While the 2017 Uji-Shirakawa matchas are, including now Yabukita, available, I have also added a new selection of Japanese black teas. Among them, a tea of Sashima in the prefecture of Ibaraki, made from a rare tea cultivar, Izumi.
The “Sashima teas” correspond to a production area located southwest of Ibaraki prefecture, just at the edge of Saitama and Chiba, which intersects the cities of Koga, Bando, Jôsô, Sakai and Yachiyo. It is with Saitama (Sayama) and Kanagawa (Ashigara) one of the three tea producing region of the Kantô area.
Tea production in this region seems to have begun in the 17th century, responding to the needs of the feudal lords and monks of the region and the nearby capital Edo, and gradually spreading to local populations.
Nevertheless, as in the rest of Japan, it is from the middle of the 19th century that production (mainly sencha) is industrialized to meet the needs of tea for exportation. The tea producing areas of Kantô have benefited from the proximity to Yokohama Port to develop. It was in 1859 that Sashima tea was exported for the first time.
Less well known than Sayama’s, Sashima’s teas, whose production quantity is less important, are also mainly focused on “fukamushi” sencha, but the general level is pretty high even at the national level.
Also, there are many young producers, so they look to the future, developing the exploitation of cultivars (there are of course many cultivars from Sayama, because of the geographical proximity and a similar environment) and new experiments on black tea and so-called “semi-fermented” tea (Oolong type).
Izumi is a rare and ancient cultivar whose fate is linked to the history of Japanese black tea (which I will detail a bit more in a future article) and the export of Japanese tea. Izumi comes from selection from seeds of Benihomare cultivar (the first Japanese black tea cultivar, itself selected from a seed from Assam). We do not know the origin of the pollen, so we can think that it is a Japanese variety. Izumi was registered in 1953, from Kyûshû Research Center. This new breed was then held in high esteem for its aromatic qualities, and was then destined to make kama-iri cha destined to export to North Africa. Since these exports to the Maghreb had only a very short-lived success, Izumi did not have time to spread, and was then forgotten in the gardens of research centers …
Until a Sashima farmer, Yoshida Masahiro, in 1991, from a few cuttings, began planting this cultivar on his Koga plantation. It took 10 years to get enough tea to start producing tea (nobody selling cuttings of this cultivar forgotten at the time, the producer had to take the cuttings himself at the center of national search from an Izumi tea plant). He first made sencha and black tea, and since that year has dedicated Izumi only to black tea.
It is this Izumi black tea from Sashima, spring 2017, that I propose to you today.
Izumi, although descendant of Benihomare, is not a “beni”, and considered as cultivar for kama-iri cha (green tea), it does not have the tannic potential of a Benifûki for example. However, it has very rich flavors, and following Mr. Yoshida, many producers are beginning to exploit this variety for black tea and semi-fermented tea.
This Izumi black tea from Sashima is indeed very soft. We do not feel in the mouth any astringency and it is with the nose, in throat, in retro-olfaction that this very elegant black tea expresses itself.
The scent is a little floral, fruity, evoking juicy and sweet yellow fruits, but also a little creamy, evoking me personally milk tea (!). The liquor is particularly fluid, and the aromas really bewitching. This black tea from Sashima will charm spring Darjeeling tea or Chinese black tea lovers more easily than Assam or Ceylon tea lovers.
I personally like black teas with a little bit of astringency, but I’m completely enamored of it, even light and essentially aromatic.
As especially those of Ashikita (Benifûki and Kôshun) which are made in roughly the same way (but oh how different) we can prepare this black tea in gaiwan with infusions loaded and relatively short, but I think that a classic preparation in teapot will highlight the elegance of its fragrances.
This black tea is first excellent, but it also highlights a production from an area too little known, as well as the rebirth of a cultivar for the least interesting. It is also the result of decades of effort by a passionate producer. You will hear next month again talking about him for a sencha this time.