Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tea Time: Let's Talk Sencha!

I feel obliged to begin the Tea Talks with the brew most often imbibed by me: Stash Premium Green. This is a sencha-style blend of green teas, which the Stash company originally sourced directly from Japan. However, several years ago, they set up an outpost in Brazil, and now the tea is produced there, though to my palate it is the same tea. I have easily ingested 1000+ cups of this simple, crisp and clean green tea. The big surprise is that most of the cups which I've consumed were brewed from ... drum roll: BAGS!

People who are really into tea tend to look down on bags, and I tend to agree. However, there are a few cases where bag tea has achieved the stratum of imperial craft, and sencha is probably the best developed tea bag in the universe because in Japan sencha is consumed more avidly even than water! Seriously, they serve sencha constantly. Every meeting, every meal, every pause, every talk, every event is accompanied by a fresh pot of sencha. In the hotel rooms, there is even a tea center every bit as obligatory as the writing table and the bathroom! The Japanese do not mess around when it comes to sencha, an essential part of Japanese life! Or should I say essenchal?

Yesterday, Jalé commented on Facebook that she found it odd that the British so often prepare tea from a bag, and I agree that most tea is better produced using loose leaves. In many cases, the improved brew is worth the pain of cleaning up the mess later. With well-dosed and produced sencha bags, however, the tea produced using the bag method is PERFECT. You cannot get any better than perfect, so why even try? 

Like the Japanese, I am a purist when it comes to sencha: nothing is better than sencha alone! No cream, no sugar, no honey, just pure clean, crisp, peridot-citrine colored sencha! Sencha has a delicious, almost food-like, slightly vegetal and nutty taste which should not be masked, and I never, ever add anything to it. There is something deeply satisfying about this tea, as though it were liquid food--or manna from heaven!

I like the double-walled Bodum glasses (pictured above), because they are cool to the touch but keep the brewed tea at the perfect temperature from the first sip to the final drop. The secret is the thick cushion of air between the two layers of glass, and I applaud (and am grateful to) the designer of these ingenious vessels! I am very picky about the temperature of hot drinks, and if my coffee or tea becomes a degree or two too cool, then I have to give it a zap in the microwave. (If that is not possible, then I toss it or else (if caffeine is the issue) guzzle it with some disgruntlement.) My preference is to drink tea at its optimum temperature over a few minutes, but sometimes I get distracted by this or that.

Sencha is a superb green tea, and judging by the amount I've consumed, it has to be one of my favorites. The Stash Premium Green teabags are foolproof for me and offer nearly instant gratification and happiness. I was thinking about the perfumes to which I'd compare this composition, and it would have to be these:

Do I believe that these are the best perfumes on the planet? No, I do not. But they are dependable, and never, ever let me down. I can wear them day or night, and even to bed, which is how I managed to drain the bottles! (Yes, I am working through backups of each...)

Now it's your turn: how do you feel about sencha? Are there any perfumes analogous to your sencha experience? Which drinking vessels do you use, if you drink sencha? Do you add milk, sugar, or other adulterants (in my view)? 


  1. Shera, I agree with you, there are indeed some very rare cases of GOOD tea-bags, the one you mentioned is a perfect example. Like you, I have my green tea (and sencha is one of my favs) without anything. No milk, no sugar. The tea-bags I had in mind are those containing "tea dust", not even leaves. Black, strong teas are the result - a mixture I don't like, because my stomach is too sensitive and the aroma is not very refined either. I'm trying to think of a perfume I could compare to the essencual Sencha you mentioned, but can't think of any at the moment... will return to this question later... Btw, do you like cardamon? I often use cardamon to enhance the flavour of certain black teas.

    1. Yes, Jale, thank you so much for elaborating on your tea bag issue, which is totally valid.

      Here is my theory: when the tea is sorted for buyers, the first choice leaves make up small batches to be sold at places such as Upton Tea Imports, whose clientele are serious connoisseurs. The next choice leaves go to upscale companies such as Tazo and Stash. Next comes decent but not great companies such as Twinings (sorry Brits, but it's a fact ;-)).

      Moving down, as the good leaves are now disappearing fast and furiously, while simultaneously becoming smaller and smaller, the linty stuff in Lipton and other low-grade bags sold in boxes of 100 for a pittance is barely tea, in my view, and is probably swept up from the floor--these are the very bags which you lament, above... Americans think that orange pekoe is a kind of tea. In reality, Lipton tea bags contain all of the dust from all of the varieties of ceylon and less expensive black teas. I believe that all of the dust and lint on the floor from all of the different rooms is swept up and blended into a homogeneous medium-grained powder for use in filter bags.

      The anti-crème de la crème has got to be low-grade instant iced tea powder. How is it prepared? My theory: they pour water all over the floor in all of the rooms where the black tea (and probably some green as well) was picked over (there's nothing left on the leaf table), then they sweep it all into a vat and evaporate the liquid away until only dust remains!

      So there you have it my theory on mass tea production! ;-)

      On cardamom: I love it, but I believe that I have only had it in chai tea mixtures. I have never added it to a black tea myself. Perhaps I'll try that on your recommendation. A stout Assam with cream and a touch of cardamom could be very tasty... It's certainly delicious in baking! ;-)

      By the way, I made a really interesting rice pudding recently. I was out of cream and so decided to try to make chai with coconut milk. I was not pleased with the results (as a beverage), so I used it instead to make a rice pudding. It was totally delicious! Here's the recipe: about a cup or two of jasmine rice + about four cups of stoutly brewed chai (sweetened with honey) + one can of coconut milk. Bake it for about an hour. I ate it for breakfast a few days in a row. Yum!

  2. Wonderful! I believe that your "theory" is the dusty tea-bag-truth. Well, samovars are no longer in fashion. I remember the strong, black concentrate which kept on bubbling for hours on my grandmothers samovar in Tehran. This black tea had to be diluted with water and we had it with little lumps of sugar we held between our lips while sipping the hot tea. Not recommended for people with teeth-problems...
    Your recipe for a "chai-pudding" sounds tempting, I'll give it a try and report back. About tea-scents: Jo Malone's Earl Grey and Cucumber is lovely. And "Lale Doinante Blanche2 isn't bad either, it features white tea. "White tea" is another beauty, "Pai Mu Tan" is the one I adore.

    1. I love the samovar story! Yes, times have changed!

      Earl Grey and Cucumber? That's an odd-sounding combination, but potentially interesting, although I must confess that I am mildly prejudiced against Jo Malone for charging edp prices for colognes with poor longevity...

      Lale Doinante Blanche2 is a creation I've never heard of. Is that a new house? I do have some obscure tea fragrances which came and went at Anthropologie. It was a nice concept: tea-centered fragrances packaged in book-like boxes. Here's a link to my reviews of a couple of them and also pictures:

      I, too, like white tea, and will be brewing some up here soon. Stay tuned! ;-)

  3. Wow My Dear, A very interesting topic as usual! Now I am asking myself, could it be? Have I never had sencha tea? not that I am aware of! Am I missing something? I must try as soon as possible!
    I am a tea drinker, but of the black nature. I drink loose whole leaf tea usually earl grey made in a stove top samovar. I add from time to time different flavors depending on my mood.
    The flavors usually are cardamom, rose geranium ( one leaf from the plant), rose water ( a drop or two) and if I am felling extravagant saffron ( a few threads) .
    I drink it sweet, no milk, and in a clear glass, so I can see the color I do not like it too dark.
    However, am not completely dedicated to just this one drink this way. I like different drinks at different times of the day. The samovar black tea is my after 3pm drink.
    While I have never tried sencha tea, I do drink matcha tea powder in the morning, prepared in the form of green tea latte. Not in traditional Japanese fashion, but I do love it!
    Next drink after green tea latte is my coffee, I am a stove top perker, I like my coffee as hot as possible!!!!
    Then I usually fill in between with assorted tea bags, they are perfect for time saving and being on the go!
    I actually have a beverage prep cabinet to rival a coffee shops!
    As for the fragrance that fills the go to spot......

    1. Hello, Kim! How splendid that we have a samovar maven among us!

      Most Americans have not tried sencha, because the vast majority of green tea at the grocery store is China green of various (usually low) grades (see my tea bag theory, in a response to Jale, above...). You can probably buy the Stash Premium green at your grocery store, but as far as I've seen, that's the only sencha-style tea available at most supermarkets. Of course, you could always visit your local Japanese food market and get some very high-grade and pure sencha (not a blend) for a reasonable price. Do try!

      That's so wonderful that you love matcha--which is a close cousin to sencha. In fact, your comment segues perfectly into the next episode of Tea Time! The title will be: "Magical Matcha", or should it be "Magnificent Matcha", or perhaps "The Miracle of Matcha"? Well, anyway, you get the gist: I love matcha, too! ;-) I'll try to post that one tomorrow...

      It's great to know that you take your beverages so seriously--no less than a prep cabinet: I love it!!!!!!

      Jale also mentioned adding cardamom to black tea. Now I really must try it! As far as cream and sugar for black tea, I am *exactly* the opposite of you. Now I am curious: how do you take your coffee (aside from hot ;-)). Whenever I get a "handcrafted" drink from Starbucks I request extra hot. Sometimes it's still not hot enough, depending on the barista. I should probably say "extra extra hot" to make my point as emphatic as possible. ;-)

      I have tried rose-scented tea, though I've never done it myself. It seems that you really have your systems down to a science. Saffron also sounds like a potentially fascinating addition. I do have saffron threads, and I LOVE the scent of saffron, so I should try that, too.

      I'll be expecting lots of input from you on the matcha episode. Great to see you hear, Kim! ;-)


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