I have already mentioned in my presentation of Sayama’s tea last month my desire, now that Thés du Japon opened a shop in Tokyo, to present the teas of the Kanto region (Tokyo region). Those of Sayama (Saitama prefecture) are the best known, but Ibaraki prefecture also has two tea producing regions, Okukuji (very little known and really minor) in the north of the prefecture, and Sashima in the southwest.
The presence of tea has been noted in Sashima area since at least the 17th century, but production is developing especially from the 19th century, when the Uji’s method of manufacture of steamed sencha is introduced. The tea get to be sold in the capital Edo.
Of course, the tea of Sashima remains largely unknown, question 100 people in Tokyo and it is quite possible not one has heard about it, and the sencha of this region usually ends in a blend with other teas at Shizuoka market. It is known locally, or by a handful of tea fanatics.
However, among a lot of very common teas, there are also some very interesting products, thanks to some passionate young producers, sencha but also black teas, like the wonderful Izumi by Mr. Yoshida which I will talk about later.
Today, I’m presenting two of his sencha, the Hokumei cultivar, already present last year, and tea from a plantation made from Yabukita seeds.
Hokumei is a cultivar developped in Saitama. It is quite natural to find in Sashima cultivars from its close neighbor, even if in reality we do not find that much.
It comes from the crossbreed between the ancient Sayama-midori and a tea plant obtained from a seed of Yabukita, and was registered in 1995.
Our producer of Sashima has made this year with this Hokumei a beautiful sencha with a steaming not too strong, without being a futsumushi either.
The leaves have a pleasant floral scent with a touch of almond.
The scent of the infusion is very rich and complex, it evokes dry but still fresh herbs, with also light floral notes, and a very sweet impression in the background.
In the mouth, it is a tea a little astringent but well-balanced. This astringency is quickly erased in favor of both floral and vegetal aromas, slightly sweet.
It will give three delicious infusions, the following being a little more incisive in the mouth, with a scent going closer to scents of bitter almonds.
It is a very aromatic sencha, which has a nice presence in the mouth without being too strong, but far from light. Its astringency remains light, very elegant, not tannic at all.
For reference, this version 2018 is much better than last year, much more balanced and refined.
This Hokumei cultivar from Sashima is a sencha that I particularly enjoy, for its personal aromas and true sencha character. It is also a tea that offers opportunities for exploration of brewing methods.
The next sencha is a tea made from a plantation of tea plants planted with Yabukita seeds. In short, all the tea plants are different, they are not cuttings, and so it is in this “zairai”, native varieties. But being all from Yabukita seeds, the plantation is less heterogeneous than the old classical zairai. Nevertheless, they are tea trees of about fifty years, when in general plantation are renew every 30 or 40 years in Japan. Indeed, at the end of the 60’s, it was the full boom of Yabukita, so it was sometimes difficult to get cuttings. Also, Mr. Yoshida’s father made a plantation not from Yabukita’s cuttings, but from Yabukita seeds, much easier to obtain.
If the sencha obtained shows some characteristics of zairai leaves, such as flattened rolled leaves, inevitable when making a tea from a material not completely uniform, this phenomenon remains still light and we still have a beautiful sencha.
Slightly vegetal and woody, with an impression of cooked potato, the scent is much more rustic than that of Hokumei.
As a zairai, this sencha will not always give the same aromas in each session, but the whole is again a well-balanced sencha, with a very light astringency this time, and a touch of umami. It has aromas of nuts and cooked potato, a woody impression, a little sweet and leaves in the mouth a fresh and vegetal feeling, a little sweet too.
The second infusion, without placing particular emphasis on astringency, brings out, on the other hand, finer and floral perfumes that were hardly suspected in first infusion.
So it is naturally a tea that does not offer very strong aromatic characteristics like cultivars and stays as close to a Yabukita. It is a sencha finally very typical, balanced, sufficiently rich and present in the mouth as in the nose, with a nice after-taste too. The result is so much more than pleasant.
We can say that these two sencha, very different in terms of aromas, have as a common feature an intermediate steaming accompanied by careful rolling, resulting in very well balanced teas, with the frank character of sencha, which will delight fans of green tea of character, complex, far from the trendy sweet and mellow sencha that emphasis only umami without perfume or body.
I am delighted with these two teas, which add to my selection something different again from my Sayama teas.
I will talk later about this producer for his two phenomenal black teas made with Izumi cultivar.