Sencha is a type of Chinese-Japanese loose-leaf tea that has gained popularity in the west along with the growth in popularity of green teas in general.
Sencha tea is not only popular because of the culture that envelopes tea drinking in general, but also because green tea has made a significant impact in the west’s understanding of the connection between herbs, spices, and other plant components, and our health.
Tea has been used for thousands of years in Asia as both a key cultural element through which values and history are transmitted, but also as an important element for maintaining correcting a healthy internal balance through traditional medicine. Green tea has now been deeply studied to determine (or sometimes to confirm or refute) the effects it has on our health.
In this article, we give you a brief history of sencha, present an overview of the health benefits of sencha, and also present you with the nutrition, uses, and forms of preparation of sencha.
A Brief History of Sencha
While sencha is often referred to as a Japanese tea, it has its origins in China. It was introduced into Japan via chanoyu rituals (tea ceremonies), during a time when tea and all of the elements around its preparation and consumption, had been an important part of elite Japanese culture . At the time of its adoption in Japan, followers of sencha aimed to embody Chinese tea literature and tea history. In other words, sencha became the epitome of elite tea culture .
As Patricia Jane Graham writes in her book, Tea of the Sages, The Art of Sencha, “ Sencha reflected renewed emphasis on the venerable legacy of tea in China – both tea lore and processing technology” .
It is nearly impossible to separate the history of sencha, specifically, from the history of green tea in Japan in general. Lu Yu is a Japanese scholar that lived in the 8th century, considered by some to be the patron saint of tea, elevated tea to a scholarly level in his book Classic of Tea written in about 760 CE .
However, it wasn’t until the 16th century that the art of sencha was perfected. China’s tea connoisseurs noted that they could improve the flavor of loose leaf tea if they specified water temperature, tea strength, and even steeping time .
Sencha, however, refers to loose-leaf tea in general, rather than a specific processing form of tea (which results in black, white, red, green, or Oolong tea). Sencha, indeed, refers to loose-leaf teas of all kinds, but we have come to know sencha in the west as green tea. Interestingly, green tea wasn’t introduced into eastern Asia until the 17th century, from India to Japan .
In Lu Yu’s book, Classic of Tea, which is still seen as a gold standard of tea preparation and drinking culture in Japan, he catalogues the differences between teas by processing and goes on to describe their preparation .
- Matcha is powdered tea which is added to boiling water.
- Sencha is loose leaf tea, which was prepared by roasting and pounding the tea leaves, and then boiling in water.
- Caked or brick tea, which was placed into a bowl, hot water was poured over, and the mixture was whisked together.
Traditional uses of sencha are linked to the Chinese and Japanese tea ceremony. Tea was meant to be enjoyed and to exult one’s status in society.
Additionally, from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine, tea is used to treat :
- Urine retention
- Clears phlegm
- Internal heat
- For gastrointestinal disturbance due to stuck qi (energy)
In the West and in other parts of the world, people drink green tea for enjoyment and to reap some of its most popular health benefits, including weight loss, type 2 diabetes control, and a reduction in oxidative stress, among others .
There are several well-studied benefits of green tea on human health. Here are a number of health benefits, many of which are considered to be “proven” by western science.
- Increases antioxidant markers
Sencha green tea is high in a type of antioxidant called catechins. Antioxidants help to protect cells from the effects of free radicals, which can be damaging to cells and organs.
Studies demonstrate that green tea helps to increase antioxidant activity of the blood plasma [6, 7]. At the same time, indicators of oxidative stress, which result from too many free radicals in the blood, are lowered as well .
An increase in antioxidant markers means that the body is better equipped to fight cell damage and cell death that can result health problems ranging from heart disease to cancer.
- Lowers blood pressure
The catechins in green tea may help to reduce blood pressure when consumed regularly.
A systematic review of controlled trials found that green tea consumption is shown to improve blood pressure, especially those with a systolic blood pressure ≥130 mm Hg .
Animal studies show that the blood-pressure lowering effect may also be effective if patients that are prone to stroke, meaning it has a therapeutic effect even for those who already present blood-pressure related illnesses . Green tea extract can even reduce blood pressure in obese, hypertensive patients, which shows its therapeutic effect, rather than solely its preventative benefits .
- Helps to promote relaxation
Green tea has L-theanine, an amino acid that exerts a relaxation effect in humans. This unique amino acid is found almost only in tea plants, and it acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain and decreases blood pressure significantly .
Since green tea has caffeine, it may seem strange that green tea can promote relaxation. It is important to note that relaxation is not the same as sleepiness.
In fact, sencha green tea can produce a state of “alert relaxation”. In this state, we are aware and clear-headed, but are not stressed or anxious .
- Promotes weight loss and fights obesity
Sencha green tea contains a catechin most commonly referred to as EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), which is responsible for the metabolism-boosting power of green tea.
EGCG has shown to moderately decrease body weight, but body weight change is maintained after weight loss [14, 15]. This is especially true for people who do not regularly consume significant amounts of caffeine .
The mechanisms of action are not completely understood, but they may be related to modulations of energy balance, endocrine systems, food intake, fat and carbohydrate metabolism, and the activities of different types of cells .
- Lowers cholesterol
High cholesterol levels (especially LDL cholesterol) have a significantly negative impacts on human heart health. Prescribed medicine for high cholesterol has serious side effects . For these reasons, there has been increasing interest in dietary-based solutions to high LDL cholesterol levels.
One of the dietary solutions linked to lower LDL cholesterol levels is green tea consumption.
Survey data taken from over 1300 men in the late 80s was used to see if researchers could draw conclusions about the relationship between green tea consumption and cholesterol levels. Researchers found that those who regularly drank green tea had lower total cholesterol levels . Another, similar study echoed these results .
Lower cholesterol levels are likely achieved due to the impact on metabolism that results in an increase of lipid (fat) excretion through the digestive tract out through the stool .
- Protects your teeth against dental damage and cavities
Our dental health really doesn’t get as much attention as it should.
For this reason, this might be one of the lesser-known health benefits of sencha green tea catechins.
When research participants rinsed their mouth with a solution that contained EGCG catechins, and 30 minutes later with a 10% sugar solution, EGCG inhibited acid production that is caused by dental plaque bacteria .
It was also found that sencha green tea may protect teeth from tooth erosion and abrasion caused by cola drinks .
Green tea just might be part of your dental hygiene process!
- Lowers blood glucose
People who are at risk of, or who have been diagnosed with, type 2 diabetes, must always keep an eye out on their blood glucose (blood sugar). If their blood sugar get’s too high, it could cause diabetic patients to go into diabetic shock.
For that reason, any innovative and non-drug-based elements that could help to contribute to blood glucose control are welcome.
Animal studies demonstrated that EGCG is able to mimic insulin and achieve decreases in glucose production of hepatoma cells .
Another study in humans found a similar effect, but researchers believe that a certain, unidentified serum protein is the element responsible for green tea’s antidiabetic effect .
To best understand the nutritional value of tea, it is important to look beyond the “nutrition facts label”.
The best way to understand the nutritional composition of sencha is to examine its composition .
Below is a table that presents the chemical and nutritional composition of green tea:
Composition (%) of green tea, black tea, and black tea infusion .
|Compound||Green Tea*||Black tea*||Infusion*|
|Oxidized phenolic compounds§||0||25||4.5|
* Data refer to dry weight of tea leaves.
† Infusion time: 3 minutes
‡ Especially flavonoids
§ Especially thearubigins and theaflavins
The table makes it clear that tea is composed mostly of protein, fiber and phenolic compounds. Since we don’t eat tea leaves, and instead drink tea infusions, the protein and fiber content is irrelevant. The phenolic compounds, however, are of great interest. The phenolic compounds are mostly catechin flavonoids which refers to a group of very powerful antioxidants and are found in higher proportions in green tea than in black or oolong tea .
In other words, the nutritional value of sencha is not in its vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients, but rather in phenolic compounds that exert effects on our organs, cells and bodily processes.
How to Prepare Sencha Green Tea
Sencha green tea is best prepared in five steps . You will need boiled water, a ceramic tea cup, a spoon, and cups to serve.
- Boil water and let sit until it reaches 70C (158C).
- Pour about 1 tsp of sencha per person into the pot.
- Pour water into the teapot.
- Cover the pot with its lid and let it steep for one minute.
- Pour tea into each teacup and enjoy.
Green tea is more than just a hot beverage, especially when the tea is of Asian origins. Sencha green tea has been enjoyed for thousands of years for pleasure, cultural significance, and for its health benefits.
Now, more than every before, the knowledge of the beneficial effects of certain components in green tea and our health has resulted in a significant increase in green tea popularity. Sencha green tea has demonstrated health benefits for several conditions, including overweight, dental health, and blood pressure and cholesterol.