Yame, in the Fukuoka prefecture is known as one of the three major producing regions of gyokuro (with Uji, and Asahina), and also for its fukamushi sencha, usually shaded.
The Kuma family in the Jôyô-machi area does not deviate from this pattern, producing gyokuro and fukamushi sencha, but the son also produces black teas. Here are two black teas by the same producer, but on many points diametrically opposed. Indeed, we have a Benifûki cultivar 2017 first flush, still very young, and a Benihikari 2015 second flush, a little bit aged.
Although these two cultivars are both used for the production of black tea, Benifûki is more recent, registered in the early 1990s, resulting from the cross between Benihomare (the first Japanese cultivar with black tea, selected from seeds brought back from Assam at the end of the 19th century) and Cd86 (selection at the Makurazaki research center from seeds from Darjeeling). Today it is by far the most widespread of Japanese black tea varieties.
By contrast, registered in the 60s, Benihikari is older. It is a cross between Benikaori and Cn1 (selection from a seed coming from China). With the liberalization of Japanese international trade in the early 1970s, it was no longer necessary for Japanese companies to buy black tea produced in Japan to import foreign black tea, so the drastic decline in domestic production prevented Benihikari from developed at this time. Benihikari is beginning to spread again for about ten years now, when the production of black tea in Japan rebirth, rather now for domestic consumption, with a quest for quality. This cultivar brings an interesting counterweight to Benifûki, with its very different aromas.
The gradual improvement in the quality of Japanese black teas makes it an increasingly worthwhile genre on which I would like to look a little more, hoping that many of you will be seduced by these “exotic black teas” in a kind of way. Some green tea cultivars, Kôshun in particular, give very interesting black teas, but overall, the “beni” something is a basis I think inevitable.
Going back to our teas from Yame, Benifûki is a black tea, I would say with a character “very spring”, with fresh and green aromas, with a very smooth mouth attack, without lacking punch, with its elegant and pleasant astringency. We have a fragrance which is fruity, spicy and sweet, which makes the trademark of Benifûki, which appears without too much emphasis, with also a vanilla impression.
This is a black tea that is quite classic, balanced, subtly aromatic, which, strong infused, can be very pleasant with a cloud of milk (this is something I do not recommend usually, but this Benifûki from Yame is very suitable for this).
The Benihikari offers very different flavors. The menthol side, slightly camphorous, evoking the cinnamon of this cultivar is here present, but rather in the background.
They are sweet aromas, candied fruits, honey, a little peppered perhaps, and dry wood too, which dominate here. Thus, while being strong enough, this tea is also very sweet and sweet on the palate, with a slight tip of astringency. These sensations are of course also those of a summer black tea. Thus, while one feels nevertheless the character of Benihikari, it is a bunch of rich and dense perfumes that offers us this black tea.