After a sufficient maturation since the picking in spring, the first batches of 2017 tencha have passed under the stone grinders, and here are finally the 2017 matcha.
This year again, I propose unblended matcha, pure cultivars by Mr. Tsuji from the Shirakawa area in Uji.
While the general trend this year for shaded teas, gyokuro and kabuse-cha, is to a lack of strength, to my surprise, these matcha seem to me more robust than last year. If I tended to say that for some tencha (the asahi in particular), it would even be better to wait for the winter before grinding, this year, even with this first batch, each cultivars already offer a lot of character.
I therefore propose again this year the cultivars Asahi (traditional honzu shading), Uji-hikari and Samidori. All three are tea plant varieties originating from Kyôto, resulting from the selection of Zairai local teas or crossing 100% of varieties originating from this prefecture which history of tea is so rich. This non inheritance of cultivars from other regions is a peculiarity of Uji tea. The same can be said of other shade tea cultivars such as Gokô, Narino or Komakage.
This year, I also propose a Saemidori cultivar from Tsuji-san. Last year, I proposed one, in very small quantities, but from another producer. Saemidori, a cultivar for sencha, is a crossbreed between Yabukita and Asatsuyu, and the one whose cultivated area increase the most during the last ten years. It is used for sencha, gyokuro and even matcha, it has a level of theanine (umami) higher than most of the ancient varieties for shaded tea from Kyôto. Saemidori is also appreciated for its color, and even more its hasty character. Nevertheless, its low resistance to cold prohibits the zones of production very exposed to the frost, like the mountainous areas of Shizuoka or the more northeastern regions like Sayama or Sashima. It is certain that it will not replace Yabukita (although less sweet, it must be said that Yabukita taste is overall far superior).
In short, Saemidori came to Kyôto as an outsider, but succeeded in imposing itself on high-end teas.
Of course, these are always “real” matcha, shaded under shelves (no direct cover), non-trimmed trees (shizen-shitate) and consequently a manual harvest. Moreover, only the spring crop is harvested: only one annual crop is possible in a shizen-shitate plantation, because after the harvest, the trees are cut very low and are allowed to grow freely until next spring (only “tekishin” in autumn, each new shoot is cut one by one, in order to obtain uniform shoots and leaves in spring, it is a very tedious job but necessary to get the best).
Used both for matcha and for gyokuro, it is with Gokô (little used for matcha) the great classic of Uji cultivar dedicated to shaded tea.
This matcha is very creamy, probably the most soft of the four. This gives me an impression of fruity, with an umami elegant but very present. This umami, this mellowness is deep and very long in the mouth.
This Samidori, is perhaps the easiest to access, the easiest to appreciate, especially for beginners.
It is a cultivar also used for gyokuro, but rarely non-blended. Uji-hikari has a strong character, and may seem somewhat unusual for a shade tea cultivar.
This matcha is very strong, with a powerful attack, a tip of astringency, with a discreet umami but very deep.
I feel aromas of dry wood, a mineral impression, almost animal.
Also, while gyokuro are light this year, an incisive cultivar like Uji-hikari is just perfect, and I highly recommend the Uji-hikari gyokuro from Shirakawa.
Here’s the famous Saemidori.
We first had a fairly strong attack, not as much as on the Uji-hikari nonetheless. The umami seems diffuse, but the overall impression is very mellow. The aromas combine roasted hazelnuts and fresh herbs. It has a nice length in the mouth, very tender.
There is a different character in the aromas / perfumes than on the indigenous cultivars from Uji.
Here is the top class of Mr. Tsuji’s production, grown with honzu shading (with bamboo blinds and straw). Asahi is generally considered the most high-end for tencha, but it is almost not used for gyokuro.
It is the first year that I feel it so powerful in autumn, it often takes until the end of the year to see its best. From the first attack, it has a great presence in the mouth, with a beautiful umami well balanced. I always find there the aromas and perfumes of pastry and confectionery.
I was a bit worried this year about matcha, and finally, this Asahi first, they surprise me in the best sense of the word.
Again, it is matcha without blend, very rare thing, even unthinkable for many professionals in Kyôto. Generally speaking, I do not think that the blend brings much to tea (except from the economic point of view), but it is true that in the particular case of the matcha, sometimes a lack of depth can be found when they are not blended (frankly this year I’m not sure). Thus, it remains very fun, to proceed with these different cultivars to blends directly in the bowl. It is very simple and allows multiplying the pleasures.
For example, ½ of Uji-hikari / ¼ of Samidori and ¼ of Saemidori allows to add complexity of aromas and sweetness to the strong character of Uji-hikari.
Or, ½ of Samidori, ¼ of Uji-hikari and ¼ of Asahi can give more impact to the sweetness and softness of Samidori.
The combinations are endless, and allow to find his own “ideal matcha”.