A very warm month of March, no return of frost and just the right amount of rain have laid the ground for a very high quality 2013 season, and to top it off, shinchas, new teas, will be ready 5 to 7 days earlier than last year.
The early cultivars of Tanegashima, an island off Kagoshima, have always been the first on the scene in the last week of March. Last year I brought the Shôju cultivar from Tanegashima into our selection very early in the season.
However, this year I have passed over Tanegashima: a few days ago I selected an extremely early shincha from Shizuoka! Handpicked on April 1, this sencha comes from the Sugiyama Yaeho cultivar, which grows at Mariko, in Suruga Borough, Shizuoka.
This Sugiyama Yaeho (which should not be confused with Yaeho) is an extremely rare cultivar, very early, by far the earliest to be found in Shizuoka.
Its name refers to its creator, Sugiyama Hikosaburô, the pioneer of tea cultivar development in Japan, who is more famous for creating one of the most widely used cultivars in Japan, Yabukita, at the beginning of the twentieth century.
How should we approach this tea? It has a fragrance that is a flood of green, partly owing to the fact that it has been normal-steamed and barely heated so as to preserve its verdant early spring flavours.
First, I tested it with water at approximately 70-75°C (158-167°F) to “take advantage of the shincha fragrance,” and allowed it to infuse for little over one minute (4 g (1.2 tsp) / 70 ml (1/4 cup)). It is often recommended to infuse new teas with slightly hot water, but given the delicacy with which this tea has been produced, I did not want to use anything too warm. The result was very pleasant, both the fragrance and the aftertaste. However, the liquor itself was too light (for me), so I think it would be better to use slightly cooler water and allow the infusion to last for a full 90 seconds.
While remaining very airy, the liquor is more assertive and rich. Subtle sweetness combines with vegetal and floral fragrances, a tiny touch of astringency, to produce a velvety texture in the throat.
Lowering the temperature takes nothing away from the fragrance of this sencha, which remains a bewitching greenness in the nose and the throat. A little floral scent, a zest of vanilla, but above all pure tea leaf!
I think that the photos speak for thamselves with respect to the quality of the shaping of this sencha. While it has no unusual flavours, it is not simply a curiosity because it has arrived before even those of Kagoshima. (In fact, the fukamushi from the plans of Kagoshima that I have tasted so far have not been very satisfying.) This Shizuoka tea is truly a very high quality sencha.
Despite the liquor’s reserve in the mouth, Sugiyama Yaeho has no trouble lasting through 4 infusions, with very good length. This sencha leaves a sweet aftertaste, natural umami, surprising in comparison with the very balanced flavour of the liquor.
I became especially aware of this last season, but good preservation of Japanese green tea, for example, in a vacuum pack, maintains the typical freshness for a very long time. However, this does not mean that the flavours do not change, Both the mouth and the nose become more assertive, more assured, stronger. Thus, this same Sugiyama Yaeho will probably be much less light in 6 months, and I think that only one minute of infusion will probably suffice then. Very fine, delicious leaves!
I can’t wait to see (taste) what the future has in store!