What Is Tencha

Japanese green tea is not just a drink; it’s a peek into Japan’s rich culture. And among all its types, tencha is a pretty cool but not-so-well-known member of the family. It’s different from the common sencha or the famous matcha powder. Tencha has its own way of growing and being made that makes it really special.

So, what’s tencha and how’s it different from other Japanese green teas? Well, tencha is the green tea they use to make matcha. They grow it in the shade for a few weeks before they pick it, just like another tea called gyokuro. This shady business boosts its chlorophyll and amino acids, which makes it taste sweet and umami (that’s a savory taste).

But here’s the twist—unlike gyokuro and other teas that get rolled up during their making, tencha leaves stay flat and aren’t rolled. Staying flat helps them dry out without breaking into bits, which is perfect for later grinding them into the fine, bright green matcha powder. This special prep not only makes tencha unique among Japanese teas but also super important for traditional matcha tea ceremonies.

Making Tencha

Making tencha is all about nailing some super precise techniques and conditions that set it apart from other Japanese green teas. These special methods pump up the quality and the unique taste of the tea, making it key for whipping up matcha.

How Tencha Grows

Tencha needs a very controlled setup to grow. It’s usually grown in specific spots in Japan, like Kyoto, where the cool weather and misty days are just right. The soil needs to drain well and be a bit up high, which helps the tea plants grow slow and pack more flavor.

The Shading Game

About 20-30 days before the tea leaves are picked, growers cover the tea bushes with shades made of straw or black vinyl. This trick, called “kabuse,” blocks about 70-90% of sunlight from hitting the plants. By reducing the light, the plants make more chlorophyll, which not only turns the leaves a deeper green but also boosts the sweet and savory (umami) tastes because of increased amino acids like L-theanine. This shading thing really makes tencha stand out from other teas, which might not get shaded or only for a little bit.

Picking the Leaves

Picking tencha is no joke; it takes a lot of work and care. Instead of using machines, tencha is usually picked by hand to make sure only the best, youngest leaves are taken. This careful picking is crucial because the leaves have to stay whole and in good shape for the next steps—drying and grinding. Right after picking, the leaves are steamed to stop any oxidation (which could turn them brown like other green teas), keeping them nice and green.

The super precise way tencha is made from start to finish isn’t just about sticking to tradition; it’s a serious commitment to quality that really shows in the final product, especially in tea ceremonies.

Processing Tencha

After being picked, tencha goes through a special process that sets it apart from other Japanese green teas. This part is super important because it’s what makes tencha perfect for turning into top-notch matcha.

Unique Steps in Making Tencha

First up, after steaming, tencha leaves aren’t twisted or rolled like many other teas. Instead, they’re laid out flat to dry. They spread the steamed leaves out on a flat surface and either let them air dry or use fans in modern setups. This gentle drying is key because it stops the leaves from breaking apart, which would mess with the subtle flavors by letting oils and other stuff seep out.

Why They Skip the Rolling

Not rolling the leaves is a big deal for tencha. In teas like sencha, rolling helps break down the leaf cells, which frees up flavors and lets the leaves be shaped into neat needles. But tencha’s goal is different. They want the leaves flat and intact, which is super important later when they grind the leaves into matcha. If they rolled the leaves, they wouldn’t grind down as smoothly into the even, fine powder needed for really good matcha.

Drying Done Right

The way they dry tencha is also unique. After air drying, there’s a second drying step where they use a heated drum or conveyor belts. They keep a tight watch on the temperature to make sure the leaves don’t get too hot or “cook,” which would ruin their quality. This careful drying makes sure the leaves are just right for storing and later grinding. They need to be bone dry to grind well without any lumps or uneven bits.

These steps are crucial in making sure tencha keeps its bright green color and delicate flavor, making it the perfect base for the best matcha. The serious care and precision in processing tencha show just how much artistry and tradition go into Japanese tea making.

Tencha vs. Matcha

Tencha and matcha are like family in the world of Japanese green teas, but they have their own unique vibes and roles. Digging into how tencha turns into matcha and spotting their differences really boosts your tea cred, especially if you’re into traditional Japanese tea ceremonies.

From Tencha to Matcha

Tencha is the stepping stone to making matcha. Unlike other green teas that you just steep in water, matcha is a fine powder made by grinding up tencha leaves. This lets you gulp down the whole leaf, packing more nutrients and a stronger punch than your typical brewed tea. Simply put, no tencha, no matcha. It’s the special leaf that gets prepped and processed into the famous bright green powder.

Grinding It Down

Changing tencha into matcha is an art. They dry the tencha leaves and then slowly grind them into a super fine powder using a stone mill. This slow grind keeps the heat from messing with the tea’s chill flavors. It takes hours, but this is how you keep all the good stuff like flavor, color, and nutrients on point. Even though there are faster ways to grind it nowadays, the best matcha still comes from the old-school stone mill method.

What Makes Them Different?

The taste, texture, and how they show up in tea ceremonies set tencha and matcha apart:

  • Flavor: Tencha tastes subtly sweet and umami (that’s like a savory yumminess) because of all the amino acids from growing in the shade. Matcha cranks these flavors up to eleven because it’s a concentrated version of tencha.
  • Texture: Tencha leaves are dry and crisp, perfect for grinding into matcha’s smooth and silky powder. This powder mixes completely into water, giving matcha a distinctive creamy feel that’s a big deal in how it’s enjoyed.
  • Tea Ceremony Role: You won’t find tencha brewed on its own in traditional settings. It’s all about turning it into matcha, which is the star of the Japanese tea ceremony. The pop of green and the frothy texture when it’s whisked up are key parts of the visual and taste experience.

Getting the scoop on these differences not only makes you smarter about Japanese tea but also deepens your respect for matcha, from its start as tencha to its grand role in tea ceremonies.

Health Benefits of Tencha

Tencha, the starting point for making matcha, packs a lot of the same health perks as its more famous relative. It’s loaded with nutrients, antioxidants, and other good stuff that make it worth a closer look for its health benefits.

Overview of Health Benefits

Drinking tencha brings a bunch of health benefits. It’s jam-packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Just like with matcha, you’re getting all the goodies from the whole leaf because tencha is used to make matcha powder. It’s especially rich in catechins, a type of antioxidant that’s great at fighting off cell damage. Tencha also has a good dose of L-theanine, an amino acid that helps you chill out and focus better, boosting both your mental peace and brain power.

Antioxidant Powerhouse

Tencha rocks a high level of antioxidants compared to other green teas, thanks to its shaded growth process. This shade boosts chlorophyll production, which not only makes the leaves super green but also amps up their antioxidant levels, like EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate). These antioxidants are champs at taking down harmful free radicals and reducing oxidative stress. When stacked against other green teas like sencha or gyokuro, tencha often comes out on top with more of these beneficial compounds.

What the Research Says

Loads of studies back up the health benefits of green tea, and tencha is no exception. Research points to its abilities in fighting cancer, thanks to its high antioxidant content. For instance, the EGCG in tencha has been looked at for its potential to stop cancer cells from growing. Plus, studies on L-theanine suggest it can sharpen your brain and ease anxiety, making tencha a smart pick for keeping your mind in tip-top shape.

Tencha also shines in supporting heart health. Research shows that catechins in green tea can help lower bad cholesterol and blood pressure, cutting down the risk of heart disease and stroke. Not to mention, tencha’s anti-inflammatory properties are great for your heart and can help tackle chronic inflammation, which is linked to a bunch of serious health issues.

All in all, tencha isn’t just essential for the fancy and traditional matcha experience; it’s also a powerhouse of health benefits. With its awesome antioxidant levels and mental health perks, it’s a solid choice for anyone looking to boost their health through their diet. The continuing research keeps adding to the long list of health wins that come with this potent green tea.

How to Brew and Use Tencha

While tencha is mainly famous for being the start of matcha, knowing how to brew and use this unique tea can really level up how you enjoy it and make the most of its flavors and health perks in different food and drink recipes.

Brewing Tencha

Brewing tencha directly is rare but super enjoyable. Here’s how to do it right:

  • Water Temperature: Use cooler water than for other green teas—about 70°C (158°F). This cooler temp keeps the delicate flavors from breaking down.
  • Tea Quantity: Toss in about 7 to 8 grams of tencha leaves per cup of water. Since these leaves aren’t rolled, they’ll look bigger and fluffier than other tea leaves.
  • Steeping Time: Let the leaves steep for just 1 to 2 minutes. You can steep it longer for deeper flavor. Tencha is delicate, so leaving it too long can make your tea bitter.
  • Straining: After steeping, make sure to strain the leaves out. Tencha should be clear of residue, unlike matcha.

Storing Tencha

Storing tencha properly is key to keeping it fresh and tasty:

  • Airtight Containers: Keep it in airtight containers to avoid oxidation. Air exposure can mess with the quality and fade that vibrant green color.
  • Cool and Dark: Store your tencha in a place that’s cool and shaded. Heat and light can damage the quality.
  • Keep It Dry: Moisture is bad news for tencha’s freshness. Keep it dry and skip the fridge unless your container is super airtight.
  • Use It Up: Once opened, try to use tencha within a few months. Even the best storage can’t stop flavor and color from fading over time.


Tencha, with its careful growing and special processing, is a standout in the world of Japanese tea. Unlike the common brewed teas, tencha dives deep into the rich traditions and precise craftsmanship that shape Japanese tea culture. Known mainly as the starting point for the famous matcha, tencha itself has qualities that are both subtle and profound, truly making it a gem among teas.

From its growth in shaded tea gardens to its transformation into the dried leaves that are ground into matcha, tencha’s journey is all about commitment to quality and tradition. The technique of growing it in the shade boosts its chlorophyll and amino acids, giving it a vibrant green color and a rich, savory (umami) flavor that’s smoother and less bitter than other green teas.

If you’re keen to get a deeper understanding of Japanese tea, or just looking for a fresh and enriching tea experience, tencha has a lot to offer. You can use it in its loose-leaf form or ground into powder, enhancing your cooking, offering a healthy drink, or serving as a soothing brew to calm your mind and body.

We invite you to discover the distinct flavors and health perks of tencha. Try it out in your cooking, brew it gently to enjoy its delicate taste, or make it a part of your tea rituals to connect with a piece of Japanese culture full of history and elegance. By doing this, you might not only find a new favorite tea but also gain a fresh perspective on the art and science of tea making and drinking.


What exactly is tencha?

Tencha is a unique type of Japanese green tea, mainly used as the starting point for making matcha. It’s grown under shade for several weeks before being harvested, and unlike other green teas, its leaves are not rolled but dried flat. This makes them perfect for grinding into a fine powder.

How is tencha different from matcha?

Tencha and matcha are closely related, but there’s a key difference: tencha is the unground form of the leaves used to make matcha. While tencha is rarely consumed as a brewed tea, it’s primarily ground into the fine, vibrant green powder known as matcha.

Can you brew tencha like other green teas?

Yes, you can brew tencha like other green teas, though it’s less common. Use cooler water (about 70°C or 158°F) and steep for 1-2 minutes to avoid a bitter taste. Brewed tencha has a milder flavor compared to its matcha form.

What are the health benefits of drinking tencha?

Drinking tencha offers many of the same health benefits as other green teas, particularly matcha. It’s packed with antioxidants, such as catechins like EGCG, which help fight cancer. Tencha also contains L-theanine, an amino acid that boosts mental alertness and promotes relaxation.

Why is tencha more expensive than some other teas?

Tencha’s higher cost comes from its labor-intensive production process. The plants must be shaded for weeks, and the leaves are carefully handled during harvesting and processing to prevent damage. This meticulous process, combined with specialized techniques and lower yields, makes tencha pricier.

How should I store tencha to maintain its freshness?

Keep tencha in an airtight container, away from light, heat, and moisture, in a cool, dark place like a cupboard. Proper storage helps preserve its vibrant green color and delicate flavors.

Is there a specific season for harvesting tencha?

Yes, tencha is generally harvested once a year in the spring, typically in May. The exact timing can vary depending on the region and yearly climate conditions. The first harvest is often the highest quality, featuring young, tender leaves that have grown after winter dormancy.

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