This year once again I have selected a large number of teas from Shizuoka, which, it should be noted, remains the number one tea producing area in Japan (accounting for around 40%), for better and sometimes for worse. Most of the tea grown is sencha, and while there is still a lot of mountain futsumushi /asamushi planted on hillsides (which is in the end very rare in Japan), most of the tea is fukamushi and grown in the plains or plateaus.
Aside from the Fuji teas, the senchas on Thés du Japon all come from the essentially mountainous area administered by the City of Shizuoka. They are all futsumushi / asamushi, in other words, traditionally steamed senchas.
The administrative area in question is broken into three boroughs: Suruga, Aoi and Shimizu (the old City of Shimizu). ( ! The below map is very approximate; I hope the geographers who read this will forgive me! )
– The three early senchas, Sugiyama Yaeho, Kondô-wase (already introduced on this blog) and Sôfû come from Suruga. Given its geographical location, which is the most southern and at low altitude, it is clear that the characteristics of the cultivars are not the only reasons this area is the city’s earliest.
It is an area of small farms, especially at Mariko, which is known for its black tea (owing more to seniority than to quality) but also has a great wealth of different cultivars.
Sencha from Osaka, Sôfû cultivar
After the superb Kondô-wase from Mariko, here is a Sôfû from Osaka (小坂, in Shizuoka, not to be confused with Japan’s second-largest city, Ôsaka!).
These two senchas have a lot in common. Not only are they both handpicked and traditionally steamed, but Osaka and Mariko are neighbours in Suruga Borough in Shizuoka, and the two cultivars have the same parents: Yabukita is their mother and Inzatsu 131 is their father.
This Sôfû sencha produced by Mr. Sano is also very handsome. Its leaves are finely rolled and the sweet perfume they exhale gives no reason to envy that of Kondô-wase. The two fragrances are very close, and seem to come from a very delicate balance between the raw scent of tea leaves and perfectly mastered roasting. It seems to me that Kondô-wase has more freshness while Sôfû is denser.
Before continuing, I cannot resist showing these very beautiful Bizen-yaki objects by Yoshimoto Atsuo. Their grey tint is obtained through reduction firing (generally, Bizen-yaki is fired in oxidation). The hohin and the cup have been fired in an anagama, in a manner very close to sueki pottery, which is one of the ancestors of Bizen-yaki.
Let’s get back to our delicious topic. Another point these teas with Indian blood have in common is that their true fragrances will not be revealed clearly until a few more months have gone by.
I used 5 g (1 tsp) of leaves for 70 ml (1/3 cup) of water.
60-65°C (140-149°F), 1 minute 20 seconds.
The sweet floral perfume of Kondô-wase gives way in Sôfû to aromas that are just as sweet, but bring more to mind dewy vegetal flowers. There is no jasmine here (not yet, anyway), but we also do not have the spiciness of Inzatsu 131.
In the mouth, the broad strokes of the liquor give an impression relatively close to Kondô-wase. It is very mellow, with a long sweet aftertaste.
Yet, when we consider the details, while the liquor of Kondô-wase is striking because of its confectionary tones of jasmine and white grape, Sôfû delivers a range of more natural umami flavours (that are in no way overpowering) in which much more discreet jasmine notes are accompanied by very, very light astringency.
This makes me think that, in the case of Sôfû, it is better to start with a rather long lukewarm infusion. This said, it was very good when I started at 80°C (176°F) also.
As with Kondô-wase, when I speak of “floral,” I mean the very special floral of Kôshun and Inzatsu 131 teas. Thus, I do not think that these senchas should be chosen first for their fragrances, but really as well-rounded, excellent, top-notch Japanese teas.
This Sôfû cultivar sencha has a lot of body, and umami dominates but does not overpower the sweet scents in the throat. This tendency is maintained perfectly over four infusions. The fine astringency that gradually comes to make up for the loss of sweetness is not tannic and leaves nothing unpleasant in the mouth. Much to the contrary, it provides a refreshing touch.
This Sôfû is also my recommandation for iced tea.
There is several methods to brew iced sencha, here’s the one i prefer:
Place 4g of leaves in a pot, then, pour about 30 ml of hot water (80-90°C) in the pot.
Place immediate ice cubes on it. Finally, just wait 5 to 10 minutes and serve tea in a glass.
For a second brew you can use cold water (and wait few minutes) or use hot water (few seconds).
This method give you a tea with a wonderfully strong and mellow aroma. Liquor is enough strong but still sweet.
All teas presented here are available here on Thés du Japon online shop.