Here is the very first shincha of the 2012 season, a super early sencha from Tanegashima 種子島, an island in the southeast of Kagoshima Prefecture. Tanegashima, along with its neighbour, Yakushima 屋久島, kicks off the new tea season every year in Japan. Owing to its special geographical location, Tanegashima has made growing “super early” cultivars (極早生種 goku-wase-shu), such as Kuritawase and Shôju 松寿, its specialty. Here I am going to introduce you to shôju, which is already available at Teas-of-Japan.
The other thing that makes Tanegashima teas distinctive is that they are normal-steamed senchas (futsumushi or asamushi), which is contrary to the trend in Kagoshima, where deep steaming (fukamushi) reigns.
This sencha was harvested and processed on March 26, 2012, and finished the following day.
Sometimes we have to beware of very early teas, which can be expensive given their real quality, but this one seems to me to be a success.
While the leaves seem to have been worked a little coarsely, their colour is very beautiful and extremely uniform. The tea has been roasted (火入れ hi-ire) very lightly so as to avoid altering its flavours and also to retain the very green tones of the fragrance that are so desirable in shincha. Indeed, these leaves give off a fragrance that is simultaneously very fresh, green and sweet.
In addition to being the earliest of Japanese cultivars, shôju is naturally high in amino acids, which make it very mellow. Thus, in order to take advantage of its sweet flavours, it is best to brew it with water that is not too hot, and since it is a futsumushi sencha, and consequently not too broken, you should not skimp on the quantity of leaves.
For 70 ml (1/4 cup) of water, I use 5 very large grams (1.5-2 teaspoons) of tea that I first brew for one minute at 60-65° C (140-149° F).
The yellow-green, perfectly translucent liquor that is produced is a perfect example of its kind. Subtly scented, vegetal but mellow, with a slight hint of vanilla.
However, when you taste it, the flavour reveals this tea’s true purity and worth. It is strong, very mellow, sweet, but at the same time neither aggressive nor saccharine. The liquor remains refreshing and crystal clear, very genuine.
For the second infusion, slightly warmer water should of course be used, and the brewing time should be 15 seconds longer.
The liquor will be lighter, but still mellow and sweet, all of this combined with a delicate aftertaste.
Next, the third infusion should be a little warmer and last one minute. The tea will remain mellow and its fragrance will stay subtle. There will be almost no astringency.
In the fourth infusion, this shôju sencha (finally!) begins to diminish.
It is a very palatable tea that enchanted me with its paradoxical combination of delicacy and power, as well as the purity and simplicity of its flavour.
I also think that it is a sencha that should be tested with many other infusing methods.
It shows, in case proof was needed, that it is possible to obtain a very flavourful liquor with a futsumushi sencha, and especially that it is possible to make very good futsumushi sencha even on flat land at very low altitude. It seems that all that is needed is the right cultivar.
The 2012 season is now open!