In Shizuoka, Shimizu Borough (the former City of Shimizu) is not especially well known as a tea-producing area, aside perhaps for Ryôkouchi, which is more famous, though only in comparison, and the tea that is produced there is unfortunately most often used in blends. Mr. Yamamoto was not too happy about this situation. Today, he very carefully produces senchas based on a number of different cultivars that he of course does not mix. His organic tea farms are located in Ôhira, upstream on Okitsu-gawa River, at nearly 500 m (1640 feet) in altitude.
The first of these three teas is the classic Yabukita cultivar.
Its beautiful thick leaves have a powerful, sweet fragrance that is very pleasant, and denotes relatively strong, but very well controlled, roasting.
After one minute of infusion at about 80°C (176°F), we obtain liquor with a fragrance that is just as strong, mellow and sweet, with something woodsy.
In the mouth, it is just as powerful. The liquor has a very good opening. After only an instant, we feel a touch of astringency, but it then fades into the very natural sweetness of this tea. The flavours are perhaps simple, but very well balanced.
There is nothing heavy about this sencha, despite its strength.
With this Kanaya-midori cultivar, we have leaves with a more subtle fragrance, but the tea remains in the same realm of mellowness and roasting, though this time it has nonetheless been exposed to a little less heat.
It is sweet, but very velvety, with slightly buttery flavours in the background. The liquor also develops an astringent note in the mouth, even a little very stimulating bitterness, with great depth.
Yet, in the following infusions, the astringency remains well controlled, and this sencha keeps a mouth-watering roundness, with a fragrance that is always very present.
There is an intense, sweet return in the mouth, and very good length.
It seems to me that this Oku-yutaka is the tea that plays most on roundness and sweetness.
The fragrance is also more discreet, and a little sniff in the teapot gives us a more concentrated scent of sweetness, with something a little vegetal and also of tomatoes(?!).
Obviously, we are very far from an amino acid soup, but this liquor seems to have more umami mellowness, and there is no trace of astringency or bitterness. This sencha is thus dominated by sweetness, but in a very calm manner. It is airy, not aggressive, and the liquor flows in the most fluid way in the mouth, leaving a light, but long, aftertaste.
A second infusion at a higher temperature provides these leaves with greater punch, adding to the slightly attenuated sweetness an invigorating freshness that continues developing in the mouth, and also for several minutes in the throat. This time there is more depth.
This Oku-yutaka sencha is probably the easiest of these three teas to drink, with a very round, silky first infusion, that might leave those who like more aggressive liquor wanting more. However, the second and third infusions add complexity and depth, as if new dimensions had been added.
The last of Mr. Yamamoto’s organic senchas from Shimizu that I have selected is his Sayama-kaori cultivar.
When it is infused, this Sayama-kaori reveals itself to be very delicate, subtle, and more difficult to grasp than the three others.
4 g (scant 1 tsp), 70 ml (scant 1/3 cup), 80°C (176°F), 60 seconds.
The fragrance is still mellow and sweet, but comes through more delicately than with the dry leaves.
While a floral bouquet is still present, the sweet notes almost recall chewing gum, and a very light tone of eau de Cologne slips in to make the whole very stimulating, despite the very restrained overall impression. As the tea cools slightly, spicier aromas emerge.
So long as it is not left too long and not too many leaves are used, the liquor provides exemplary balance and mellowness, which almost makes you forget we are dealing with the Sayama-kaori cultivar. The eau de Cologne and bubble gum flavours are not completely absent, but discreet, and this Japanese green tea is in no way excessive or stereotypical.
With no astringency, the liquor is smooth, and its sweetness is not overpowering.
The little note of astringency that appears in the following infusions brings depth, while the mellow olfactory effects of this sencha remain: subtle and multi-faceted.
The aftertaste is long and powerful, especially after the second infusion.
Nonetheless, this sencha responds in the typical ways and produces clearly different liquors depending on whether it is brewed in a teapot made from clay fired in reduction (black Tokoname, Banko) or in oxidation (red Tokoname, Bizen, etc.). Clay that has been fired in reduction seems to me to bring out the aromas and fragrances especially well, whereas with clay that has been fired in oxidation, the liquor is more captivating in the mouth, and the aftertaste is very dense and powerful.
Once again, in a surprising way, this Sayama-kaori is very different from Yamamoto Kengo’s three other products, partly because it has a very poised, balanced side, closer to a kind of perfection, as if to thumb the nose at detractors of this cultivar, which is now considered oldfangled and a little out of fashion.
It is not only the variety of flavours that distinguish these three senchas/cultivars made by the same producer, but also the ways they express themselves.
Here is how I see them:
Yabukita: nose and mouth
Kanaya-midori: nose and throat
Oku-yutaka: mouth and throat
Sayama-kaori : Subtle balance between mouth, noise, and throat, with a final predominance of throat.