Bancha is a common everyday tea. But have you heard of sannen bancha (三年番茶)? The name translates to ‘three year bancha’, and actually there are two different ways it can be produced: by aging the tea for three years or by letting the tea bushes grow for three years.
The method of aging the tea for three years seems to date back to the old times, when the tea used to be placed in tea jars, covered with Japanese paper, sealed and stored for three years. These days it is common to use tougher and more mature leaves of summer or autumn harvest when making sannen bancha. The leaves are then steamed, dried and aged for 3 years at room temperature. At the very end they are also lightly roasted.
Another way of making sannen bancha is to let the tea bushes grow for three years without harvesting. This way is getting common when trying to reclaim abandoned tea fields. Left unattended tea bushes grow taller, surpassing human height, and the branches become thicker. The whole branches are cut in winter and used to make this tea. They are chopped up, steamed, dried and lightly roasted. Because there are more chopped branches than leaves, this tea has unusual appearance resembling wood chips.
Both of these methods produce a lighter, gentler tea, that is lower in irritants like caffeine and catechins. Hence, sannen bancha can be enjoyed by people of all ages and at any time of the day.
It is very versatile and can be prepared in several different ways. You can brew 5g of tea with 200ml of boiling water for 2-3 minutes, but it is also fine to simmer the leaves in hot water for 10-15 minutes for a more aromatic tea. Use 10-15g of tea for 1L in this case. In summer time it is especially refreshing as a cold brew using 10-15g of leaves with 1L of water and letting it sit in a fridge for a few hours. Lastly, plum sauce tea offers a great way to fight fatigue. Mash one umeboshi – Japanese pickled plum, with some grated ginger and a dash of soy sauce, and pour brewed sannen bancha on top.
What a hidden, but absolutely wonderful tea!