The mountains in the Aoi ward are very well known because they are more or less the area where the famous Hon.yama teas come from.
Hon.yama refers to the zones along the banks of Abe River, but more generally the term also brings to mind the land along the banks of Warashina River.
Grown at 800 meters (2600 feet) in altitude and handpicked from unpruned bushes (essentially Yabukita), this sencha is very different from other Hon.yama teas, and even from other products made by Mr. Tsukiji and the Yokosawa Cooperative.
First, the roasting seems much lighter, but this is not because of the producer: it is the impression this tea gives. Its taste and fragrance have a very different profile.
It is the finest tea produced at the Yokosawa Cooperative, and yet its magnificent leaves, which are every bit as beautiful as those of certain temomi-chas, are very far from the standards of competition senchas. They do not have the perfect, though absolutely not natural, uniformity in colour. This simple observation says a lot about Mr. Tsukiji’s philosophy: he believes in making tea without intervening too much, just bringing out the best in their nature/Nature.
Their fragrance is vegetal without being really extremely green. There is a light sweet texture, a woodsy background. It is a little disconcerting at first because when you open the package there is no flood of sweet candy scents like some other senchas. It is very pure and natural.
It is also forthright, for the same is found in the cup. An uncommon fragrance that is not extravagant, complex but restrained. Yet, after 10 or 20 seconds, a mellow sweet aroma escapes from the cup (even if it is empty) and the teapot. It is subtle but very clear.
Very high-end teas are often super boosted in amino acids (theanine & Co.) – real soups of umami mellowness. With Tôbetto, it is a whole different tune. While sweetness is behind the complex vegetal, woody flavours, there is some astringency, sometimes even from the first infusion. Yet, it is not disturbing: it seems to play a role in a grand philharmonic orchestra of aromas. Very melodious, this music is played at an impressive volume. Tôbetto is very powerful, but its liquor remains velvety and slips down the throat like satin.
A strong, but natural sweetness then arrives in the aftertaste. It lasts a long time in the mouth without being overpowering: just right. Using a relatively classical brewing method for this type of superior tea (4 g (scant 1 tsp), 60 ml (1/4 cup), beginning at 60°C (140°F)) we can get 5 excellent infusions, and even the luxury of a very acceptable sixth. The aromas vary slightly towards something sometimes subtly floral, sometimes subtly fruity, but there is no unpleasant rise in astringency. It remains present but light: a great quality of this tea.
Finally, I would nonetheless not say that this sencha will please everyone. If I could choose only one of these teas from Tamakawa, I think I would take the Yamakai. However, I think that not pleasing everyone is a quality of a truly great tea.
One thing is certain: for those who appreciate Tôbetto, this one is virtually infallible. From infusions with ice to preparations with very hot water in the Gongfu-cha tradition, its range is very broad. However, obtaining a perfect infusion may perhaps be more difficult?
This Yamakai cultivar tea from Tamakawa (Terao more precisely) was already offered in 2013 on Thés du Japon; it was one of the finest teas in my selection. It is handpicked from unpruned tea bushes.
The dry leaves are impressive, characteristic of Mr. Tsukiji’s work. There is not much reason to regret that they are not hand-rolled.
Their fragrance is exquisite, as mellow as you could want, sweet, but also with a powerful scent that could be compared to aromatic herbs.
This is because Yamakai has character. A lot of sweetness, but a lot of strength also. However, the producer knows how to take perfect advantage of this cultivar’s qualities without bringing out the wild side that we find in Mr. Shigeta’s tea (see next post).
This Yamakai is of a subtlety and lightness in the mouth that is incredible for a sencha that, paradoxically, retains so much strength. Not the least astringency, with a liquor with natural sweetness, enhanced, but to no excess, by delicate notes of aromatic herbs. Also, with time, this tea develop a very enjoyable raspberry like scent !
These beautiful leaves produce five fantastic infusions with great length and a silky aftertaste.
In fact, I don’t know what else to say. More than for any other tea, words are too weak, photos also. The Yamakai cultivar is no longer fashionable? Here is a tea that shows how wonderful this cultivar can be.
Brewing parameters? 4-5 g (around 1 tsp), 70 ml (1/3 cup), 60°C (140°F) to begin. 1 minute 30 seconds.
No need to do anything complicated.
Kyusu: Shôfû (Banko-yaki)
Yunomi: Katase Kazuhiro
Yuzamashi: Yoshimoto Atsuo (Bizen-yaki)
This Kôshun by Mr. Tsujiki is handpicked from pruned tea bushes and also comes from Terao. Kôshun is a cultivar famous for its special floral fragrance. Some may know the Kôshuns from Fuji by Mr. Akiyama that I offer every year. Well, the one by Mr. Tsukiji is very different. Let us say that the producer from Fuji puts a lot care into bringing out the maximum of his cultivars’ special features. Our producer from Tamakawa seeks instead to produce a very good tea, as I have said before, “without doing too much,” taking into account the characteristics of each of his varieties of tea plants.
So, his Kôshun remains very restrained. We have above all a sencha with a nice fresh, sweet fragrance, supported by medium roasting, with in the background aromas that are in the end more fruity than floral.
In the mouth we feel neither astringency nor get the tannic impression that highly fragrant cultivars can sometimes leave. This sencha shows great mellowness without heaviness, with a wealth of fresh, dynamic flavours. Good length and a sweet aftertaste that develop both in the mouth and the throat.
An important aspect is that, despite the special character of this cultivar, it produces a tea with a personality and profile that remain very Japanese. I mean in comparison with Sôfû tea, and even more with Kondô-wase tea, which have Indian roots that produce “exotic” scents.
For the preparation, very classical parameters work perfectly: for a leaf-water ratio of 4 g/70-80 ml (scant 1 tsp to about 1/3 cup), a first infusion of one minute at 70-80°C (158-176°F).
However, this Kôshun is marvelous prepared iced in a teapot in this way:
- 4 g (scant 1 tsp) of leaves in a teapot (it is easier if it has a broad opening)
- Pour in around 30 ml (1/8 cup) of water at 80-90°C (176-194°F)
- Then put ice in the teapot immediately (so that the top parts of the ice cubes come out of the water)
- Wait just under 10 minutes, and then serve the tea.
The second infusion can be done directly with cold water, for around 10-15 minutes.
Finally, this Yokosawa sencha is the only one of these four teas that is not made exclusively of leaves grown by Mr. Tsujiki. It is a combination of leaves from him and from other producers from Yokosawa, but the blend is processed by Mr. Tsukiji at the Yokosawa cooperative. The cultivar is the Yabukita heavyweight.
Even though it is Yokosawa’s lowest quality tea, the way these leaves have been finished already does great honour to its creator. Their sweet perfume is composed of mellow peaty and aromatic herb scents that are found in other teas from the region, but also more usual, classical, sweet vanilla aromas.
The slightly woody, mineral profile of the liquor’s flavours contributes strength and personality to its more classical, very “Yabukita” sweetness. Round, but with body, the liquor is stimulating, with a light astringent background, the strength of which can vary a lot depending on the infusion method.
It seems to me that it is better to prepare it with sufficiently cooled water, around 65°C (149°F), and to increase the infusion time (1 minute 10-20 seconds), rather than the opposite.
Here again, great strength. The sweet flavours remain in the mouth, perfume the throat, but there is nothing rough. The astringency increases a little with each infusion, but with no tannic deposit. The whole thing remains very fluid, and becomes even more refreshing as the fragrances become greener.