Tea Culture

Using the Whole Tea Plant: Looking Bancha, Kukicha, and Sencha as Types of Japanese Tea

Three different types of tea, all from the same tea plant. What are some of the differences between these?

Well, sencha is usually made up of leaves that come from the top part tea plant. These leaves can be quite small (though, bigger-leaf sencha do exist) as they tend just be emerging. Sencha, probably because of its steaming and subsequent rolling, can be a bit coarse so it is difficult to see the leaves and buds until the brew has been made and you can look inside your kyusu or whatever vessel you choose to brew your sencha with. This is mainly true of mature leaves while younger leaves will retain their needle shape. It can be interesting to see the forest-green needles unfold into an actual leaf shape or something of the sort.

Lower on the tea plant, one can usually find leaves that are noticeably bigger. Often times, these leaves will stay on the tea plant until later in the year. For this reason, the leaves are not only bigger but get a lot of sun. Sunlight will convert L-theanine, an amino acid found in tea, into tannins and thus can make lower-leaf tea taste bitter. These leaves usually make what is known as bancha. Bancha itself is sometimes fermented though, most of the time, bancha is simply a larger-leaf Japanese green tea. These leaves can be picked in Spring but Summer and Autumn-picked bancha are also popular.

Bancha can actually be a nice change of pace from sencha. It could be described as generally more brisk and hearty. It can make for a strong cup but there is something refreshing about the bitterness of such a bancha. This is especially true of bancha that are produced with first flush leaves. Our Bancha Suruga, for example, offers a refreshing cup of tea with less caffeine than regular sencha. It isn’t overly bitter or astringent but can come off as kind of robust. If you are into softer-tasting tea, bancha can be a nice break from the monotony.

Sencha on top, Bancha on bottom

Finally we come to kukicha. Kukicha is tea made almost entirely of tea steams. Comparing stem tea and leaf tea, leaf tea can sometimes have more nuance in its flavor profile. However, stem tea generally has less caffeine than leaf tea and a lot more umami. This is because tea stems are known to contain mostly L-theanine and not a lot of caffeine. A brothy, slightly thick brew can result from brewing these stems.

Green Kukicha, or stem tea.

Kukicha could definitely be considered the most laid-back tea of the three (that is, sencha, bancha, and kukicha). It’s profile is not very challenging at all which can be nice if you are looking for something to relax with in the afternoon or perhaps the evening. Especially when it is roasted, the L-theanine can really feel like a gentle embrace while sencha, because it is higher in caffeine, can serve us in providing more of an uplifting feeling. The feeling of kukicha is more of a soft invitation while sencha is probably more liken to an insistence.

We hope you have learned something about sencha, bancha and kukicha. You might want to try these different styles of Japanese green tea to see which suits your palate. Of course it depends on the day and one’s preferences change over time. Follow our instagram and tiktok for more tea content and subscribe to our newsletter by entering your email in the designated box at the bottom of any page of our website.