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 simplysencha.
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
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
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.