This was just what I needed on a personal note this morning. The bright green liquor was a sight for sore, groggy eyes, shocking me out of my stupor. As notes of cooked spinach and bell peppers floated into my nose, I was pleased to find a small hint of lemon. Lifting the cup to my lips, I slurped up some of the tea, aerating it, allowing the angular, assertive flavors of bell peppers and rounded, roasted flavors of toasted walnuts wash over me. Perfection to start my day.
This lively, vegetal, but high-pitched tea is a vivid illustration of a good-quality blended Sencha. Kagoshima is a port city on the southern tip on Japan’s Kyushu island, the second largest tea-producing area in Japan after Shizuoka. Kyushu is also the southernmost tea-producing area in Japan. Spring comes earlier here that to the rest of Japan’s tea regions, so Kyushu brings Japan its first spring teas.
The island’s large, flat plateau allows for Japan’s biggest tea farms. The farms are vast and flat enough to accommodate an usual harvesting system: Giant tractors ride up and down the rows, trimming the newest leaves like lawn mowers and blowing cuttings into large bags behind them.
This mechanical harvest allows for such economies of scale that Kagoshima produces the cheapest teas in all of Japan. But the scope of these operations also prevents the gardens from making great, pure Senchas. Instead of nurturing exquisite Senchas from just one field or cultivar, Kagoshima tea makers blend one great Sencha from several varieties of individually inferior plants. One is what’s called a “natural Gyokuro” Sencha. Its leaves flourish entirely in the sun but still produce the extra amino acids of a shade-grown tea. The result of this blending is a lemony Sencha with some of the rich, vegetal brothiness of a Gyokuro.