Guide about how to start with Japanese tea

I interrupt the presentation of the 2015 teas from Thés-du-Japon.com to present my selection of teas a more global way. I would try to offer a sort of guide for new users who are a little lost in this wide selection of Japanese teas, or simply help those who would like to experience the Japanese tea in a logical manner, otherwise analytical.

Concept

The main trend in my selection is to present Japanese teas almost from single plantations, in other words no blends, which are the norm with Japanese tea.
Another guideline for my sencha : very few “fukamushi cha”. I prefer teas keeping a beautiful shape, not too broken, but without making an obsession of this issue.
Many small farms with small production (beware, this is not necessarily a guarantee of quality).
Great interest for cultivars, which is still too ignored by the average consumer here in Japan.
Special Highlighting on beautiful Shizuoka mountain teas, often grown in difficult conditions very rare in the rest of the country.

What to choose first ?

First, the type of tea: With 80% of production, it is obvious that one has to focus on sencha. From lowest range to the high end, wide variations in processing (steaming, shading, roasting), and a wide variety of cultivars, sencha is a genre that actually contains thousands of completely different teas.
Somehow, all other genres are minority.
Gyokuro is a very special kind, as by its aromas that by its method of brewing. I do not think it should get into the first choice of the complete beginner. You should try first nice kabuse-cha like my Gokô from Wazuka.
In contrast, among some sencha, choosing one kama-iri cha seems interesting. This type of tea is not steamed like other Japanese green teas, but oxidation is stopped by direct heating (pan-firing), like Chinese teas. Their aromas are very different from sencha, and it’s very simple to prepare. This year, I would recommend first that from Amakusa, or that from Gokase.

Discovering sencha, 1. Yabukita:
I sourced all these teas, so obviously, all are my “recommendations”. Yet it is also clear that not all have the same degree of “recommendation”, that if I have to do a very simple classification, I could distinguish the must-try and the curiosities (classification really too simplistic, but the goal here and help this spot for those who still do not know very well the Japanese tea, and even those who simply do not yet know very well my selection).

With a prior interest on mountain teas, Shizuoka naturally has an important part in the selection. Insofar Shizuoka represents 40% of the cultivated area in Japan, so this is not silly, even if in reality, mountain teas are a minority.

You can find anything anywhere in Japan, and I do not believe that purchase according to production region is a good base to discover and understand the Japanese tea. The cultivar, ie the variety of tea tree (as grape varietals for wine), has a very great importance. ¾ of tea production comes from cultivar called Yabukita. If such proportion may seem excessive, actually Yabukita it is a variety with overall qualities that still have not found a rival.
Thus, to understand Japanese tea, it is essential to know Yabukita.
Consequently, futsumushi / Asamushi (traditional steaming) sencha made from Yabukita, little or no shaded, should be the first choice.
So I strongly recommend the Hon.yama sencha, Okawa-Oma (no shading), and that of Kawane (light shading). Then out of Shizuoka, Uji / Kyôto with the Yabukita from Wazuka (shaded).
Then, to go into the fukamushi cha (long steaming), the Yabukita from Yame, Joyo-machi.

For those who want to go further, there is the Yokosawa (very beautiful Shizuoka mountain tea) and the Nihon Daira (birthplace of Yabukita), or even that of Tomihara in Okayama.

Parenthesis to say that both kama-iri cha mentioned above are also Yabukita.

Discovering sencha, 2. other cultivars:
Then, to contrast with Yabukita, there is a variety of very different cultivar. Choosing first cultivars really different and easy to understand seems to be an important first step. No hesitation Kôshun and Sôfû.
Kôshun from Shimizu or Tamakawa, and Sôfû from Ashikubo.
Gokô (Kabuse cha cited above) is also to be tried because it is a representative example of shaded tea cultivars widely used for in Uji for kabuse-cha, gyokuro or matcha.

Then, for very personal taste, I would designate Yamakai (Takayama, or very high end Tamakawa).

To go further in the discovery of cultivars:
For example with Kanaya-midori (from Shimizu) you’ll have one of Kôshun parents. But Haru-midori (one from Kawane) is also a crossbreed of Kanaya-midori. These 3 cultivars tasted in parallel should be interesting.

Another example to go further, several cultivars from the same production area, such as Yabukita, Meiryoku, Gokô and Uji-midori from Wazuka or so, from the same grower as the Yabukita, Kanaya-midori, Oku-yutaka, Kôshun Mr. Yamamoto in Shimizu.

I hope this small guidance will help you with your first step in the discovery of Japanese tea, with essential teas to start, and other essential to deepen.

I’ll continue to add new teas during the year. First, in September it will be great gyokuro and new matcha from Shirakwa in Uji city.

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1 reply

  1. Once again a lovely post. I really like your focus on cultivars because of my own tea garden. Over the years that I have visited Japan I have found that in the recent years more and more people are interested in cultivars. I am talking about not only people who present me various Japanese teas but also people who buy my tea. In the past, say 10 years ago, when they gifted me tea they never mentioned the cultivars. Now almost everyone does. Similarly I also get questions about my own tea and which cultivars they are made from.

    I think this is a really interesting “trend”. I use the word trend with a bit of trepidation because it is defined by a tiny sample and my experience.

    Thank you once again for this fantastic journal of yours.

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