With the arrival of the new matcha, I’m finding myself each year, as for the gyokuro, to repeat the same thing. In general, and almost as a rule in Uji (Kyoto), we never get release new matcha (tencha) in the spring. No shincha for these teas because they are considered to need a few aging to be consumable. Thus, it is at fall that matcha from tencha made in the spring of the year start to be used.
I write “used” because to sell matcha without blending (I mean coming from a single plantation, a single varietal, and a single batcha) as I do it is not current, and that even more than for other Japanese teas, blending is the norm. And in fact, from the autumn, rather than put on sale the matcha of the year, ones begin to integrate it to the matcha of the previous year, the proportion gradually increasing during the season. This allows to have a stability of taste throughout the year, and to compensate the relative lack of strength that still characterizes the matcha of the year at fall, for the real high end matcha at least (shizenshitate uncut plantiation, so manual harvest, shade under arbor, only one harvest possible per year). This way of doing things is quite applicable to the single origin, blending this way only the vintages of the current year and the previous year of the same plantation. This is ideally what I would like to do in the future with Mr. Tsuji’s superb matcha from Uji-Shirakawa, but for now, on my scale this is a little complicated. (for those interested in comparison, I still have some boxes of 2018 Asahi and Uji-hikari)
Plantation shizen-shitate at Uji-Shirakaza, Uji-hikari variety
So here again come the Samidori, Asahi, Uji-hkari, and Gokô cultivar from Mr. Tsuji. These are of course matcha made from tencha grown in non-cut shizenshitate plantation. Of course, with this type of planting direct shading and mechanical harvesting are impossible. The tea plants are cut very low after the harvest, so we cannot use these plantations for second harvests.
In fact, if this type of culture should be the basic definition of “matcha”, in reality it does not even represent 5% of what is sold as matcha! (again I repeat myself, but it is always good to remember, as matcha is probably the most slain Japanese type of tea in the world on the altar of fashions and miscommunications).
Afterwards, first harvest matcha are found in conventional plantation, direct shading, mechanical harvest, etc. Then also matcha of second harvests (something that we do not find for the gyokuro, which is, nevertheless, from the point of view of the culture responding to the same methods and variations). I pass on the moga-cha (partially rolled as tencha isn’t supposed to be) and the aki-ten (unshaded autumn tencha !!) that should not be sold as matcha anymore.
I had always held the rigorous definition of matcha with only shizen-shitate type. But this year I add two matcha, first harvest obviously, but in mechanical harvest, direct shading for one, tunnel shading for the other.
It is not so much to offer cheaper matchas but to present two very rare Uji cultivars that I have chosen these two teas.
The first is made from Hôshun, a relatively new variety, the second from Kyôken-283, older, not officially registered.
The sale of single origin matcha made with these two varieties is perhaps a world first! In any case, it is extremely rare.
Given the lack of experience that can be had on these rare grape varieties, it is natural that no grower will risk it to made very high-end shizen-shitate type matcha.
The matcha Hôshun comes from Minami-Yamashiro. As noted above, Hôshun is still very new, recorded in 2006. It is still little used, but I had the occasion to taste few as unshaded sencha, gyokuro (see here), and therefore matcha now. From a seed of Samidori, it is very early, and seems rather destined for gyokuro. We will not see a very strong characteristic as on a Gokô or Uji-hikari, but rather a good balance, and more lightness. Hard to say without a more extensive experience with it, but Hôshun seems to me however interesting for matcha.
Here is a relatively light matcha, velvety, with umami obviously present, but not overwhelming. Little or no astringency. It is very long in the mouth with its creamy aromas, and (still) a little vegetal taste.
Very nice also on the nose, do not be mistaken, despite the aerial impression it can give, it has enough body. Nevertheless, its fluidity, its roundness, its typical but moderate umami make it a superb gateway to the matcha universe.
With Kyôken-283 from Wazuka (“kyôken” is an abbreviation for the departmental research center of Kyôto) we have a matcha with quite different character.
Without the attack being too aggressive, this tea has a very strong presence. Without astringency either, there is a deep and pronounced umami, which seems to be a characteristic of this rare varietal, not officially registered. Selected from native zairai tea trees from Uji, Kyôken-283 seems to have a more distinct personality, with aromas of red fruits, especially after, evoking even sweet black grapes.
When compared to Hôshun, the aromatic differences are obvious. We have here two matcha very affordable with different characters, complementary, which will respond to desires, different times of the day.
Of course, these mechanical harvests matcha will have a harder time comparing with the great Uji-Shirakawa’s shizen-shitate matcha, not because they could be much rougher or lacking umami, their umami is quite noticeable and they are not especially tannic, not even that they would lack strength, but simply that they have less depth, less elegance one could say. But this is finally natural enough.