal giving Houjicha a particularly savoury and nutty taste, and a light brown colour to the infusion. It’s definitely not what you might typically think of when someone says “green tea,” but these roasted leaves are perfect for anyone more accustomed to black tea.
HOW TO BREW
Shincha is the most delicate of the three teas, and therefor the easiest to burn or overbrew. Brew at 80 degrees at the very hottest, with 60 to 70 degrees more likely to bring out softer and sweeter notes. A rule of thumb for brewing Shincha: the hotter the water, the shorter the steep. So for example 80 degrees for 1.5 minutes, 70 degrees for 2 minutes, or 60 degrees for 3 minutes. Interestingly, Shincha makes a very satisfying cold brew. Simply steep 4 to 5 teaspoons (or one of our test tubes of Shincha) in cold water overnight. Strain and serve - you’ll find a complex and refreshing brew! Add sparkling water and a slice of lemon for a Shincha soda.
Sencha, similarly, is delicate - though not as temperamental. Boiling water can be fine, but only steep for 30 seconds. 80 degrees for 2 to 3 minutes is the most common instruction.
Houjicha, having been roasted, is the most hearty and least sensitive. 80 degrees for 2-3 minutes is the most common instruction you’ll find, however steeping Houjicha in boiling water can bring out a sharper intensity from the leaves. Use enough of it and it becomes strong enough to add milk to,
the roasted profile providing an interesting contrast to its creaminess.
JAPANESE STYLE, AUSTRALIAN GROWN
We specifically stock Japanese style green teas, grown in the Alpine region of North East Victoria. Japanese green tea has been grown in the Wangaratta region of Victoria, traditionally known as Bpangerang Country, since 2001. It was established after the Japanese tea company Ito En was invited by the Victorian government back in 1993 to begin growing Japanese tea in Australia. 90% of the harvest is exported to Japan, a clear indication of the superior quality of the produce.