Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The birth of sencha

This weekend, I joined a tea study tour hosted by the Nihoncha (or Japanese tea) instructor association. We visited many tea related places in Uji, Kyoto prefecture. One of the places we visited was Soen Nagatani’s birthplace.

Do you know who Soen Nagatani is? Soen is the one who invented sencha! Before sencha was invented, there had been two major types of tea in Japan. One was expensive matcha and the other one was poor bancha. Bancha was poorly made tea, from the tea plant cultivated in the open air fields, which was the tea for people. The tea was not easy infusible, like the sencha nowadays. You had to decoct the leaves to prepare the bancha, and the brewed tea color was brown. Only certain tea producers were allow to make the matcha, from the tea plant cultivated under cover. Without breaking the law, Soen wanted to make high quality tea from the tea plant by open air cultivation. He spent fifteen years of trial and error. At the old way of bancha making, it was difficult to regulate the amount of water in the leaves, especially with the processes of “kneading on matting” or “sun drying”. The moisture left in the leaves resulted in deterioration of tea. And also the smell of the matting or sun-drying detracted the aroma of green tea. The most innovative process Soen came up with was the kneading on a kiln, which allowed “drying at a constant rate” and “kneading” together. The new process could create stable and high quality tea, and made the leaves look like large needles in profound green color. The brewed tea had clear yellowish green, and the excellent aroma and taste in the harmony of bitterness, umami, and sweetness. It was the birth of sencha.

The picture is the kiln Soen used.

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