As announced previously, here is the Yamakai cultivar sencha from Wazuka.
It is first of all a true non-shaded sencha, which is not so common with the “Uji sencha” mostly shaded (I remind you that in Kyoto, we will speak of “kabuse-cha” only from 14 days of shade!). And of course, it’s the Yamakai tea tree variety. My readers and users of Thés du Japon know how much I love this cultivar with such special aromas.
It is part of the Shizu-7000 series, cultivars selected in Shizuoka in the 60s from Yabukita seeds, Shizu-7132 being well known, but also Shizu-7111 (Kurasawa) and thus Shizu-7166 which was registered under the name of Yamakai. Quite rich in umami, it had spread especially for shaded teas, but its too special perfume gave it a bad reputation among wholesalers, but also some amateurs. Clearly it was a beloved cultivar, and is thus becoming increasingly rare today.
This seems really damaging to me when I find that amateurs today seem very fond of its aromas, and that this combination of very recognizable and sweet aromas make Yamakai a perfect cultivar for the new trends of tea in Japan, privileging (somehow) personality and diversity.
I had in mind for a moment to be able to find good (ie whose characteristics are present) unshaded Yamakai outside Shizuoka. It’s done! from Wazuka, and even from Harayama more precisely (like the excellent Yabukita I have been offering for several years). This is still a small production, exclusively on Thés du Japon.
All the interest is to have, of course a Yamakai, but also a Yamakai who gives a tea in the style of “Uji” (let’s say in the style of Kansai region teas). And I think it’s successful!
Unlike the Yamakai of Shizuoka that I propose, this one has a final roasting (hi-ire) extremely weak. Thus, the fragrance of the leaves is light and rather green, but there is nevertheless the characteristic fruity, and impression of old leather of this tea tree variety.
The infusion, very clear, gives to the nose a similar impression. The attack is moderate, rather sweet if the tea is not infused too strong, and the liquor, with the very fresh impression, is balanced, without excess of umami nor pronounced astringency. We are quite far from some very powerful Yamakai from Shizuoka, nevertheless we notice very quickly a great aromatic richness. With this very low firing, the aromatic palette is dominated by a sensation of juicy summer fruits, especially green melon (it is fascinating to note how this sensation is even stronger with an ice or water infusion, which I recommend to try). Also, we find the notes of red fruits to which the more roasted Yamakai have accustomed us, on the other hand it is naturally more difficult to discern the flavors of wafers, clearly due to the heat.
The impression quite green, very clear, the balance in lightness between umami and astringency seem to me very characteristic of the Uji style on non-shaded teas. To add to it with delicacy the aromas of Yamakai make this sencha one of my big favorite of the year.
This tea, like others, makes me wonder, even worry, about the fate of these cultivars now old, but very aromatic like Yamakai of course, but also Sayama-Kaori, Shizu-7132, Kanaya-midori, etc. Clearly, with these cultivars I have a number of excellent teas with clear characteristics, but many of these plantations are starting to age, and I fear there will be less and less chance of producers replanting these old generation cultivars. And at the same time, I see, for now, quite few new varieties (too obsessed with color and umami) really interesting from an aromatic point of view. If there is a future for Japanese tea, it is very difficult to predict. Let us rejoice and enjoy for the moment all the excellent teas that we have, and still do not stay turn to the past, keeping faith for the future, remembering that Japanese tea has probably never been so good as it is today!