What is Tencha Tea?

Picture of tea plant cultivated in the shade

Have you ever heard of Matcha? Sipped an iced Matcha tea latte with oat milk at Starbucks? Familiarized yourself with the ritual surrounding Matcha in Japanese tea culture? Then you’re sure to love this full bodied, rich tea – which is the base for Matcha!

Matcha tea is made by grinding the leaves of the Tencha plant into a fine powder. So, if you’re a lover of a Matcha latte, then you might like to reach for a scoop of Tencha tea for something a little different, but with the same full-bodied flavor that you get in a cup of Matcha. 

So, what is Tencha?

Tencha (pronounced tehn – cha) is a variety of tea that has a sweet, subtle, and elegant flavor when brewed. Often after drinking a cup, your breath may have a mild herbal scent that lingers after the cup of tea is gone. 

Because Tencha leaves are not broken down after being dried like some varieties of tea, the flavor does not become muddled by the breaking down process, called kneading. Instead, it can be quite difficult to draw out the flavors when brewed. Because of this, it is important to only buy high grade Tencha to get the best flavor out of your cup.

Help! I don’t like coffee, will Tencha wake me up?

Yes! Tencha tea leaves are high in caffeine – much like other varieties of green tea. Tencha has about 140-160 mg per 100 grams of tea, which is a little more than two shots of espresso. If you’re looking for a healthy alternative to coffee, Tencha is the perfect substitute! High in caffeine and high in antioxidants, this tea will wake you up and give you some vital nutrients to get your day started. However, unlike Matcha, Tencha leaves are removed from the water before consuming the tea. This means that some of the nutrients and antioxidants found in Tencha are not able to be absorbed into the body through the leaf form. For that, reach for a cup of Matcha!

Finding the Right Tencha

You may be wondering, if brewing this tea is so difficult, why bother? This is a great question with a very simple answer: its unique flavor and rich umami taste make this tea a real treat. And brewing it is not so hard! The most important step when considering making this tea is ensuring you buy a high-grade brand. Here are some tips to find the highest-grade Tencha:

1.) Make sure you are buying Tencha leaves, not Matcha. Matcha is the powdered, finely ground result of grinding Tencha leaves. Buying Matcha powder will result in a delicious tea, but not the unique and sought-after flavor that Tencha provides.

2.) Try importing from Japan. As the primary producer of Matcha, Japan has high-grade Tencha that is not easily found in the United States. In fact, many varieties of Matcha found in the United States are not made from Tencha, but from its cousin – Sencha.

3.) Don’t give up! Tencha, as the primary ingredient in the production of Matcha, can be quite rare. Many manufacturers of Matcha do not bother producing Tencha as Matcha is the preferred variety. Keep looking and you may be lucky enough to try this sweet, elegant drink.

You’ve found some Tencha – now what?

Now that you have your rare bag of the dark green leaves you may be wondering – what do I do now? It may seem daunting brewing your first cup of Tencha – the difficulty extracting the deep, full-bodied flavor and the scarcity of the leaves may seem overwhelming. But taking the time to immerse yourself into this element of Japanese tea culture and brewing the sweet leaves the right way will make it worth it by the time you’re rewarded with a steaming cup.

To brew this delectable delight:

1.) Heat your filtered water to 140-175 degrees Fahrenheit (60-80 degrees Celsius). Make sure that you are measuring the temperature of the water with a thermometer or with a kettle that has a built-in thermometer. Ensuring the water temperature is correct is key to getting the most flavor out of your leaves.

2.) Measure out about a tablespoon of Tencha leaves into your cup. Tencha is a lot less dense than other varieties of tea, so you may need to use more leaves to get more flavor and richness out of your cup. If you taste your tea and it is not flavorful enough, add more leaves!

3.) Pour about a cup of water over your tea leaves and let them steep for one and a half to two minutes. For a deeper and mellower flavor, let them steep for 2 and a half to three minutes.

If you notice your tea leaves floating, do not be alarmed! Tencha tea is very light, and the leaves often float to the top of the cup. Gently push down the leaves until they are saturated in the water.  

4.) Promptly remove the leaves from the water using a strainer or take your tea ball out of the water. Enjoy your rare and unique cup of Tencha tea!

Tea for Thought

Tencha tea is a rare form of tea that only a few connoisseurs of tea culture are aware of. It’s rarity, elegant taste, and delectable sweetness make it a very sought-after beverage, for those that are aware of its delightful properties.

Before delving into the world of Tencha, consider doing some research on the most sustainable and traditional tea farms in Japan. It is always a good idea to support local businesses, and the rarity of this tea makes it the perfect contender for supporting a small, locally own business. While you’re at it, pick up some Matcha and investigate recreating Japan’s famous tea ceremony.

Will you be reaching for a cup of Tencha tea this winter? Try out this sweet, elegant tea and see what you think! Maybe it’ll beat out that expensive Matcha latte for taste and authenticity.