This is the first time I have offered a kuki-cha on Thés du Japon. For those for whom this term brings nothing to mind, it is a tea composed of stems obtained after a sencha, gyokuro or bancha has been sorted during the finishing process.
This one comes from a fukamushi sencha from Makinohara, Shizuoka, grown by Mr. Ôta. It is a very high quality kuki-cha with lovely thick stems.This tea has a very pleasant sweet sugar cane smell, with something almost caramel to it.
To tell the truth, I am a little hesitant about how to prepare it since I do not have much experience with kuki-chas, which have never really interested me. (I will explain below why I am offering this tea now, though some already know or have guessed the reason.)
Infusing it at 70°C (158°F) like a good sencha for one minute produces a very mellow liquor, with a pleasant long aftertaste and a tender, sweet, round fragrance.
We can also choose to leave it in warmer water (90°C / 194°F) for a little less time: 30-45 seconds. The liquor will be more aggressive in the mouth, less delicate and a little astringent, but the sweet aftertaste will be even more present and the fragrance much stronger.
However, what could be better to do with nice stems like these than to make one’s own hôji-cha?
This can be done in a very clean frying pan, but ideally a hôroku 焙烙 or hôji-ki is the thing to use.
The video (please excuse its lack of aesthetic quality) shows the best, or at least the safest, way to roast the tea little by little by constantly swirling the tea in the pot over the flame. Remove the tea once the stems have reached the desired color.
However, it is faster and more efficient to preheat the hôroku, and then to put the tea in. Wait a few seconds without moving it until the scent of roasted tea starts to appear. Then swirl the tea in the pot over low heat. The stems will swell and change colour much more quickly. You should take the horoku off the heat just before the stems are the right colour, so that they can finish roasting thanks to residual heat.
This produces a very high quality hoji-cha with a superb fragrance. The stems are very tender and delicious, even eaten as is!
The degree of roasting is to taste. (This is part of the charm of making it oneself.) However, with a fine tea it is better to opt for light roasting and to leave the stems golden yellow, almost still green. In fact, light roasting brings out the fragrances specific to roasting while keeping some of the scents of the original tea.
Having a hôroku makes us want to test all sorts of senchas and kuki-chas: the possibilities are almost infinite, even though the operation is more difficult with leaves.