A little further downstream on Abe River, we find Ushizuma, which is where the two senchas by Mr. Shigeta come from.
I have been waiting impatiently for these two Hon.yama senchas (this article was orignally wrote in May). They are traditionally steamed teas from Ushizuma, grown according to “munoyaku” (無農薬) standards by Mr. Shigeta. This means that he has farmed them with neither pesticides nor herbicides. While you are allowed to use fertilizer in “munoyaku” farming, most tea producers choose to limit themselves to organic versions.
You can tell the difference this makes in these two teas, which do not have the kind of umami mellowness that comes from fertilizers (in part, but which is often enhanced by more or less shading), but a more natural sweetness. They both have a very natural profile, with something wild. Dense, unusual aromas that I especially like. Could this be the influence of the land and earth in Ushizuma? In any case, these are two teas that, depending on how they are prepared, can reveal an astonishing intensity in the mouth for such large leaves, so lightly steamed, with such limpid liquor. In fact, you need to be very careful how much you use, especially if you are like me and you tend to like using a lot. However, even when they are prepared too strong, the liquor of these teas remains like satin, and never sticks in the throat.
This is the first time that I have offered the first of these senchas on Thés du Japon. It is a Yabukita cultivar that, as we know, is the tea grown on almost three quarters of the land where tea is farmed in Japan. It is the heavyweight, almost synonymous with Japanese tea.
For the first infusion with 4 g (a scant 1 tsp) of leaves, I used 70 ml (1/3 cup) of water at 80°C (176°F), and I let it brew for barely a minute.
A very pleasant sweet fragrance, with a touch of peat, a little grassy.
Generally, this produces liquor that is already strong enough. It has good presence in the mouth, but it is not aggressive. Sweetness and astringency balance very well. What seems wild in this tea remains under control. The notes of peat and the mineral impression are discreet, but what density! There is also a glimpse of something a little vegetal, a little floral.
There is thus a lot of power in these leaves, but also a lot of balance, sencha aromas that are reassuring, in short, the qualities of the Yabukita cultivar allied with the personality of the land where it is grown and of the producer. Who could ask for more?
The next infusions bring out the vegetal, slightly floral aspect of this sencha more strongly, with more astringency, while keeping it light and refreshing.
Good length with a light, sweet aftertaste.
The second of these senchas is a Yamakai cultivar, which was already on TdJ in 2013.
Yamakai is a relatively endangered cultivar. Apparently it has a disturbing fragrance that is difficult to avoid, though I do not really know which scent is in question. Yamakai remains used mainly for gyokuro because it is very sweet. In short, it is a cultivar that is difficult to produce.
For this one, the same dose, but with water at 70°C (158°F), infusion for 80 seconds..
Could the unpopular fragrance be one of the wonderful scents of peat and sugar cane that I like so much in this tea? Surely not… There is also something reminding fine mayonnaise fragrance in the aromas of this culivar. That could be strange, but also so rich !
Here again we have liquor with unusual intensity. There is much more sweetness with this Yamakai, and no astringency (even when it is infused at 80°C (176°F), there is almost none). I am repeating myself, but the sweetness is not the standard umami of Japanese teas. In this case, it is more rustic, more sugar cane. This aspect is much more present than with the Yabukita. What I taste as very mellow peat is much more captivating with this Yamakai. Less balance, certainly, but even more personality. Nothing floral or even vegetal here. It would be hard to say that it is very mineral, but there is nonetheless something closer to the earth.
This tendency remains very strong, while gaining lightness (or losing strength – it depends on your point of view), and the increase in astringency is very slight.
A very long, strong sweet aftertaste explains why this cultivar lends itself so well to gyokuro, even though in this case the degree of sweetness is very different since the tea has not been shaded.
Five very good infusions can be obtained from this tea.
Two senchas with different aromas, but similar personalities. “Power” is a key word for describing them. With these two teas by Mr. Shigeta, there is also another thing I like a lot: there will be no consensus on them. Their strong characteristics may make them unpleasant to some people, but at the same time others will, like me, fall head-over-heels in love with them.
To be tried and compared.