Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Sencha Production in Shizuoka

In addition to viewing the tea gardens, we had the opportunity to take a tour of a local tea production facility in Shizuoka. The majority of the tea produced here is sencha and so we were able to learn more about how it’s made.

There are two phases in the production of sencha tea: “aracha” (crude tea) and “shiagecha” (refined tea).

The “aracha” phase of production usually occurs close to where the tea is harvested.

The spring harvest of the tea plants in Shizuoka usually starts at the end of April and continues through the end of May. After the tea plant is picked, the fresh leaves must be quickly heated via steaming in order to stop any further oxidation, reduce the grassy aroma and maintain the fresh green color of the leaf. Steaming is a very important component as it largely determines the taste, aroma and color in the cup. The amount of steaming depends on the thickness of the leaf: a thinner leaf from the higher mountain areas does not need as much steaming as a thicker leaf from a lower elevation. Sencha tea can be classified according to its’ level of steaming: wakamushi (light), chumushi (medium) and fukamushi (heavy).

After steaming, the tea is cooled down quickly to room temperature in order to preserve the fresh aroma and color. This is usually done in a cooling machine.

The leaves are then pressure rolled and twisted using dry, hot air to reduce the moisture content. This step further enhances the aroma and color of the tea. Then the tea is rolled and dried at least two more times to reduce the moisture to 5% and give the leaves their long, thin shape.

Aracha is then delivered to the factory. It can be consumed as is though it is usually processed to a more refined tea. Here is a photo of aracha:

In “shiagecha” production, the crude tea is processed further in order to balance the flavors, create a more uniform leaf shape and remove powder, sticks and stems. This is done by sorting the leaves and then firing them according to leaf size. The remaining sticks and stems are sorted and used for kukicha, also known as “twig tea”. The powder is used in konacha, a type of very hearty green tea that is often served in sushi restaurants.

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