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Recent Tasting Notes
Since I became interested in Japanese green tea around 12 years ago, I have been searching for competition grade tea from Japan, but it has always been impossible to find here in the United States. I’ve seen competition grade tea from China, but never Japan. So when this became available a few weeks ago, I jumped at the opportunity.
Compared with other matcha, Hibiki-an’s Competition Grade Matcha Pinnacle is much brighter in color: pure green with no brown undertones. If the green color is somewhat brown, then it is lower grade and gets exponentially more so as one goes down the scale of quality. As you can imagine, this tea has no detectable brown tones. It is pure green, like a perfect pistachio. Matcha color directly correlates with flavor, and the flavor of this tea is perfect as well: fresh, smooth and creamy with no bitterness.
Before this tea, the best matcha I sampled was Hibiki-an’s Matcha Pinnacle. It is vastly superior to other matcha due to the ideal color, fresh and creamy flavor with no bitterness, and the fact that it dissolves so purely and evenly when whisked. Both the flavor and texture can be described as soft, smooth and creamy. I fortunately had the opportunity to sample Matcha Pinnacle and Competition Grade Matcha Pinnacle side-by-side. As I had hoped for, the Competition Grade matcha exceeded my expectations and again raised the bar. Both are excellent and amazing teas in a whole league of their own, but the Competition Grade does outshine the regular Matcha Pinnacle in terms of pure green color and smooth, creamy taste and texture.
This is not an everyday tea, but should be seen as a rare opportunity to try something usually only reserved for a select few within the Japanese tea industry. Thanks to Atsushi and Keiko at Hibiki-an for the opportunity to try this special tea. It is truly amazing and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in Japanese tea.
I wonder if this went bad? There are hardly any flavors (especially sweetness, which I assumed gyokuros were known for) present…except a strange starchyness.
The first infusion was almost really good; it had hints of very refined sweetness (like I’ve tasted in the ice brewings), kind of like a shincha or something. I enjoyed the first infusion, at least the first few sips. I was excited because I thought perhaps I had figured out a better way to brew it (heaping tsp (2+g) 2 oz water, 2.5 mins)…. unfortunately not.
I want this tea to be good, but it simply didn’t meet my expectations, nor was it worth the cost. What a contrast to their Kuradashi Gyokuro Premium! (That’s their normal, aged gyokuro, which was very very good).
So far, I am not impressed. At least, for this to cost $1/gr, it is not worth it. The cheaper gyokuro (Premium) is worth it and tastes better. So far. I’m still hoping I can figure out if I’m using bad steeping parameters. I used 1.5 tsp for about 4oz water. The previous trials tasted weak, so I felt like I needed to up the amount of leaf.
The wet leaf gave off a really nice aroma of greens and a strong note of mashed potatoes. That may sound strange, but it really smelled delicious.
However, the actual tea wasn’t very sweet, didn’t have any marine, vegetal, or umami flavors present…. it actually didn’t have much flavor at all. Except one, that was…. starchy mashed potatoes.
Ok, as a smell, it was great, but as the main taste of the tea….not so good. :-(
If that had been a flavor that was present but gave way to the main tastes that are more typical of Japanese greens, that would have been fine.
I haven’t given up hope on this, as it really seems like it should be good; all the right elements are present (at least, according to Hibiki-an).
This is REALLY good.
It was the perfect amount of sweetness, smooth umami and marine notes, and ended with a very very slight vegetal/melon flavor that was perhaps (pleasingly) astringent. It was mellow and had an underlying, delicious grain flavor as well.
The best words I could use to describe this are mellow or refined. It tastes like a perfect gyokuro that is toned down and improved. I am surprised I like this so much more than their “pinnacle” version (this is machine cut, their pinnacle is hand picked!). Perhaps I used a better amount of leaf. Or maybe I am simply used to the Yabukita species of leaf…
Either way, I was very impressed by this. I can tell it has been aged (but has improved over time!), which I am surprised about.
That last note, that I described as vegetal/melon/almost astringent was hard for me to describe, but it was really delicious and rounded it off very nicely.
After these 2 steepings, I would say it’s definitely one I’d get again. My impression could change with time, but this is a fun and delicious variety of green worth trying.
Yesterday I had this via the ice-brew method (shinobi cha… patient tea).
It was of course delicious; the only way you can go wrong with this method is if you use only a little ice and it ends up being too strong for you. And, of course, if you wanted something warm. Anyway, on to the tea itself…
Well, I can’t remember the exact unique flavor this had, but besides being very deliciously sweet, and (even) noticeably creamy, there was some other taste present I couldn’t figure out. But it was yummy, trust me.
However, the jury’s definitely still out whether this one is worth the price. Is it really THAT much better as to cost nearly twice as much as Den’s or Bird Pick’s Gyokuro?
Though the taste was muted for the first 2 steepings (2g tea for 2-3oz water; 140 for 2 minutes, then 160 for 1 min), it had a very smooth, sweet taste. I say ‘muted’ rather than ‘weak’, because the flavor was really good and seemed like it could simply be brought out if I steeped it differently.
I did the 3rd steeping with ice; the flavor was much more pronunced. There was a hint of grain, a noticeable (pleasant) texture, and it was even sweeter.
The brewed leaves were a neally nice shade of dark green and large (though, not all whole)… it was hard to dump them out. I think gyokuros have the most beautiful brewed leaves, this one was at the top. It is hard for me to dump most any leaves, but this one was all the harder.
I just have a small amount (maybe 12 more grams), so I look forward to a few more cups and seeing if I can bring out the flavor more.
Sadly, after trying Hibiki-an’s Matcha Pinnacle, every other Matcha now looks and tastes a little old and dingy. This sounds kind of funny, but I’m being completely serious. Before you try this tea, you should take into consideration whether you are willing to spend $50 for Matcha Pinnacle from that point on, because you will not likely want to go back to regular Matcha.
Hibiki-an Kuradashi Matcha Pinnacle is so smooth and balanced with a rich and complex flavor—one could almost describe it as soft and creamy or even buttery. Green tea is typically brisk and refreshing. Some might say that in general, Japanese green tea can be somewhat bitter, which I find pleasant in Sencha. However, Hibiki-an Kuradashi Matcha is completely without bitterness and lacks the brisk zing of Sencha. This soft and smooth quality is characteristic of very high grade Matcha. I describe it as creamy because of its rich, smooth flavor and the fact that it lathers (foams) very well when whisked with the bamboo chasen. Similar almost to Matcha Latte, this tea has a sweet flavor, as though there is a touch of sugar added. The color is a beautiful, pure shade of green, similar to their Matcha Pinnacle. The scent is vegetal, with faint aroma of oak or autumn leaves. Following traditional rules for aging tea leaves to create Kuradashi Matcha, Hibiki-an has managed to create a tea that is a perfect blend of two opposites: the fresh and vibrant taste characteristic of high quality green tea along with the complex nuanced flavors that come with age, as with wine and cheese. This tea is on par with their Matcha Pinnacle, one of the best Matcha on the market today. I highly recommend this tea to anyone who seeks out rare specialty teas—this is a unique opportunity to try an extraordinary tea, usually available only to those who participate in the autumn tea ceremony Kuchikiri no Gi in Japan.
I treat this tea with such irreverance, I’m almost afraid I might hurt its feelings! :)
But no matter how casually this matcha prepared, it stays delicious! Like today, for example, I tossed the tin in my bag and went to work. Once at work, I scooped out a plastic teaspoonful of the powder, threw it in my travel mug and filled it with hot water from the office water cooler. Then I put the lid on and shook it all up.
After allowing it a few minutes to cool, the end result is smooth, creamy, bittersweet green tea goodness! Everything I love about matcha is still here in spades. Yum!
Having placed several orders from Hibiki-an in the past, I was quite pleased to receive their Kuradashi Gyokuro Pinnacle as a gift. Hibiki-an is a mid sized tea company based in the Ogura region of Uji, just outside of Kyoto. The company is somewhat unique in that they market directly to the English-speaking world, shipping products from their production facilities in Ujitawara to your doorstep. Having strolled down the streets of Uji myself, I can say confidently that the tea produced in Uji represents the finest green tea in the entire world.
The “Kuradashi” gyokuro is a gyokuro aged for over a year. The tea is left open to air, not immediately nitrogen-sealed like many gyokuro products. The tea arrived in a beautiful golden-speckled pouch, fitting of a tea of this caliber ($38 for 40 grams). The dark garnet color of the tea complemented the fragrant aroma. The smell of rich, full tencha leaves nearly overwhelmed my senses. Simply put, compared to normal gyokuro, the kuradashi has a more concentrated nose. The real surprise came in the tasting, however.
Conventional gyokuro is brewed between 140-160⁰ F for 1.5-2 minutes. Hibiki-an suggests following this protocol for the Kuradashi, but they also suggest that the tea may be brewed at a lower temperature of 131⁰F for 2:30 for a more “mellow” flavor. I started the tea at a temperature of 155⁰F for 1:45, though it should be noted that my kyuusu from the Asahiyaki Kiln was at room temperature when starting (I estimate the actual temperature of the brew to be about 150⁰F). The first brew at this temperature was mellow, soft and somewhat muted. After the brew, the leaves were just starting to open, and had a slightly astringent smell integrated into the aroma. My experiments of brewing the tea at a lower starting temperature really brought out the ‘umami’ character. Umami, which can be translated as ‘savoriness’, can perhaps best be thought of as a round, rich, buttery taste found in the finest teas. While a lower brewing temperature brings out a more umami sense, I find the more moderate temperatures(150-155) more appropriately reveals the unique nature of the aged tea.
The second brew brings out a much fuller, purer matcha taste. Imagine drinking a hearty koicha without the viscosus, granular texture. After multiple brew trials, my I noted just a slight bit of acidity or astringency to the matcha-like taste, ending slightly dry on the tongue. Notes of nori seaweed and come through on the second brew, with just a hint of subtle sweetness. Overall, this tea most closely resembles matcha, but with a smoothness of texture that makes it truly special.
The third brew resembles the second, albeit with a bit less concentration of taste. Still, this tea should certainly be brewed through the third time to fully enjoy the rich flavor.
The Kuradashi Gyokuro seems to be a seasonal offering from Hibiki-an. Be on the lookout in the fall; this is a tea you don’t want to miss. -M.W.
Just a quick tasting note:
I whipped up a mug of this, first thing this morning. It’s a beautiful matcha—a bright, rich green. The taste is extremely fresh, creamy and slightly sweet—like the best green tea to the tenth power. This is the ultimate wake-up beverage and is 1000x better than coffee, at least for me.