Japanese Green Tea - Understanding the Broken and Fragmented Leaves

by Julian

Japanese tea leaves tend to be more broken and fragmented.

From my general readings, I think there are two aspects to this issue when making sencha tea.

First it is the post-steaming processes.

These consist of steps such as pressing (2 times), rolling (3 times), twisting and drying.

It is said during the pressing process, leaves are intentionally fragmented to aid in the release of flavors.

(I think the much larger surface area contributes significantly to bitterness when brewing at higher temperature or with longer duration.

Don't really know why they do this. Some Chinese green tea is machined-rolled but they are not broken.)

Second, for deep steamed sencha tea (called Fukamushi), the twice as long steaming is said to "powder" the leaves.

(Fukamushi green tea is less grassy astringent, and has a stronger taste than regular sencha.)

The effects of powdering or fragmentation can be detected by observing the tea liquor - it is more cloudy.

So in summary, it is the steaming and/or the subsequent processing that may fragment a Japanese green tea.

This leads to the question: how can we assess its quality if we can't see the whole leaf - like when we brew a Chinese green tea?

These are the questions I ask myself:

- Do they taste good?

- Are the fragmented pieces soft and tender? This gives us a clue whether they are tender shoots harvested from young buds or matured leaves.

I think if we go down this route, while religiously following the fairly strict brewing guidelines - we stand a good chance of getting the best out of Japanese tea.

It is much better than rejecting Japanese tea outright because they are all chopped up and fragmented.

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