The first harvest begins when the spring sun wakes the tea bushes up from winter hibernation, a period of time important for the plant to replenish its energy stores, enabling vigorous growth in spring. These new-season leaves are packed full of phytonutrients, responsible for the tea‘s bright green colour, fresh aroma, and distinctive rich umami flavour.
Unlike most of the teas of the world, green tea in Japan is not made through a process of oxidation. Instead, it is simply withered, steamed and dried as a way to preserve the natural polyphenols and fresh tea flavour. Each variety of green tea is processed in a slightly different way. Parlor Tea’s Spring Sencha for example, is a variety of sencha known in Japan as a ‘first-flush asamushi sencha’ — a tea that is made from sweet and tender young leaves, and only steamed very lightly to preserve the natural flavours before being dried and rolled into slender needles.
In Japan, the traditional experience of drinking green tea alone or with others is often viewed as a form of communion, a slow and mindful activity that brings one’s mind to the present moment, and reminds us of our humble place in the world — in harmony with nature.
A cup of sencha is often the first thing offered on entry to a restaurant, to clients at the beginning of a meeting, and to guests at one’s home. The simple act of offering tea, is also an offering of hospitality, friendship, and kindness.
But the daily art of hand-brewed, high-quality green tea is in threat of becoming a lost tradition, undermined in the last thirty years by the advent of ready-to-drink bottled tea. The impact of this modern convenience has not only caused a significant increase in plastic waste, it has also influenced the way tea is grown. Large companies now dominating the market, grow mostly mass-produced low quality tea leaves, from a single ‘high-yielding’ cultivar, diminishing the numerous tea varieties that once flourished across Japan and homogenising Japan’s once bountiful offering of green tea flavours.
Thankfully we are now starting to see the emergence of a green tea renaissance, as younger generations rediscover Japanese tea with new values, and research into the health benefits continue to provide solid scientific evidence to back up many of the health claims associated with daily consumption.
World class restaurants are now adding cultivar specific green tea to their beverage menus, mixologists are exploring how the flavours and mood enhancing properties of green tea can substitute or complement alcohol, and tea sommeliers are experimenting with new extraction (brewing) techniques like never before.
These new found curiosities are propelling green tea into a beverage category as vast as white wine, and helping to support many of the smaller tea farmers and producers in Japan who hold within their often family run businesses much of the specialist production knowledge passed down through generations of kin.
In our fast paced world, full of things, noises, places to be and people to see, it is the momentary experiences such as a delightful cup of tea we seek to ground ourselves in what can sometimes feel like a whirlwind of meaningless activity.
Next time you’re feeling caught up in the haze of modern life, take 5 mins out to brew yourself a pot of green tea. Sit with it, be still, quiet your mind, and enjoy the precious moments of freedom.