After having been a little lectured a few days ago for neglecting to practice my tea testing techniques (used in tea markets and in competitions), I decided to get to work on them. From now on I will be practising on every tea.
For a futsumushi /asamushi sencha that is a finished product, you use 4-5 grams (1.2-1.5 tsp) of tea in 150 ml (scant 2/3 cup) of boiling water for 5 minutes (4 minutes for a fukamushi). Use a wide white porcelain bowl. When the tea leaves have opened enough, but are still very hot, fish out as many as possible using a small metal sieve “spoon” so that you can inhale the fragrance. You have to remove all of the leaves completely when the time is up to examine the liquor and its taste. (Using a spoon, suck in a small quantity with air to spread the liquid everywhere in the mouth.)
Far from “burning” the leaves, the boiling water brings out all of their strengths, but also all of their weaknesses. A high quality tea will already taste excellent. This is also a fair way to compare teas.
Judging a tea on the basis of an ideal steeping method necessarily creates a biased vision since the preparation is designed to bring out only the tea’s good qualities and to minimize its defects.
Why am I talking about this right now? Because I was having trouble trying to figure out how to prepare this Asatsuyu. A proper testing convinced me that it would be best to use rather hot water.
Teas of Japan has been offering a series of Asatsuyus produced by the Nishi family in Makizono (Kirishima Town, Kagoshima Prefecture), but they are all quite different. So far, the 2012 version is the most broken but it is not in the almost powdery state that is too often the case with this fragile cultivar. The hi-ire (final drying) is moderate (longer than the 2010 version, but shorter than the 2011 version, I think). As always, this “mountain” (in the Japanese sense of the term) Asatsuyu is lighter and more subtle than its counterparts from the plains of the Satsuma Peninsula.
Let’s begin the first infusion with 70 ml (1/4 cup) of water at about 75°C (167°F) on 5g (1.5 tsp) of leaves for 35 to 40 seconds. The pretty Asatsuyu-green liquor retains a certain lightness and luminosity. Above all, it has the green bean fragrance typical of Asatsuyu. More than the liquor, the leaves in the teapot blend into this fragrance something praline, which comes from the drying. The sweet green flavour opens in the mouth and throat in a discreet, yet clearly assertive manner.
The second infusion is more difficult. The same temperature or a little warmer for 10 seconds, in fact, I would even try 15. This time, the fragrance turns more towards its mellow, confectionery side. The liquor is really very light, disconcerting. The aromas emerge slowly: first vegetal-Asatsuyu, then sweetness. I think this infusion could last a little longer, even if it might mean sacrificing the third.
However, for now, I want to test various infusions to see their differences, so I will not push them too far. This time, I leave the tea for one minute, with warmer water. The very special fragrance of this cultivar returns, and this time the liquor is astringent, light and subtle, not excessively tannin.
There are certainly many things that could be tried with this strange Asatsuyu. For example, I am thinking of an infusion with a lot of leaves for a long time, with rather cool water, or the opposite, very short, with very hot water. I think that very broken fukamushi senchas have the defect of offering few preparation possibilities, but this is not the case with this shy Asatsuyu, full of promise but difficult to coax onto centre stage.