Bancha

Plucked from the same plants which grow Japanese Sencha tea, Bancha is harvested later in the growing season from succession flushes.

This second harvest from these plants usually occurs about twenty days after the Sencha harvest and any subsequent harvests after that are used as a way to help tidy up the tea plants before winter. This helps explain why the word Bancha translates to mean “last tea”.

These succession leaves are processed identically to the spring Sencha: steam fixed, rolled, and dried. So it may be logical to a drinker that a succession leaf from same plant, using the same processing methods, should produce the same flavors, body, and aromas as the first flush leaves. That cannot be further than the truth.

Why? Because of the leaves.

By the time Bancha leaves are harvested, they are older and tougher than the leaves of the first harvest. This toughness is why a side by side comparison of Bancha and Sencha leaves reveals the Bancha leaves to be larger and, on occasion, whole. These older leaves also contain less caffeine than the first flush leaves, as the plant sends an extra boost of caffeine from the roots into the first new leaves of the spring to help the plant explode with new growth. After the initial burst of energy following the time of winter dormancy, the plant sends less caffeine through its branches.

The resulting brew tends to carry more lemon notes, but can have some more harsh undertones as compared with Sencha. These tones help make it a a wonderful base tea for Genmaicha.

Brew It

I procured this batch of Bancha from Harney & Sons. At the time of this post Harney & Sons has available several types of Bancha, each with its own unique characteristics. I am not certain, however, I believe that part of the reason for this large variety is because the Japanese have several grades of Bancha tea that are marketed and sold globally.

The leaves of the Bancha I purchased are a rich dark green spears that are of varying sizes (harken back to the tougher leaves being more difficult to process to be identical sizes, like a Sencha).

Like most green teas, Bancha will taste best when steeped at 175 degrees Fahrenheit for two to three minutes.

Bancha liquor is a light yellow with a small hint of green. Light bodied with almost no astringency, it is almost like a light broth. The broth attitude is emphasized by the aroma of leafy greens. It has a clean vegetable scent to it.

The brew’s flavors are like a steamed broccoli or a green bell pepper. It’s got a lovely clean bite to it that is reminiscent of fresh sautéed green beans. There can be a tiny hint of fishiness, but I haven’t always picked up this flavor on all cups. And if you hold the liquor in your mouth you’ll experience the astringency increasing.

Contemplative Thoughts

There isn’t anything super outstanding about Bancha. It’s just a good cup of green tea. So if you’re not picky and want just a good cup of green tea, definitely give Bancha a try.

But just because it is ordinary doesn’t make it any less magical than any other type of tea. So often in America we are found chasing the extreme moments in life. Whether it is pressure of social media to have the online image of a perfect life or pressures within ourselves to have the best life we possibly can, we often find ourselves feeling like something is missing.

I’m beginning to think that what is missing is the magic in the ordinary. When we focus on what is to come or on trying to make things look perfect, we fail to be able to grasp the peace and serenity of the moment. But slowing down and simply enjoying the moment as it is, savoring the sensations and flavors as they happen, not trying to cling to them, we can experience the extraordinary.

So today, slow down and really savor your cup. Take notice of the way the cup fits in your hand; how the steam rises off the surface of the liquor and dances in the sunlight; the moment the smooth liquid touches your tongue and truly savor every last drop. Give yourself the gift to simply enjoy the magic of the moment.

Ichiban Sencha

Ichiban Sencha, or as Lori and I lovingly call it “Icky-ban Sencha”, is a prime example of how easily you can mess up making a cup of tea. It’s refreshing to read even the most experienced tea connoisseurs and experts can incorrectly make a cup of tea the first time they brew a cup. The first time I made this sencha, I’ll admit, it was horrible. So much so, I was dreading this post. The second attempt, I’m pleased to report, was much more pleasant. 

Ichiban Sencha is possibly the most assertive of all senchas. Made from the first flush of new growth in the spring, the word Ichiban means “the first”. Unlike the single estate Matsuda’s Sencha, this is a blend of teas grown in the Kakegawa area of Shizuoka, Japan.

Made in a more modern (post World War II) style, this tea is deep steamed using  fukumushi method, where the tea is steamed an additional 30 seconds longer than the traditional method. Those extra few seconds further breaks down the leaves making a stronger brew. Today most senchas are produced using this method.

Brew It

Harney & Sons once again came to the rescue on this tea. Since there are no shops locally to source high quality teas, I do my tea shopping online, from a list quality vendors that I have grown to love. And Harney & Sons always has one of the best selections on pure teas available in the States. 

The leaves of Ichiban Sencha are a mix of rich green needles and more fine, almost powdery, bits. 

As you can see from my first attempt at the brew, the liquor is a darker green, and cloudy from the powdery leaves (this should have been my first clue that I made the cup a wee bit too strong). My second attempt matched closer to the expected intense green color (albeit still a bit on the cloudy side). 

On both attempts, the aromas of the steeped leaves is a unique mix of woodsy citrus with a vegetal undertone. 

Medium bodied on both attempts, but the flavors couldn’t be more different. The initial attempt was so astringent that Lori nor I could adequately pick out any flavors. It was like eating a lemon. Or more accurately, like a punch in the face. We did discover that as you held the liquor in your mouth, the flavors would evolve. The brew became less astringent and a warm spice flavor, almost a sweet-cinnamon or nutmeg-like, would pair with the citrus vegetable on the finish. 

My second attempt proved much more pleasant (no punch in the face!). I made the tea a little bit lighter. This made the tea slightly more lighter bodied, but also took out the worst of the astringency. As a result I was able to pick up more on the lemon and spinach / turnip green flavors. As on the first attempt, the longer that I held the liquor in my mouth, the more the flavors evolved, becoming less astringent still, letting the vegetal flavors really shine. The warm spice flavors were not as prevalent, but I definitely suggest trying yourself to see what flavors your tongue can taste. 

Contemplative Thoughts

Perfectionistic to a fault, I was certain when I first made Ichiban Sencha that I made it correctly. After all, I followed the instructions, so how could this have  gone wrong? But aray it went. 

I spent weeks brooding over this post. Dreading knowing what was down the pike. I procrastinated knowing that I would need to make another cup of this wretched brew to confirm what I had already tasted and recorded in my notes to adequately record my thoughts for you.  

Hindsight is always 20/20. And I now see that was part of the reason for delaying my writing. I found other things on which to spend my time. Making excuses for why something else was more important. But in the end, I was merely delaying the inevitable. 

Sometimes life throws you curveballs. Things happen that you don’t want, that you can’t prevent. And quite frankly, sometimes there’s no way to contend against them. Pummeled, we chose not to do what we can to push through, to press forward. We just turtle up, back against the ropes, hoping it will stop soon. 

But it won’t. 

And then we face the decision: Do I chose to stay cowering in the corner? Or do I pull myself up to my full height and fight back with everything within me?

Today, I chose to fight. But first, tea.

Matsuda’s Sencha

Single estate teas are growing in popularity, but finding them can still be a challenge. Many small estates will pluck their tea leaves by hand, but it is often more economical for them to either outsource the production of the leaves to another party or to join with several other small tea estates at a central facility for processing.

So finding a tea that is plucked and processed by a single estate, like Matsuda’s Sencha, is a gem.

Yoshihiro Matsuda, his wife, and his Mom create this first flush tea in Japan’s Uji region from start to finish. Unlike many neighboring farms which cover the tea plants during the spring growing season to increase chlorophyll and amino acid production of the plant to make the resulting brew sweeter, Matsuda choses more traditional ways of cultivating a good crop: lots of sunshine and good soil. And the resulting Sencha is proof of the effort.

Brew It

This amazing tea is a Harney & Sons exclusive. The leaves are like a pile of lovely dark green, silky soft needles.

Like any Sencha, you will want to steep it for about two minutes at 175 degrees Fahrenheit.

The aromas of the leaves change drastically. When dried they smell exactly like sweet okra. However when steeped, they take on a spinach scent mixed with a meaty vegetable flavor akin to collard or turnip greens.

The pale yellow-green liquor has a light to medium body. The flavors, similar to the aromas, are vegetal leaning toward a boiled turnip green flavor with a hint of spinach. The flavors are brief on the tongue and fade quickly, but they leave you wishing to take another sip. You may pick up on a tiny hint of bitter from the light astringency.

Contemplative Thoughts

I adore the idea of a single estate tea. And I love how the Matsuda family constructs this tea from start to finish. After my first attempt at an apothecary garden in my backyard last summer, I can only imagine the volume of pride that they have in their tea and the dedication it takes to remember the end result as they send their tea to be steeped into mugs around the world. Sharing your prize is hard. Sharing your prize with the world, I can only imagine, is infinitely more difficult.

Too often I feel the need to draw within myself, close the door, and keep to myself the gifts which have such value in my heart. In these moments I have to remind myself of the purpose of these gifts: to bless others. What good is the peppermint on my shelf if I don’t share it with a friend with a feverish child? Or the lemon balm tisane blend I can whip up in a moment for a friend who is feeling down? None of it does any good hoarded on my shelf.

And so I open my heart, herb jars, and the Pandora’s box known as my tea cabinet to others. May they be blessed by the work of my hands and the endeavors of my mind.