It is not always easy to find out what to buy in my very rich selection of tea for Thés du Japon. It is of course necessary to try as much tea as possible to know its diversity, but also in order to not remain on bad impressions because of a choice that simply not suited to its own tastes. Yet, for sometimes financial reasons, also for fear of not being able to store the teas long enough, buy a lot of tea at once could be repelling.
So here are finally the (long awaited?) Thés du Japon’s Discovery sets !!
Three sets containing 5 teas packed in smaller quantities than sold individually.
The purpose was for me to present quality teas while focusing mainly on the sencha, which are by far the most representative of Japanese teas, without forgetting to present kama-iri cha, a genre too little known, yet very rich, that I Would like to make better known. In short, these sets have good “gourmet teas”, avoiding the large consumption teas that are genmaicha and hoji-cha, as well as gyokuro and matcha, too special and out of the daily (a gyokuro set is not to exclude in the future, maybe in limited quantities in the autumn).
Here are the themes of these three sets:
1. Japanese teas introduction set
I repeat it is a matter of presenting in a thorough way the great gourmet teas, so no genmaicha, hoji-cha and bancha.
I chose three sencha, a kabuse-cha and a kama-iri cha, to show various trends of steamed green teas (specificity of Japanese tea), as well as tea of which oxidation is stopped according to the “Chinese method” (Kama-iri, “pan-fired”). This set also represents the trends or styles of various regions.
First, a Shizuoka mountain sencha, regular steaming (futsumushi or asamushi), a type of tea that I think is the best of Shizuoka tea (Japan’s largest tea producing region). Indeed, Shizuoka has been known for many years for its fukamushi sencha grown in plains (Makinohara, Kakegawa, etc.), and these mountain teas that I like so much are disappearing. Yet, it is practically only in Shizuoka that mountain teas are grown in areas so remote, on very steep slopes, so that they are, in my opinion, the true teas representative of this prefecture.
Here is a Hon.yama tea (from the village of Oma), which is with Kawane and Tenryû, one of the 3 famous mountain tea areas of Shizuoka. This is the cultivar (tea plant varietal or cépage) Yabukita, and a strong roasting. Roasting is a good point of comparison of what can make a very significant difference between two teas.
The second tea is also a futsumushi sencha, but a “tea from Uji” (tea from the Kyoto department), from Wazuka more exactly. This is a relatively rare thing in Uji, but this sencha is not shaded, but its very weak roasting is a perfect illustration of the tendency of this region. Also, the cultivar Sae-midori is one of the most used cultivars after Yabukita, very popular in all of Japan because of its beautiful color and strong umami (you will see here even not shaded), so it is a cultivar to know.
The third sencha is a fukamushi (long steaming) from Yame, with its characteristic opaque green color, and an important emphasis on the umami (further enhanced by the shade before the harvest). Fukamushi and shading, here is something typical of Yame, although many Yame teas have a stronger roasting.
Often presented as an intermediary between sencha and gyokuro, the kabuse-cha is shaded more than a week, and even in Uji more than 14 days. Whatever the type of tea (sencha, kabuse-cha, gyokuro, matcha) shading is a technique that represents (too often) Uji’s tea. I could have presented the Uji-midori cultivar Kabuse, but I preferred to present the Sayama-kaori, whose flavors are simpler and typical (indeed, the Uji-midori has milky and floral aromas that are specific to this cultivar and should not be taken as kabuse-cha characteristics).
Finally, to represent the kama-iri cha, I chose that of Ashikita in Kumamoto prefecture. This prefecture, after Miyazaki, is the second producing region of kama-iri cha. I could have presented Gokase’s Kaori Mine, but to avoid creating confusion between the characteristics of the cultivar and the type of tea, I preferred this cultivar Yabukita.
The cultivar, or varietal, of tea tree is an essential element to the diversity of the aromas and fragrances of the tea (exactly like the cepage for wine (You will find an article on this topic here). If there are a hundred, Yabukita remain by far the most widespread, about 3/4 of production. While this dominance is clearly too important and is a hindrance to the recognition of the diversity of Japanese tea, it does not alter the fact that Yabukita remains a cultivar of unrivaled overall quality, adapting to many types of teas and environment. First I chose two mountain teas from Shizuoka, one from Kawane and one from Tenryû, both cultivated at more than 600 m. Kawane is little roasted, while the Tenryû is more.
Then two very famous terroirs from Uji, Harayama in Wazuka and Oku-yamada in Uji-tawara. The first one is a rare good real sencha of Uji, without shading, and with 4 days of shading for that of Oku-yamada. The subtle difference that this brings is very interesting. Finally, a kama-iri cha. This is a kama-iri cha from Amakusa (Kumamoto prefecture) close to competition standards, with deeper green leaves and a certain umami. Nevertheless, the typical fragrance of the kama-iri cha is very good. A comparison with the one from previous set shows the versatility of Yabukita.
This is the set for which the choice was the most difficult. To show the enormous influence of the cultivar, I chose five whose characteristics are very easily identifiable. First of all, the extraordinary Kôshun. Cultivar developped in Shizuoka, Kôshun is one of the stars among rare and atypical cultivars. Sometimes floral, sometimes fruity, one could almost devote a set to him alone. It is also a variety that has good stability. Here is a sencha from Shimizu, the flagship of Mr. Yamamoto Kengo’s teas. Very strong fragrance, slight astringency typical of Kôshun, this tea is great.
Then, a small tea from Tenryû. It is rather an entry-level, yet this sencha clearly possesses the very particular aromas of Yamakai, another famous, atypical cultivar of which I am a big fan. It is one of the cultivar from the “7000 serie” developed in the past by Professor Arima, and was a time very used for shaded teas. It is, however, as a full sun tea that it shows its true qualities. Unfortunately, it tends to disappear, disliked by wholesalers because it is difficult to blend.
Here again a cultivar from Shizuoka, Oku-hikari. This one is quite different, with less sweet fragrances, more reminiscent of aromatic herbs, and a drier attack. It originates in a variety from Hubei in China. Here is a Oku-hikari from Kawane, by Mr. Tsuchiya, like the Yabukita from the previous set.
With Yume-wakaba, native of Saitama, we enter a different appreciation. Put under the spotlight very quickly a decade ago, it did not finally spread. They are creamy, floral and vanilla flavors, but these are not so obvious when the leaves are not wilted (an inevitable process for most tea in the world, but avoid in normal process methods of Japanese steamed green teas). Here is a good example from Sayama. It is also a beautiful futsumushi, a rare thing for a Sayama tea. A careful manual harvest makes it possible to obtain a good material to be withered.
Finally, a kama-iri cha. Here, not a classic kama-iri cha from Kyûshû (like the ones from the previoius sets), but from Fujieda in Shizuoka, processed with wilting. I had to introduce an Inzatsu-type cultivar (crossing of Japanese varieties and Assam varieties), and here is Fuji-kaori (Inzatsu 131 x Yabukita), by Mr. Koyanagi, in whose plantations this cultivar was born. The floral scent is quite exceptional with reminiscent of jasmine.
This is what I reserve you with these three sets, opportunity to learn for some, to discover Japanese tea for others, and even rediscover my selection for still others . The contents of the sets may vary from time to time, depending on the stocks, and also my moods, on what I want to present, and so on. (I have not included the Inzatsu 131 from Nearai this time, but it remains one of my big favorite of the moment, a good order complement to the cultivar set for example).