2016 Uji matcha, pleasure of variation, pleasure of blending

With the fall, we begin to grind the tencha that was picked last spring, so here comes the 2016 matcha. This year I continue for the 2nd consecutive year with teas by Mr. Tsuji from Shirakawa in Uji. I propose unblended matcha, things not so common, so presenting the cultivars separately. No need to say that this is real matcha, 1st harvest grown under arbor (no direct coverage), manual picking from uncut tea trees. There is a Yabukita (there are actually 10% Samidori in), a Samidori, an Asahi (this one is shaded according to “Honzu” traditional method, very rare today, with bamboo blinds and straw), and a novelty this year, a Uji-hikari.

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Apart Yabukita, these are all cultivars for shaded tea, all from Uji. Samidori being the most versatile, Asahi rather dedicated to tencha then Uji-hikari is usually dedicated to gyokuro. Non-blend Uji-hikari is rare, and I have also very little amount.

Yabukita unsurprisingly is the least mellow of the four, with a little astringency, vegetal enough, but it also has interesting aromas of red fruits, and a lot of strength.
Samidori is both the simplest and most typical premium matcha. Very soft, no astringency, velvety and slightly “green”, it represents a perfect introduction.
Asahi is obviously the more mellow and depth without common measure with its sweet egg cream flavors, it is a delight, a real dessert. Very high-high, competition level, it might for some missed some impact in the mouth (especially for those who have the image, however erroneous, of matcha as an astringent tea). But I would also say it still lacks perhaps some maturing and lots release later will be better still.
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Uji-hikari then represents a good compromise. The general impression is velvety and elegant premium matcha, but with a greater impact in the mouth, a touch of pleasant astringency.

So here are four very different matcha, with all the characteristics of their respective cultivar, bringing a significant variety. However, it is generally said that the matcha is not made to be used in single and must be blended to have real depth. I’m only half agree with that, but never mind !! With four matcha, four different cultivars, the best isn’t to do your own blends?
So for example, for those who just want an Asahi with a little more impact, add a bit of Yabukita in proportion or 3: 1.
And my particular recommendation, Samidori + Uji-hikari 1: 1, just divine!

Moreover, it is of course not limited only to matcha. With a variety of single plantation sencha why not compose your own blend? It is quite fun. To stay on Uji, other recommendations, 1: 1 with Yabukita sencha from Wazuka (Harayama) and Uji-tawara (Okuyamada); where the first powerful attack is balanced with tranquility and umami of the second.

Finally, to return to the matcha, the arrival of the 2016 vintage was an opportunity to compare with the 2015 vintage.

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The case of Samidori is interesting. At first sight, the 2015 has clearly lost its beautiful bright green. Yet in the mouth, it is no less interesting. There is absolutely more roundness and strength, remains longer in the mouth. However, it might be less complex in flavors, less “fresh” than the 2016. From a personal point of view, I prefer this version matured in 2015.
With Asahi, the assessment is more difficult. The 2015 has a lot more strength and impact that the 2016 which seems to need more to mature than Samidori. However, in 2015 it has an astringency that does not exist at all in his younger version. At the time I write this, I would say that a blend of the two vintages would approach an ideal (relative after all).

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5 replies

  1. As usual my mind is blown away by your blogpost. Did you blend Asahi with something too – say Samidori? I am really intrigued by this Asahi tea tree. After reading various blogposts of yours and a few others it seems to be a really high end tea tree that gives elegant teas. Thank you as always for your ideas and information.

  2. Dear Lochan
    Thank you for your comments.
    Both of Samidori and Asahi are veru mellow and smooth, so this could be better to be blended with more punchy matcha. I just tried 1.4 g of Uji-hikari with 6 g of Asahi. It was great !
    Asahi seems to be the most used cultivar for competition tencha (matcha). By the way, during contest/competition, judgement/examination are made on non grind tencha, not on matcha).

  3. It is very interesting to know that a lot of matchas are blended and not in pure form singular cultivars. I’m so glad to learn the ones you offer are the “base” of it and we can try each individually and play around with it by blending ourselves. A question I have is, I always thought matcha has a short shelf life, but reading your post seems that matcha can be matured for a year (or more?) and can be use as a blend for the newly grounded matcha, is this common practice or something you newly discovered?
    After reading your post, I am starting to doubt some of the matcha I had purchased in the past from other companies…in the matcha market nowadays, when we purchase matcha that list place/cultivars like “Ujitawara Asahi,” or “Nishio Samidori,” could there be the possibility that it is not 100% of that cultivar but blended with others? I’m just guessing here but I guess if the dominant cultivar is that particular one kind, the company can advertise the matcha under that cultivars name? Is this the same case for gyokuro?
    Sorry for so many questions, each time I read your post it opens up whole new doorways for me! It’s pretty exciting =)

    • Matcha (powder) cannot not be store a long time, only tencha (still leaf) could be store. Blending last year material is a common practice, but I think this is mainly used for gyokuro.
      I think (or want to believe) that if the name is, in example, Ujitawara Asahi, it contain only Asahi cultivar (or a large percentage). Still, it is not usual to propose to offer single tea matcha.

  4. Hello! thank you for this blog – it’s super interesting an thorough, I’ve really been enjoying reading it, and the extra parts in the version francaise. I’d like to email you to ask you a couple of specific questions about learning about tea in Japan, but I can’t seem to find a contact form or email address on either blog. Is there a way to contact you directly? Perhaps you can email me – I need to give my email to post this, so I figure you’ll be able to see it.

    I’m Australian, currently in Japan, travelling the world and developing a passion for tea.

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