The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
Japan's Sencha Tea Ceremony-A Simpler
Style of Tea Drinking
Today in Japan it's not unusual to be invited by someone in "drinking sencha," a
phrase meaning "let's have tea together."  The sencha tea ceremony first be-
came popular during
Japan's Edo period (1600-1867) as a simpler style of drink-
ing tea.
Many Japanese literati were
looking for a change from the
formal Chanoyu powdered tea ceremony
wanting to drink tea in a simpler, more
conventional way.  This was a time when
many of Japan's philosophers and artists
were emulating China's scholars and elite
literati of the
Ming dynasty (1368-1644), and
the refined methods of classical tea drinking
they had developed, along with their simple
method of steeping
loose leaf tea.

Adapting the tea drinking methods of the
Ming literati, Japanese intellectuals called
their new method of tea drinking the sencha
tea ceremony. Later it would be called
sencha tea service or just simply
sencha.
Using tea leaves instead of powdered tea, sencha was introduced to Japan from China during
the Ming dynasty, around the mid 17th century, a time when Japan's literati were greatly influ-
                                          enced by China, as well as Neo-Confucian thought.  Many of Japan's
                                          literati adopted sencha tea drinking as a symbolic revolt against the
                                          Chanoyu tea ceremony which was favored by the ruling class.

                                          During the 18th century more and more ordinary Japanese towns-
                                          people adopted the sencha style of tea drinking and it gradually
                                          grew to become an informal setting for sharing a cup of tea with
                                          friends and family.

                                          But Chinese
utensils used during sencha were still out of reach, too
rare and expensive for most Japanese citizens.  Because of this a market developed for a new
style of Japanese teapot called a tetsubin to replace expensive Chinese styles.

The original design of the
tetsubin was influ-
enced by sencha tea drinking and throughout
the 18th century became an ordinary house-
hold utensil used to heat water,
prepare tea,
and sometimes even to create warmth.

For drinking tea, though, the Japanese veer-
ed away from Chinese customs and instead
of drinking tea from
tea bowls, used small,  
cylinder-shaped or round yunomi chawan tea-
cups. Still used today, yunomi chawan teacups
          are inexpensive, commercially mass  
          produced and used by the Japanese
          for all of the everyday
types of tea
          drinking.

          The sencha tea ceremony was the precursor of todays modern style of
tea brewing and
          drinking.  The word sencha would eventually come to mean the practice of preparing,
                                                serving, and drinking
Japanese leaf tea with a deep inner sense
                                                of appreciation for Chinese art, culture, and philosophy.

                                                Today the word sencha has several different meanings, one
                                                being a type of
Japanese green tea, a specific type of
                                                
manufacture of Japanese green tea, or the brewing style of
                                                green tea, such as
gyokuro or sencha.

                                                Teapots for sencha were fashioned after China's small
Yixing or
                                                zisha teapots, but rather than being made from clay they were
                                                made of porcelain and painted with fanciful Japanese style
                                                designs.

          In the 19th century Japanese potters developed small clay kyusu teapots with a single
          handle sticking straight out from the side, making it easier to hold and pour.

          Today this style of
teapot is still popular and can be found
          handmade or in mass-produced versions.  The factory made
          kyusu teapots are fitted with a stainless steel mesh strainer
          lining the inside to catch small, fine bits of tea and keep them
          out of the cup.

          Handmade kyusu teapots are the best, fashioned with a fine
          clay strainer in the spout.  Very small, delicate kyusu teapots,
          or teapots without a handle, called houbin are specially made
          for perfectly brewing small amounts of sweet, expensive
          
gyokuro tea.

          So, the next time you invite friends for tea, ask them if they would like to "drink sencha"
          with you.  
Enjoy.
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