Sourcing tea in Japan is not so difficult. Even find good tea is not a big problem. However, finding interesting teas can sometimes be much more complicated. This is true in all producing regions, it is even more true in Kyôto (remember that ‘’Uji tea’’ means any tea produced in Kyôto prefecture, not just the one, minority, produced in Uji City). It is a place still very closed, and wholesalers and old companies rules with their blends, and teas are still selling anyway thanks the Uji “brand” name, so some producers do not find reason to get out of this system (indeed, there is not).
Then you get in touch with the right peoples, things open, and this is a large range of superb teas that you can get access to.
When you find treasures, you don’t want to lose it, even if the conditions are not 100% ideal. Yes, ideally, I’d rather sell finished teas rather than Aracha, but this is for the very good reason that I present this two gyokuro, two treasures exactly, by Mr. Kojima. He sells it as well, arguing that high-end gyokuro needs no firing, or even to be sorted (indeed, anyway, hi-ire firing, for gyokuro in Uji is still extremely light).
Here we are in the area of Shirakawa in Uji city. It is an area renowned for gyokuro, less known because smaller in size than Kyô-Tanabe, but famous for its gyokuro’s perfume, while we search those of Kyô-Tanabe rather for their taste, very strong umami.
The Kojima family cultivates tea Uji-Shirakawa for over 250 years. Working with organic fertilizers and low pesticides.
I present two cultivars, Gokô, the royal way of shaded teas in Uji, and Kyôken # 283, very rare cultivar, having received no other name than his number at Kyoto Research Center.
About shaded tea cultivars used in Kyôto, the two aforementioned and Samidori, Uji-hikari, Asahi or Komakage are all from selection (cuttings) from botanical varieties (‘zairai-shu’ = not cultivars) from Uji, not crossbreed. Should we see here again the very closed character of the region?
These are two very high-end gyokuro. And I would not go around the bush, they are two of the best gyokuro I’ve ever had and the two best presented so far on Thés du Japon.
Without roasting, both of them obviously have a very green scent, but with this type of high grade shaded teas, this ”green” is nothing grassy. It is a fresh scent, dense and sweet, warm too. Although very similar to the nose, Goko is silky and soft, while # 283 is something more tangy, lemony almost. In any case it is incredibly appetizing.
For one as for the other, I use 5g of tea for 30-40ml of water at 50 ° C for a first infusion of about 90-100s. The liquor obtained is of course extremely dense, yet it is not aggressive, very velvety, it coats the palate with incredibly soft umami, without artifice, but not too strong. The after-taste is phenomenal, very soft, fruity, with, especially for Gokô, aromas of rose in the throat and nose by retro-olfaction.
For both successive brew, I raise the temperature, 30 sec, 1 min, 30 1 min, and more. While many gyokuro tend to develop gradually a more incisive taste, with more astringency, these two teas from Shirakawa remains very soft over all the brews, with absolutely no astringency or bitterness. They keep power while remaining soft and silky. Such softness on all infusions, it is not so common, and this may well be what justifies the price. At the same, when so much sweetness can sometimes be nauseating, it is not the case with these two gyokuro, very clean and pure. I chained with delight two sessions (so, 5 brews of each).
I seem to me that Gokô is more fruity with very rich aromas of ripe fruit and dried fruit. In a way, we could see more subtleties. Kyôken # 283 seems simpler, highlighting in even stronger way the characteristics mellowness in the mouth of great gyokuro. Same producer, same terroir, two shaded tea cultivars, both of these two gyokuro of course are very close, with a focus on the nose for Gokô, and rather on the mouth to # 238.
I never much liked gyokuro than with these two teas, provoking a growing interest in me again, which I hope will be reflected in the selection for Thés du Japon in the future.
Finally, I think it is not necessary to specify that very slow infusions with ice water will be wonderful, however, some will be astonished if I tell them that an infusion with boiling water also gives excellent results, again without astringency !!!! It is characteristic of very high grade teas, with a minimum of common sense, almost everything is possible …