Irma Chinese Sencha

Irma Chinese Sencha - dry leaves

Mrs. Teaist came across this tea in a branch of Danish supermarket Irma, and given their reputation as purveyors of good quality foodstuffs thought it worth a punt.

All I know about this tea is what little information could be gleaned from the packaging.

It states that this green tea comes from Zhejiang province, which, they say, has “…a long tradition of the cultivation and manufacture of Sencha tea.

I’m not entirely sure what Irma are getting at here, to be honest. Sencha as a style of tea is about as Japanese as you can get. It would be interesting to know more about this history of Sencha in Zhejiang as Irma see it. The only thing I can think of is that they might be conflating Sencha and the other well known green teas produced in Zhejiang – Longjing and Anji Bai Cha to name just two.

As I understand it, “Chinese Sencha” falls broadly into two categories.

Firstly, there is tea produced from raw material grown in China on behalf of Japanese companies that will ultimately be used to produce Sencha for the export market only, i.e. tea not destined for what is seen as the more educated palate of the domestic (i.e. Japanese) market.

Secondly, there is the tea produced by Chinese companies who simply put want a piece of the action.

Alarm bells began to ring when the packaging went on to describe the production of the tea as involving roasting. One of the major characteristics of Japanese green teas is that the “kill green” heating procedure that halts the oxidisation of the leaves is done by steaming them, not by roasting or pan frying.

All this left me wondering about the nature of the tea inside the packaging, to be frank.

Steeping method
Weight of dry leaf: 8 grams
Infusion style: Western
Steeping vessel: 350 ml glass teapot
Water temperature: 85°C
No. & duration: a single infusion @ 2 minutes

This tea actually took a fair bit of experimentation to get it to a place where I was happy enough with it.

Irma Chinese Sencha - a cup of

The brewing advice on the packaging suggested 1 teaspoon of tea / 2dl water at 75-80°C, which for my taste resulted in a beverage that was pale and bland, with only a vague hint of gunpowder.

I subsequently upped the leaf / water ratio, which improved matters somewhat, but still wasn’t quite there. The final parameter to be changed was water temperature, which I bumped up to 85°C, something I would never have even contemplated if steeping Japanese Sencha.

That did the trick with these leaves, however. It was still quite different from a Japanese Sencha, though. Although one of Sencha’s signature notes, that clean seaweed / marine thing was there, it wasn’t as full or dominant as it should have been.

There was also a fresh hay like note, and a sweet, nutty aftertaste somewhat reminiscent of Longjing. The tea simply couldn’t shake off that gunpowdery thing, which if anything became more pronounced once the steeping temperature was raised. This, I’m guessing, is something that is simply “hard coded” into the leaves, down to a combination of cultivar, terroir, and processing. It doesn’t make the tea unpleasant by any means, it just serves to remind you that this isn’t a Sencha produced in Japan.

Again, this isn’t a bad tea, just not terribly Sencha-like. Think of it as missing the bullseye by quite a bit, but at least managing to still hit the target.

I think this tea could find a niche as a “gateway” tea for people who want to move away from bagged teas but want to paddle or wade before trying to swim.

I also believe that Irma are onto something when they state on the packaging that they see this tea as a good accompaniment for what they loosely describe as Asian food. Good Sencha should really be drunk for its own sake, and not necessarily paired with strong and bold flavours that would probably overpower it totally, but I can see this tea working well here. It kind of has a split and somewhat assertive personality, and so just might be able to play nicely with dishes broadly from South East Asia. Yes, that might work, big pots brewed Western style to help wash down a stir-fry…

Irma Chinese Sencha - used leaves

At the end of the day and despite any concerns, in terms of overall quality it’s still comfortably above a lot of the loose leaf tea you might find in a supermarket, and for that at the very least Irma have to be congratulated.

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