This year’s second shincha is the Saemidori cultivar from Mr. Nishi in Makizono, Kirishima City, Kagoshima Prefecture. It is not a new tea: regular visitors to this blog and to Teas of Japan know it well. As in preceding years, it has been handpicked (on April 17, 2013), and it is a very reasonable fukamushi (deep-steamed) sencha, as can be seen from these very beautiful, finely rolled leaves with almost no powder.
Recently, I have been mainly drinking Shizuoka mountain teas from 2012, and I have been waiting impatiently for Kirishima teas to return. In fact, most of all I have been hoping to check something that I have been wondering about lately: in the second half of the season, I have been drinking many mountain teas selected in spring or autumn 2012, and this seems to me to have revealed something that seems obvious but that I have never thoroughly investigated to make sure it is true. When sencha is kept properly, there is no problem maintaining its freshness, but this does not prevent its fragrances from becoming more pronounced, stronger, more intense. What made this glaringly obvious to me was not my gustatory memory, which is still far too weak, but the brewing parameters suggested on the site. They are based on tastings of teas that were freshly picked. Six months later, for the same teas, the instructions produce liquors that are too strong, and the infusion time is too long.
Will it be the same thing with this Saemidori, which is very different from my teas from the mountains of Shizuoka, with their large, very lightly steamed leaves? Well, yes.
Let’s go back to my tea from Makizono. (Note that Makizono is an area of low mountains to the east of Kagoshima, where the Nishi family makes very different teas from those produced on the giant plantations on the Chiran, Makurazaki, etc. plains in the west of the prefecture. See the report here).
I discovered a very clear, light-coloured liquor, far from the basic standard fukamushi. A delicate fragrance, sweet and vegetal, with a hint of legume, which is the mark of Saemidori.
The flavours were also light, sweet and delicate. Deep, but airy.
In fact, it is not surprising, but my dose and infusion time were on the weak side. I think it would be better to use 5 g (1 1/2 tsp), and possibly increase the infusion time by 10 seconds. 70°C (158°F) seems perfect.
Yet, I am absolutely certain that in six months or more, this tea will be perfectly fine brewed according to the parameters used here.
How can we establish brewing instructions if, on top of there being individual tastes, the recommendations have to change depending on how much time has passed since the harvest? Leaving it up to each individual to think about it and experiment would be ideal, but many people want to know my brewing recommendations. This is an issue that seems to be growing more and more difficult as I make my little way down the path of tea, not because I think that it is difficult to prepare sencha, but because I think that there are many very satisfactory possibilities with high-quality teas.
This is the third year that I have selected this tea, and this is why I am no longer going into a detailed description, but am using it as a pretext to express my thoughts on tea in general. However, here are the next stages.
The second infusion produces a cloudy liquor that is the green typical of this cultivar, and reminds us that, despite the careful shaping of the leaves, it is indeed a fukamushi.
I will return to this tea with pleasure, using other infusion parameters and other teapots. (I am now certain that this Bizen is not made for such delicate shinchas, but is entirely perfect for more mature senchas, cultivars with very strong fragrances, or even black or puerh tea.)
At the same time, I will not try to obtain something super strong because, in the end, is not this entirely springlike subtlety what we look for in new teas? We can give the leaves time to develop their strength.
Before closing the lid, let me add that this tea is very long in the mouth and has a delicious aftertaste.