Bancha and Sencha originate from the same Japanese tea plant. After the tea is harvested, which in Japan is almost always done mechanically, the leaves are sorted manually. Generally, the younger tea leaves are used for Sencha, and the larger, more robust leaves for Bancha. These leaves are rich in minerals but contain a lower level of caffeine. In Japan, Bancha is considered an all-day drink, which literally means “ordinary tea.” Traditionally, the Japanese drink this tea with meals.
Bancha’s flavor is milder than that of Sencha. Its very slight bitterness and lower caffeine content make it perfect for those who are trying Japanese tea for the first time and for seasoned green tea aficionados. Its typically flat leaves offer a soft, refreshing, and slightly grassy flavor.
Japanese green tea.
Japanese Green Tea
In Japan, the concept of terroir is less critical than in China. The practice of blending different batches of aracha (tea that’s halfway through the production process) to achieve a balanced taste makes it challenging to pinpoint a specific tea’s exact origin. Tea names often refer to the production and processing method of the leaves. However, for very high-quality teas, the terroir is sometimes mentioned. There are eight primary types of Japanese tea: Sencha, Bancha, Hojicha, Genmaicha, Tamaryokucha, Gyokuru, Kabusecha, and matcha.
Bancha is usually made from tea leaves and stems harvested during the late summer or autumn, which is the fourth and final harvest in the Japanese growing season. Hence, Bancha translates to “last tea.” The highest quality Bancha, however, is made from leaves harvested in June.
Until the mid-EDO period (1603-1868), Bancha was the daily tea for most Japanese. It was only then that Sencha became Japan’s most popular tea. In rural and mountainous areas, many households used to cultivate a small quantity of Bancha for personal use.
Base for Other Teas
When Bancha undergoes roasting after the typical production process, it’s called Hojicha. This roasting method was discovered in 1920 by a merchant in Kyoto who had an unsold stock of old Bancha. By roasting this old Bancha, a new flavored tea with a light brown hue emerged.
Bancha (and sometimes Sencha) is used as a base to produce Genmaicha. Genmaicha is a green tea where hulled, cooked, and subsequently roasted rice kernels are added, resulting in a distinct and delightful flavor.