After a long silence, I have come back to the 2013 season, which has been unusual, to say the least. First, we had a month of March with exceptional weather that advanced the harvests by over a week. Then, at the end of April, the cold returned. The young leaves stopped growing and the next harvests gradually started to be pushed back, so much so that today we now seem to be a little late compared with last year! There was some damage from frost here and there, and overall the harvest has been 30% less than in 2012.
Here are two from Yame. Yes, two. Same price, same town of Yame (Fukuoka Prefecture), same cultivar (Yabukita), but different producers. Two fukamushi that could be very much the same if there were not a difference in hi-ire (the final roasting that transforms a raw product into finished sencha). The first has received a very light hi-ire, but the second (of which the 2012 version was selected by Teas of Japan last year) has a very pronounced hi-ire, though it is not too strong either. (On a scale of 1 to 10, I would say 6.) This is a perfect opportunity for those who do not yet have a clear idea of the influence that hi-ire has on tea to get a concrete understanding.
The lightly roasted leaves of the first tea (on the left) have a very light fragrance of cut grass and hay. At this level, there is nothing special to be noted.
70 – 80 ml (1/4 – 1/3 cup) of water at around 70°C (158°F) will wake these leaves up a little. A light vegetal fragrance, slightly sweet and floral, rises to the nose.
The liquor has body without being too strong. It has a miniscule touch of astringency, measured mellowness and flavours in the legume range, with some avocado.
The aftertaste is powerful, much more so than the liquor might lead to believe. This tendency is even stronger after the second infusion.
The leaves of the second tea are full of scents. The hi-re has played its role perfectly, producing sweet notes of hazelnuts and roasted chestnuts.
An infusion under the same conditions as for the preceding tea naturally brings the fragrance to light. The range remains the same: very mouthwatering.
The liquor is strong, yet very mellow, with no astringency. Surprisingly, the dominant background tones remain avocado.
Finally, the aftertaste is splendid. It fills the mouth for a long time, but it is more simple. It has perhaps a little less breadth than the first one.
The two senchas are, in the end, in the same category, but the difference in hi-ire gives them means of expression that are radically different, in terms of fragrance and the way they open in the mouth, and then in the aftertaste.