You may think that matcha green tea is the most popular and widespread type of tea found in Japan, but it actually isn't – that title belongs to sencha. Comprising over 80 percent of tea consumption in Japan,1 sencha is a high-quality tea that anyone visiting this oriental country must sample. But what is it and what health benefits can be attributed to it?
What Is Sencha Tea?
Made from small-leaf Camellia sinesis bushes, Japanese sencha is a steamed, high-quality green tea variety. Do not confuse it with matcha – while matcha is grown under the shade, sencha green tea, albeit non-fermented as well, grows under full sunlight.2 What's more, matcha tea is often available as a green tea powder, while sencha is made using whole leaves.3
The plants' top leaves and buds are crucial for brewing Sencha tea.4 After harvesting and during processing, the leaves are rolled into a needle-like shape before being steamed. Afterwards, the leaves are dried, sorted and then blended.5
Sencha leaf tea comes in different varieties and boast of different colors. Some appear as pale green, while others are a bright, greenish yellow. For example, asamushi, a lightly steamed sencha, is very pale and has a light, delicate taste. Deep-steamed sencha, or fukamushi, has a more pronounced color and a bolder taste.6 Other types of sencha include:7
- Shincha, or Ichiban-cha, is a type of sencha harvested in the spring (or during the first harvest after the winter). It has a sweeter and richer flavor and has more umami than the other types.
- Chumushi lies between Asamushi and fukamushi sencha. During processing, it is steamed for only one minute.
- Uji sencha hails from the Uji region, a small area known for producing matcha and Gyokuro. This variety can be quite expensive.
- Genmaicha is produced by mixing sencha with toasted brown rice. Genmaimatcha is one variation, which is dusted with either matcha or powdered sencha.
- Powdered sencha can be classified as a type of matcha. However, it is not grown in the shade like real matcha. It can be used for cooking, and has a nice vegetal flavor.
Sencha Tea's Health Benefits
Sencha tea leaves are dense in nutrients and, just like matcha tea, may provide a host of benefits if consumed regularly, such as:8
- May have heart-protective benefits. There are Japanese studies that suggest how drinking green tea like sencha regularly may help reduce the risk of heart diseases and stroke. One study, which was composed of over 8,500 participants, found that those who drank over 10 cups of green tea daily may have a 28 percent reduced risk of dying from heart diseases.9
- May reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes. One study in Japan found that those who drink six or more cups of green tea had a 33 percent lowered risk of getting Type 2 diabetes compared to those who only consume one cup a week.10 For diabetics, it may also help manage their blood sugar levels.11 This is thanks to the polysaccharides and polyphenols in the tea.
- May help maintain normal cholesterol levels. Another Japanese study found that drinking as much as 10 cups of green tea daily can help lower your LDL or bad cholesterol levels while the HDL or good cholesterol remains unaffected.12
However, take note that the amounts of tea ingested in the above studies may be too much for some people, as it may expose you to excessive caffeine, so tread carefully.
Sencha Tea Nutrition Facts
Sencha tea contains a host of beneficial compounds and nutrients, such as catechins, beta-carotene, vitamin C, potassium, folic acid, calcium, phosphorus and saponins. Here are the nutrition facts of this tea:13
|Total Fat||0 g||Potassium||0 mg|
|Saturated Fat||0 g||Total Carbs||0 g|
|Polyunsaturated Fat||0 g||Dietary Fiber||0 g|
|Monounsaturated Fat||0 g||Sugars||0 g|
|Trans Fat||0 g||Protein||0 g|
|Vitamin A 0%||Calcium||0%|
|Vitamin C 0%||Iron||0%|
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie
Does Sencha Tea Have Caffeine?
Like other Camellia sinensis teas, sencha tea does contain this stimulant. However, you don't have to worry – the caffeine content in sencha is typically very low, with only 30 milligrams in every cup.14 Even so, if you have any sensitivity to caffeine, you may want to moderate your intake of this beverage.
How to Make Sencha Tea
There is an art to making sencha tea, to ensure that you maximize its nutrients and do not ruin the flavor. For example, directly pouring freshly boiled water onto sencha leaves will give you a bitter brew.15 Here's how to make sencha tea properly:16
1. For every cup of tea that you're going to make, add one teaspoon of sencha loose leaf tea in a teapot.
2. Add near-boiling water to each cup and allow to cool for two minutes.
3. Pour the water from the cups (should have a temperature between 160 to 170 °F or 70-77 °C) into the teapot and let brew for one to two minutes. Serve and enjoy. You can also add hot water to the teapot for a second brewing, or even a third.
Here are some additional tips to help you out:
- Don't use an infuser, as loose tea leaves can move more freely and make better contact with water. This better extracts the flavor.
- Use good-quality filtered tap water, not distilled, and a non-reactive kettle, like ceramic or glass.
- When pouring the tea, pour small amounts into each cup at a time, going around until the last drop is poured.
How to Store Sencha Tea
Loose leaf green tea lives like sencha should be kept in a sealed, airtight container that can keep away odors. It should be opened as little as possible so that it will not be exposed to the elements. Store in a cool, dark place – this will help keep it fresh for up to six months. You can also place the sealed container in the refrigerator, so the tea will stay fresh for about a year.17
Sencha Tea Side Effects
The caffeine in sencha tea may lead to a number of side effects, such as headaches, nausea, stomach upset, heart palpitations, dizziness and anxiety. Don't drink sencha tea if you experience these effects, as you may be sensitive to caffeine. Caffeinated drinks are also ill-advised for pregnant or breastfeeding women. Other rare side effects that may occur from sencha tea include:18
- Allergic reaction – This is rare but possible, and symptoms may include skin irritation, shortness of breath, upset stomach and throat swelling.
- Iron deficiency – Sencha tea may contain antioxidants and polyphenolic compounds that can interfere with your body's iron absorption, leading to anemia and iron deficiency. To prevent this, limit your intake to 1 to 2 cups per day.
- Stomach upset – The tannins in sencha tea may irritate the stomach, causing nausea, diarrhea, bloating and cramping. Again, limit your intake to no more than 2 cups per day. Try drinking it with food as well.
Settle Into a Cup of Sencha for an Authentic Japanese Tea Experience
It may not be as popular as matcha, but sencha is one type of tea that you should not miss out on. It has a bold flavor, emits a fragrant aroma and offers health benefits – no wonder it makes up 80 percent of tea consumption in Japan. Just be wary of your sencha consumption, though – this still contains caffeine, albeit in small amounts, so you may experience potential side effects if you consume too much.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Sencha Tea
Q: Is sencha tea good for you?
A: Yes. Sencha tea contains beneficial compounds and nutrients, such as vitamin C, folic acid, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, saponins, catechins and beta-carotene. Together, they may provide benefits for your heart, protect against diabetes and even help maintain normal cholesterol levels.
Q: Where can I buy sencha green tea?
A: It's best to buy authentic sencha tea straight from Japan, but if this is not possible, you may find it in local health stores and supermarkets. Look for a trustworthy vendor that sells high-quality sencha tea.
Note: When buying tea of any kind, make sure that it's organic and grown in a pristine environment. The Camellia sinensis plant in particular is very efficient in absorbing lead, fluoride and other heavy metals and pesticides from the soil, which can then be taken up into the leaves. To avoid ingesting these dangerous toxins, a clean growing environment is essential, so that you can be sure you're ingesting only pure, high-quality tea.