Leaves & Flowers Revives the Sencha Tradition

The Berkeley online and wholesale tea outfit shares its own signature blend of Kyushu-grown sencha, reviving an ancient tea tradition.


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Sencha is an ancient tea tradition.

Photo by Lance Yamamoto

Tea first reached Japan when ninth-century monks brought it home from missions to China. Its leaves were generally ground, powdered, then pressed into blocks until 16th-century trendsters started infusing them, whole, in hot water — creating earthy green sencha, which means “boiled tea,” and which has been Japan’s most popular type ever since.

“We love its rich grassy sweetness,” said Anna Morton, co-owner with partner Emily Erb of Leaves & Flowers, a Berkeley online and wholesale tea outfit that stocks its own signature blend of Kyushu-grown sencha.

Lightly steamed to retain its leaves’ emerald hue and prevent oxidation, “sencha can be fairly temperamental and definitely takes more care in preparation than other teas,” said Morton, who studied herbal medicine before entering the Camellia sinsensis business in 2014 with former Four Barrel Coffee insider Erb.

“Ideally you’d use very hot, but not-too-hot water: around 170 to 185 degrees, definitely under boiling,” Morton said.

For the first cup in a sencha-sipping session, “you’d use 3 to 4 grams of leaves and very little water, pouring the tea over the leaves and then removing them within 30 seconds or even less — almost as if you’re just rinsing them.”

Subsequent cups would employ the same leaves steeping for increasingly longer spans.

Morton is glad to see “people rediscovering and embracing traditional tea-processing techniques and utensils” such as the small, side-handled teapots in which sencha is traditionally prepared, and which Japanese ceramicists take pride in crafting with regional clays.

“You put your thumb on the lid while your fingers hold the handle,” Morton explained.

Acquiring, then cultivating, a sencha sensibility “is like when someone starts to discover wine. At first, they wonder: Why would I spend more than $10 per bottle? Then they start tasting better wines and different types, then start finding all these subtleties in the flavors that they’d never tasted before.

“But what really makes any given tea memorable? Sometimes it’s the music that was playing the first time you tasted it, or where your mind happened to be while you were making it, or the way the light fell across the cup.”

Leaves & Flowers, LeavesAndFlowers.com

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