If you were to ask a Japanese person that, they would probably offer you sencha.
In the West, most people think of tea as black tea, but for the Japanese, tea means sencha.
When did sencha start to be drunk in Japan?
There is no doubt that sencha, like matcha, was introduced from China.
However, it is not clear when and how it was introduced.
It is said to have been introduced by the monk Ingen, who came from China in 1654, but there are many theories.
He is said to have introduced green beans, watermelon, lotus root, and the Ming Dynasty style of writing, and sencha is said to be one of the things he introduced.
In July 1654, Ingen landed in Nagasaki and later met the Shogun in Tokyo, after which he built Manpukuji Temple in Uji, Kyoto. Manpukuji Temple is now the head temple of various schools of senchado (tea ceremony using sencha).
There is also a theory that the tea processing was introduced to Fudoyama, Ureshino City, Saga Prefecture by Ko Reimin (紅令民) in 1504. According to this theory, Kourei (紅令) means Kourai (高麗), a country on the Korean Peninsula, and may refer to Kourai people (高麗民：people from Kourai) rather than a specific person.
Another famous person who popularised sencha tea is Baisao (売茶翁).
He was born as a child of a doctor in Hasuike (蓮池), Saga City, Saga Prefecture, and joined a monastery at the age of 11. At the age of 60, he opened a Japanese tea cafe in Kyoto called Tusentei (通仙亭) and is said to have popularised sencha.
At that time, sencha was a type of pan-fired green tea.
Later, in 1738, Soen Nagatani invented a needle-shaped sencha called nobi sencha (伸び煎茶) (or: “elongated sencha”) in Ujitawara, Kyoto. That tea is characterised by steaming, and rolling it into a needle shape. This way of processing tea spread out and became so popular that it is now the dominant way of processing tea in Japan, and it is this needle-shaped tea that is now known as sencha.
For more than 100 years after sencha was first introduced to Japan, the word sencha used to mean kamairi tamaryokucha (pan-fired green tea), but later it changed to mean sencha with needle-shaped tea leaves made by steaming.
Nowadays, tamaryokucha is not only made by the kamairi (pan-fired) method, but also by the steamed method. Today, steamed tamaryokucha is the mainstream, with more than 90% of tamaryokucha in circulation being produced using the steaming method.
It’s interesting how much you don’t know about history when you dig deeper.