Up until the late 18th century, at least 900 years after it was first introduced to Japan, tea was processed the same basic way as it was in its Chinese homeland.
However, around 1740 a radical tea producer named Soen Nagatani changed everything.
Instead of the traditional method of pan-firing (think of a big wok) the leaves, a new process of steam-drying was created. The new process, then referred to as the Uji method, quickly replaced the traditional method in Japan.
The process went something like this: almost immediately after picking, the leaves are steamed for about 20 – 160 seconds to seal in the flavor, followed by drying, pressing, and rolling. This brief steaming, it is said, brings out the “fresh” flavor and the drying locks that flavor in.
The resulting leaves took on a vibrant green, needle-like appearance (which explains why we, in the Western world, sometimes refer to this tea by the name “Spider Leg Tea”), which became known as sen-cha (literally translating to “common tea” or “plain tea”).
Today, Sencha is one of the most popular teas to come out of Japan, accounting for roughly 80% of production of all Japanese teas. And for all the newbie readers who may think this is a still a foreign, exotic tea, if you’ve ever been to any upscale sushi restaurant worthy of its praise, chances are they are serving up the Spider Leg Tea (although, to be safe I’d order it as “Sencha” to avoid any unnecessary arachnid encounters)!
So give this un-commonly delicious tea a try today!