I begin today a series of 2015 teas from Shizuoka, and not just any since these are the sencha from the famous Tsukiji Estate in Tamakawa (Hon.yama).
The former master of the place unfortunately left us too early last year, and it is the young Kosugi Yoshiki who succeeded him with much talent (imagine the pressure for this young man of 30 who takes over from such a renowned producer) for making tea in the factory of Yokosawa, and it’s always Mrs. Tsukiji that manages plantations.
It is with the latest of these teas (harvested this year from 17th to 21th May), the fabulous Tôbetto, that I’ll start. This tea is also the climax of teas from this estate, manually harvested over 800 meters elevation; in Japan it is quite exceptional, subject to a manufacturing process equally exceptional. Not only do not disappoint, but this 2015 vintage is even particularly successful!!
“Hand-picked “, here is a little magic phrase, a strong sells point, handpicking is necessarily better than a machine. Really? Not necessarily. There are various methods of manual picking, and good hand-picking require high level know-how and experience, and talented pickers are becoming more and more rare. But beyond these basic questions is also the problem of how do we process this material harvested by hand. If steaming and kneading / drying is not done in ways that benefit from the quality of the raw material collected manually, we ended up getting a tea that may be inferior than a lot of mechanically harvested teas.
For picking Japanese tea, generally referred to isshin-niyô 一芯二葉 (a tip and two leaves) or isshin-sanyô 一芯三葉 (a bud and three leaves). Of course the first case is reconsidered as the best (for strong umami), but this third leaf is actually important because it gives a lot of power to tea (for competitions teas or teas where only umami is considered, we do not take this third leaf). For Tôbetto, pickers are asked to pick isshin-niyô, the bud and the following two leaves, plus, the third leaf separately. Why separately? Cause we do not want to take the stem part between the second and third leaf. This stem part is too hard, therefore, to make a very high level tea as Tôbetto, we do not want it.
Indeed, a very important point to make a tea of the highest quality is the uniformity of the hardness of the material (tips, leaves, stems), this is the key to achieve uniform drying of this three components of sencha. So picking Tôbetto goes even further, since demand for pickers to take only the leaves that meet these requirements. To be capable of such a judgment, we understand how much experience is required. We also understand that yield performance is the last trouble with this very special tea.
But thanks to this selection, the steaming method of Tôbetto is possible. For futsumushi sencha (or asamushi sencha), standard steamed sencha, steaming the duration (no, actually this the time that leaves goes through the machine) is around 30 seconds. 20 seconds is already very rare is considered very short. For Tôbetto, only 6 seconds !!!
Many producers are not even believed, though this is true. Machine not overloaded and equipment (fresh leaves) of high uniformity allow that. So, leaves are not heated unnecessarily, they do not receive unnecessary moisture that hinder the rolling / drying process.
“Add nothing, but remove nothing either”, “I do nothing special, but I do not do anything halfway,” that was the philosophy of Mr. Tsukiji. The aromas of Tôbetto sencha are the aromas of Tôbetto plantation and terroir.
The leaves are thick and long needles are carrying a light fragrance, fresh, intense and natural at the same time, it’s just perfect sencha scent. Despite a very low roasting, there is nothing of grassy in these aromas. It’s soft and enchanting, this is a very comfortable fragrance.
There are so many ways to infuse this sencha. Well warmed water first with a good dose of leaves remains for me the classic, an ideal where infusions keep coming one after the other, of course, changing slowly.
One can also choose to brew with ice and cold water. The operation may be repeated prior to using hot water. A lot of leaves for very little boiling water, a kind of gongfu cha should also be interesting…. What is astonishing is that finally, demonstrating a modicum of tea common sense it is almost impossible to miss.
In its flavors on the palate there is no super original characteristics (it’s Yabukita cultivar), but everything is just delicious. It is not at all a competition type sencha and there is not too much umami. Perfect balance between sweetness and astringency, small floral touches, woody, fruity, strengh and long last after.
According to the brewing method one can get a lot of mellowness, umami and sweet, great intensity, but always in a natural way, without any heaviness. Conversely we can get a significant touch of astringency, but that it is not aggressive.
One could obtain with conventional parameters 5 or 6 excellent infusions, rare thing with a Japanese tea.
If there is in Japan only tea one who really deserves the term of ‘’exceptional’’, it is this one. Yet it is not necessarily easy to understand at first. We must impregnate and then back to other sencha, and then we understand little by little all the qualities of Tôbetto.
Disturb during his hunt, he lets out the lizard which leaves him his tail for pittance.