Getting into sencha


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Getting into sencha

Postby saxon75 » Apr 15th, '13, 00:16

All of the shincha discussion happening around here has gotten me interested in Japanese tea again. I grew up drinking mostly cheap hojicha and genmaicha with my grandma, who as far as I know is typical of Japanese people in that she would just use cheap tea--usually teabags--and boiling water, steeped until it looked about right. As I got older, I tried out some sencha teabags as well, but again with boiling water and steeped until it looked about right. I'm used to sencha tasting kind of clean and grassy.

Over the past few weeks I've been trying out some loose-leaf sencha, but I've been finding that it tastes really different from how I remember. So far I've tried a cheap-ish Yamamotoyama sencha (about $5/150g) and the Maeda-En Reserve Sencha ($12/85g). I understand that these are fairly low-end teas, though a fair number of people here seem to think that they're not bad. I poked around on here to get some pointers and settled on the following for brewing:

About 5g of leaf in an 8 oz, preheated kyusu. Water at 70C. 1st infusion 1 min, 2nd infusion 10-15 sec, 3rd infusion 30 sec.

Brewing this way I don't notice much difference between these two teas, but more than that, they don't taste much like I remember sencha tasting. Rather than tasting grassy, they taste like soup. Very savory, umami flavor, a bit salty, kind of like nori or maybe miso broth. I hardly even recognize them as tasting like tea.

I guess what I'm curious about is whether this is a characteristic of the teas I'm choosing, and better tea would be different. Or whether perhaps I'm brewing them completely wrong. I've been interested in trying out some of this year's shincha, but if they're going to be much like these cheaper teas I've been trying, I figure I might as well save my money.

Possibly I could try a different type of Japanese green? I understand that kabusecha and gyokuro tend to be sweeter than sencha, and that interests me. Though I'm a little put off by what I've read about the care one needs to take with gyokuro--would that even be true with the Ito-En or Maeda-En gyokuros that you get at the grocery store?

Any thoughts?
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Re: Getting into sencha

Postby Chip » Apr 15th, '13, 00:29

... thoughts ... perhaps try some of the upcoming OTTI rounds featuring shincha, sencha, gyokuro. This would give you an opp to try different selections of much better quality selections.

Keep an eye on some updates coming under the OTTI/NOTTI forum of TC.

Other than that, you could try some vendors and/or selections that are frequently discussed on TeaChat.

I would not toss sencha under the bus based upon a tasting of Yamamotayama's Brazilian grown sencha costing 5 USD per 150 grams ... how do they even grow, harvest, manufacture, package, distribute this and still make money?

Not much I can say about Maeda-En's selection. I rteied a couple selections a few years ago and did not personally have a "wow" moment.
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Re: Getting into sencha

Postby saxon75 » Apr 15th, '13, 01:34

Yeah, I know these are not high-quality teas, but on the other hand I've been drinking crappy Japanese teas for most of my life, and I can't recall ever getting this sort of salty, umami, soupy flavor out of a tea before--any tea, for that matter, not just Japanese tea. It was just... odd. I'm used to sencha that tastes like, well, tea, not soup. Maybe with a hint of fresh-cut grass.

But then I've never had either of these teas before, and I've never tried brewing this way before. I usually use less leaf (or equivalently smaller teabags), hotter water, and longer steeping times. So I'm just wondering if these flavors are normal for sencha, or if I'm brewing it wrong, or if this is just particularly bad tea.
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Re: Getting into sencha

Postby BrooklynBrew » Apr 15th, '13, 10:55

Those are good "in a pinch" inexpensive options, I find. But I haven't had Maeda-En's Sencha Gold in a while, so I can't compare to some of the better stuff I've been drinking lately.

Some sencha does veer into brothy umami flavoring. I had plenty of it in Japan. I'm not an expert as to which sencha has what, but the taste you experienced is not unusual.
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Re: Getting into sencha

Postby victoria3 » Apr 15th, '13, 12:56

Since you are in San Diego you may be near some Japanese Markets that have specialty teas from Ito-en and Maeda-en. I was very impressed by the 2012 Maeda-en Sincha Nijia Market supplied. I posted a few others I liked here; viewtopic.php?f=41&t=18027&p=239933&hilit=+Maeda+en#p239933
p.s. I've pretty much given up teas that costs less than 15$ per 3.5oz, the quality is frustratingly not uniform bag to bag.
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Re: Getting into sencha

Postby saxon75 » Apr 17th, '13, 03:16

Thanks for the tip, Victoria. I visited Nijiya Market yesterday and found their selection to be pretty comparable to Mitsuwa and Marukai, but it's nice to have options. I tried two more somewhat more expensive senchas that agreed with me much better: Ito-En Kanayamidori and Orita-En Okumidori. Interestingly, both seemed to have the same basic profile, but with more balance and complexity.

The Ito-En Kanayamidori seemed "lighter" to me than the cheaper teas. Still very "big" and still very much along the umami lines, but with a more grassy, vegetal flavor to balance it out, as well as a nice buttery flavor in the finish.

The Orita-En Okumidori was much, much milder than any of the other three, with a sweetness in the finish that seemed more saccharin than sugary, if that makes sense, and even some subtle fruit notes. A bit of astringency developed in the second steep, as well as a flavor that seemed almost a bit minty. Very nice.

Just to see if I was remembering wrong, I went back and used one of the Shirakata Denshiro sencha teabags I keep at work, and, sure enough, although it did have a bit of that salty flavor, it was mostly grassy with little umami--much different from the four loose-leaf senchas I mentioned here. So either there's that much variation between teas or else the different brewing style makes that much of a difference.
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Re: Getting into sencha

Postby victoria3 » Apr 17th, '13, 14:20

saxon75 wrote:......I'm used to sencha tasting kind of clean and grassy.
........About 5g of leaf in an 8 oz, preheated kyusu. Water at 70C. 1st infusion 1 min, 2nd infusion 10-15 sec, 3rd infusion 30 sec.

Brewing this way I don't notice much difference between these two teas, but more than that, they don't taste much like I remember sencha tasting. Rather than tasting grassy, they taste like soup. Very savory, umami flavor, a bit salty, kind of like nori or maybe miso broth. I hardly even recognize them as tasting like tea.

I guess what I'm curious about is whether this is a characteristic of the teas I'm choosing, and better tea would be different. Or whether perhaps I'm brewing them completely wrong. I've been interested in trying out some of this year's shincha, but if they're going to be much like these cheaper teas I've been trying, I figure I might as well save my money....

To get “clean and grassy” flavor palate you will need to get higher end senchas or gyokuros, or better start pre-ordering 2013 sinchas, a discussion is going on now at; viewtopic.php?f=6&t=18404

My sencha parameters, more or less depending on the sencha, and keeping in mind I tend to go for full body flavors;
1gram/1ounce/135-155F/60-90seconds
This can vary between .75-1:25 grams leaf: per 1 ounce water (30ml) and I try shorter or longer brewing times to tweak the results. I've developed my own unorthodox way of checking if my steep is ready to pour; when I think the tea might be ready, I smell the pot, give the liquor a stir and taste the liquid dripping off a tiny spoon. This tells me if it's time to pour. I then pour into a small cup to pre-taste.

saxon75 wrote:Thanks for the tip, Victoria. I visited Nijiya Market yesterday and found their selection to be pretty comparable to Mitsuwa and Marukai, but it's nice to have options. I tried two more somewhat more expensive senchas that agreed with me much better: Ito-En Kanayamidori and Orita-En Okumidori. Interestingly, both seemed to have the same basic profile, but with more balance and complexity.
........
Just to see if I was remembering wrong, I went back and used one of the Shirakata Denshiro sencha teabags I keep at work, and, sure enough, although it did have a bit of that salty flavor, it was mostly grassy with little umami--much different from the four loose-leaf senchas I mentioned here. So either there's that much variation between teas or else the different brewing style makes that much of a difference.

I don't know Shirakata Denshiro Sencha so can’t compare and I’ve only had Orita-En’s, Tokujo Fukamushi Sencha from Chiran,Kagoshima (which is really fantastic) so also can’t comment on Orita-En’s Okumidori. Also, keep in mind it is the end of last seasons teas so they may be a little old. I just steeped Ito-En’s Kanayamidori and didn’t find it to be very grassy or vegetal in the way I love, but it's not bad either. But then my palate right now is spoiled because yesterday I enjoyed both O-Cha’s Uji Sencha Otsuusan (17$ 3.5oz) http://www.o-cha.com/green-tea/uji-sencha-otsuusan.html and then Zencha's Gyokuro the Ultimate (50$ 3.5pz) http://www.zencha.net/products.php . As you can see the price points are higher! I'd say load up on 2013 sinchas and if you are not going to pre-order, the local markets will eventually supply their own versions. I still have from Nijia Market some of Maeda-End's 2012 New Crop Shin-Cha Green Tea (15$ 3.5oz) and it is still wonderfully fresh and green tasting.
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Re: Getting into sencha

Postby saxon75 » Apr 17th, '13, 15:11

victoria3 wrote:To get “clean and grassy” flavor palate you will need to get higher end senchas or gyokuros, or better start pre-ordering 2013 sinchas, a discussion is going on now at; viewtopic.php?f=6&t=18404


It's interesting because that doesn't match my experience at all. Until about two weeks ago I'd never had green tea that wasn't the cheap grocery store type--unless I happened to get it by accident in a Japanese restaurant. Certainly these Shirakata Denshiro teabags are inexpensive, and they definitely taste more like the grassy, clean taste that associate with green tea. But then I've always brewed these and other cheap teabags in a more Western style: one teabag per mug, hotter water (usually just off boil but at times as low as 180F if it's coming out of the office coffee maker), and longer steeps (maybe 1.5 to 2.5 minutes, but not timed).

In any case, I'm intrigued enough by these new teas to jump into the shincha season. I'm not sure if I have the patience to brew gyokuro properly--from the directions at o-cha.com as well as the way people talk about it around here, it seems pretty involved. But I'm willing to put some work in to see what I can get from a higher-end sencha.

I've probably spent close to $100 in the past couple of weeks on different senchas, though, so I've put a moratorium on buying any new green teas until at least the middle of next month. That ought to give me some time to work through what I've already got, plus it'll be a bit easier on the wallet. ;)
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Re: Getting into sencha

Postby Devoted135 » Apr 20th, '13, 14:58

Have you tried any organic senchas? I've only tried one (from Den's), and I find it has much less umami than other senchas that I've tried. Might be worth a try? :)
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Re: Getting into sencha

Postby edkrueger » Apr 20th, '13, 16:17

Grassy is a taste I usually associate with cheap sencha.

Some examples are:
Shincha Sencha from Maiko
Matsu no Midori from Ippodo
Unro from Ippodo

Though the grassy flavor in the latter in two is alleviated with hotter water. If its grassy and over 1000yen per 100g, you are over paying.
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Re: Getting into sencha

Postby Chip » Apr 20th, '13, 16:27

... hm, there is goody grassy and then there is the more brassy grassy. :mrgreen:

Good grassy is pretty good.
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Re: Getting into sencha

Postby victoria3 » Apr 21st, '13, 15:16

Chip wrote:... hm, there is goody grassy and then there is the more brassy grassy. :mrgreen:

Good grassy is pretty good.

Yes exactly, and I love good fresh sweet grassy senchas. Cheap flavors for me are brassy brown and bitter.
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Re: Getting into sencha

Postby bambooforest » Apr 21st, '13, 15:39

My experience is the vast majority of sencha's are not grassy at all. I think people interpret "grassy" in different ways... but to me it's distinct and can't be misinterpreted.

The only vendor I've come across that has grassy sencha's is o-cha. And the grassiest sencha I've ever had, by far, is their Sencha Miyabi. It's also the best sencha I've ever had. Another sencha they have, for example, that's grassy is their asamushi Kirameki. This one is only lightly grassy, but definitely a wonderful addition to the flavor profile.

I think that the grassy profile isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, even for those who love Japanese green tea.
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Re: Getting into sencha

Postby saxon75 » Apr 22nd, '13, 03:03

Devoted135 wrote:Have you tried any organic senchas? I've only tried one (from Den's), and I find it has much less umami than other senchas that I've tried. Might be worth a try? :)


I don't believe I have, no. I'll certainly look into it. :)
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Re: Getting into sencha

Postby saxon75 » Apr 22nd, '13, 03:07

bambooforest wrote:My experience is the vast majority of sencha's are not grassy at all. I think people interpret "grassy" in different ways... but to me it's distinct and can't be misinterpreted.


When I say that something tastes "grassy," I mean that it tastes the way a bag of fresh grass clippings smells. Like my lawn after it gets mowed, but without the smell of oil and gasoline from my old, crappy lawnmower.

I can see where this wouldn't be to a lot of people's taste.
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