Bancha is a Japanese variety of green tea, which is harvested from the same tree as sencha leaves, but later in the year (usually in the second flush, so between summer and autumn rather than in the springtime). Shincha the first sencha crop is the highest grade of sencha and is decidedly more expensive as well.
However, bancha is the common, everyday tea in Japan, its later harvest time and use of different parts of the tea plant giving it a lower market grade. In fact, bancha is the lowest grade of green tea, but there are over twenty different grades within the bancha category alone!
The bancha is produced using leaves from further down the plant than other grades of green tea basically the older, coarse leaves that are left over at the end of the season. These leaves are large and quite thick and stalks are generally used as well.
As a result, the aroma is a distinctly organic straw-like scent, and it has a unique but very mild flavor. The mellow taste and the fact that bancha only contains a very slight trace of caffeine makes it a popular choice as a children’s drink.
It’s also good for green tea beginners, who might initially be put off by the strong vegetal taste of higher grade teas. Bancha is a much milder and more palatable option for those who aren’t that used to strong green tea flavors yet.
There are two main subcategories of bancha. Firstly, there’s Hojicha, which is produced using roasted bancha leaves and is a lightly golden colored infusion with a flavor that can be described as toasty, nutty, and earthy. It’s a popular drink to have with Japanese foods, as it goes particularly well with foods flavored strongly with soy sauce.
Hojicha is also a common bedtime drink, because of its light taste and low caffeine content many fans say that its toasty flavor makes it quite a relaxing, mellow drink, ideal for night time.
There’s also Genmaicha, which is a combination of bancha leaves mixed with fire-toasted rice. This is a very popular drink amongst Japanese schoolchildren.
Also described as having a toasty taste, Genmaicha is very flavorful and satisfying not to mention ideal for green tea novices, as it’s much more difficult to make mistakes in brewing it than it is with most other varieties of green tea!
The balance of the toasted rice flavors and the roasted green tea leaves produces an interesting blend of flavors with a great nutty aroma, and the tea goes well with not only Japanese foods, but all sorts of other world cuisines.
Bancha is often referred to as the three year tea, because of the way that it is made, using leaves that are up to three years old. However, it is still perfectly valid as a nutritionally beneficial green tea. Particularly good for a micro biotic diet, it contains large amounts of Vitamin A, niacin, iron and calcium.