Sencha 2012 from Kirishima, hand-picked, Yabukita cultivar

Here is a tea that is, in a way, the brother of the Saemidori from Makizono (Kirishima City, Kagoshima Prefecture) since this Yabukita also comes from Makizono, is also produced by the Nishi family, and was harvested in the same way, by hand, on April 23, 2012.

It is also a fukamushi sencha, and the 2012 version of a tea that was already offered by Teas of Japan in 2011.

While the needles are very short, this tea is not powdered. It is in fact very pretty for a fukamushi: a beautiful deep, lustrous green. The leaves give off a delicious scent.

Use 4 or 5 grams (1 tsp) of leaves for 70 ml (2.3 oz) of water at around 60 or 65°C (140-149°F), and steep for around 45 seconds. The first infusion produces a liquor that is relatively translucent for a fukamushi, a clear, pure green, different from the deep, luminous jade of Saemidori.

When it comes to taste, the differences between these two cultivars is also clear. Whereas the Saemidori liquor has a rather vegetal, grassy core, Yabukita has something that more closely resembles hazelnut, a sweetness that distantly recalls fine French pastry.

However, like the Saemidori, this sencha has more bite than the 2011 version.

Five long seconds with water that is a little warmer, and the liquor turns opaque, a deeper green. It remains mellow, but with a touch of astringency, and the scent and aftertaste combine in the first appearance of a vegetal flavour, not the umami of vegetables, but the marvelous scent of freshly steamed tea leaves.

Increase the temperature of the water again for a third infusion lasting 30 seconds. The liquor is lighter, as is the taste, which is more astringent, but also more refreshing. The fragrance is that of freshly cut leaves, delicately blending green and mellowness.

One minute with water poured directly from the thermos.

If they were not yet, now the leaves are perfectly open, so pour very slowly. This time the liquor is completely astringent, but not too strong. The tea remains pleasant and refreshing. Subtlety is the essence. Nonetheless, we can feel the limits of this sencha; we will go no further.

Owing to the difference in cultivar, this Yabukita is of course less typical of Kagoshima than the Saemidori. (This said, the Saemidori is not exactly typical either.) However, they are both subtle and a world apart from thick, “muddy” fukamushi teas that have been steamed too long and already run out of flavour on the second infusion. An appropriate environment and reasonable steaming create conditions that bring out the Yabukita properties, providing us with a glimpse of why this cultivar has become the most widely used in Japan (even though in most cases it is now produced under conditions that do not do honour to its qualities).

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