Where to start, when it comes to Tôbettô?
With the prosaic side, perhaps? Yes, this tea is the most expensive, by far, in my selection. There, I’ve said it.
Now, what is it all about? It is a futsumushi sencha from Hon.yama (the famous tea producing area in the northern mountains of Shizuoka), from the Tamakawa area, to be more precise. It is the work of the no less famous Tsukiji Katsumi, who produces only very high quality teas, but Tôbettô is his masterprice. It is part of a trend that involves steaming as little as possible, just enough to stop oxidation. For him, there is no reason to steam more. Thus, he is especially careful when he steams. He knows how to adapt the process to each of the teas that comes to his workshop in Yokosawa. According to him, the notion of “fukamushi cha” (deep steamed tea) is idiotic: when oxidation has been 100% stopped, the tea has been 100% steamed. There is nothing deep to be steamed more: all that is created is excess humidity on the leaves, which causes problems for rolling.
Next, special care also goes into the rolling so that the leaves are damaged as little as possible and kept as whole as possible. It is said that you can tell when the process is finished simply by listening to the sound of the deep rolling machine (seijûki 精揉機).
He uses as little fertilizer as possible, preferring to trust in what is naturally present in the earth of each of his fields. According to him, this is what has to determine the taste of the tea, and he tries to produce an aracha that is as close as possible to high-quality leaves in their natural state, still in the plantation.
The site is magnificent, but difficult to get to. You have to be in good shape to climb up on foot, gripping the “monorail” tightly. This tea is handpicked from unpruned tea plants (of the Yabukita and Ômune cultivars). In short, it is an exceptional tea, which was created out of passion and a taste for challenge, rather than any kind of down-to-earth business sense.
This tea can be infused in numerous ways. For example, many like to prepare it with a tiny amount of ice cold water. As far as I am concerned, I take a more classical approach, with 70 ml (1/4 cup) of 50°C (122°F) water on 4-5 grams (1.2-1.5 tsp) of leaves for 1 minute 30 seconds. The aromas are very rich, deep, very mellow and pure. Finally, it is very close to hand-rolled teas. It goes without saying that the liquor is and remains perfectly transparent through every infusion.
It is very difficult to talk about this kind of very great tea. It can seem hard to appreciate at first, but understanding comes quickly, and there is great delight to be taken in its purity. Tastes and fragrances are in perfect harmony: mouth, nose and throat are inhabited for a long time by these aromas, in a delicate manner, with no excess of amino acids.
For more images of Tôbettô, click here.