Any lover of tea will want to experience Sencha at least once for its vivid green color, deep fresh-mown grassy notes and sweet, almost syrupy finish with just a touch of astringency. As Japan’s most popular tea, it has a very simple, straight-forward name with “sen” meaning green and “cha” meaning tea. But not all “green tea” is created equal. Unlike the production in China, where charcoal pan-firing is a common way to “kill the leaf” by deactivating the enzyme that would otherwise turn a tea from green to black, the Japanese use hot steam to achieve the same end. The result is a markedly different appearance, aroma and flavor compared to the straw yellow, nutty and vegetal green teas like China’s famous Dragon Well.
Now within the broad category of Sencha, you have numerous variations based on the time of year the tea was harvested, the grade of sorting it was give and possibly most interesting the way it was processed before being dried and sold. Fukamushi-cha, which translates as “heavily steamed tea” is one such variation of Sencha that hardly ever makes it outside Japan, but that we find to be well worth the effort of tracking down. At first glance you might think you were actually sold a bum lot of old, poorly handled Sencha --which usually maintains a lovely long needle-like shape-- due to the broken, dusty look of the leaves. However, this is exactly how Fukamushi should look after being steamed for 2-3 times longer than regular Sencha. Compare the two in the photo below (with the deep-steamed leaf on the right):
(photo from The Story of Tea by Mary Lou and Robert Heiss)
The change in appearance also translates into the cup and Fukamushi is notorious for having a thick almost brothy appearance with a much darker shade of green than common Sencha. Most significant however is the richer, full-bodied mouthfeel also resulting from the extra leaf particles emulsified in the infusion. In a way, it’s appropriate to think of Fukamushi Sencha as a halfway point between a regular steeped tea and Matcha, where the entire leaf as been ground into powder and whisked into water. Incidentally, though this tea may seem stronger and deeper at first, the aftertaste is as a mild and sweet any Sencha and the extra steaming is thought to make it even easier for those with delicate stomachs to tolerate.