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.
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.
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.