Although all Japanese teas are green tea, and nearly all are steamed
(rather than pan-fired) after picking in order to stop oxidation,
major differences in flavor and fragrance arise from different
methods of cultivation and processing, variations in climate and
soil, different varietals of camellia sinensis, and infusion
techniques. There are two basic types of fine Japanese teas, sencha
and gyokuro, picked in the early stages of the first flush.
Many tea people in Japan prefer the complexity of fine sencha to
the luxurious sweetness of gyokuro. Sencha is grown in open fields,
where both sweetness and astringency develop under the sun. This is
the key difference between sencha and gyokuro. High-quality sencha
is produced not only in Uji (much more tea is labeled “Uji tea” than
is produced in Uji). In fact, most sencha comes from Shizuoka, in
eastern Japan, but it is also grown in northern Kyushu. The sencha
of each region has a distinctive flavor and fragrance, due mainly to
variations in soil and climate.
Only the most expensive grades of sencha are picked by hand--most is
sheared by a machine resembling a hedge-cutter. All the stages of
processing, basically the same as for gyokuro, are automated. The
tea leaves are carried from steamer to kneading machine, and from
there to the drying oven by conveyor belts, each stage closely
regulated by experts. The finishing process, picking out stems and
imperfectly processed leaves, is often done by a finishing
In infusing sencha, the tea drinker can change the balance between
astringency and sweetness according to personal taste by adjusting
water temperature and timing. Water temperatures below 60° C.
enhances the theanin, while hotter water brings out the catechin.
The right balance is up to you.