It has been a century and a half since Japan began producing black tea (or red tea if literally translated as kôcha (jp) hongcha (ch) 紅茶). Japan, however, does not have the image of a black tea producing country, it must be said that this enterprise was never really successful. Yet, as this production died out in the late sixties, it reborn in the 1990s, but it has been especially since then that things have accelerated. Generally unconvincing at the beginning of the years 2010, one sees the level increase year by year, with teas which are at the same time good black teas and present a real “Japanese personality” (I mean that, in the long run, making black teas too identical to foreign black teas, even very high grade, has little interest). Indeed, more and more producers are seriously studying the production of black tea, and have been supported by a number of specialists in Chinese or Indian tea (with real experience in the field) for some years, giving them very valuable advice. These serious producers understand the importance of having plantations dedicated to black tea, not sharing between green tea production in the first harvest and then black tea in the second harvest (in other words, making black tea to make a quality work, whatever the real result, and not make black tea only because green tea does not sell anymore). Indeed, fertilizers essential for green teas (especially steamed) are inconvenience for the teas to be wilted then oxidized. So, year after year, we find interesting Japanese black teas, even excellent sometimes. Originating from the very rare cultivar Benihomare (first Japanese black tea cultivar, selected from the “inzatsu” varieties of Tada Motokichi created from Assam seeds brought back to Japan in 1876), Benifûki is the most famous and widely used cultivar. That of Mr. Kajihara of Ashikita (Kumamoto) is one of my favorites, and I hope that 2017 will give us a good vintage again. However, some green tea cultivars can make very good black teas, as is the case with this other tea of the same Mr. Kajihara, cultivar Kôshun, from a summer harvest this time.
With this type of black tea with broad and whole leaves, I prefer to proceed by multiple infusions, with little water. So not too long for the 1st infusion, 40-60 s.
Perfume of candied fruits, apricot, quince, prune, but also floral perfume evoking the sweet almond, reminiscent of the cultivar Kôshun. When cooling down, fresh, more tonic fragrances appear, but also very light notes of old leather. It is the floral pole that seems to take off from the 2nd infusion when preparing in several times. There is a tea rather light in the mouth, little tannic, soft but not sweet. This kôshun expresses itself more by return than by direct attack. The liquor is always very fluid and velvety, so that it is a black tea that one cannot help drinking in one go, under the spell of its sweet aromas.
If this Kôshun black tea from Kumamoto remains a notch below the spring Benifûki by the same producer, it is nevertheless very pleasant, very aromatic, and may be even more typically “Japanese”.