160 Tasting Notes
Removing the leaves from the water, a light vegetal aroma of steamed spinach and artichoke hearts, paired with the slight sweetness of steamed rice wafts from the cup. In the mouth, a soft, spinachy flavor with the sweetness of steamed white rice envelops your tongue, without any of the roasted flavors of nuts or nori.
With its clean vegetal flavors and a pleasant, medium body, Tencha makes for a wonderful tutor. Merely chopped up and air dried, Tencha offers one of the purest expressions of mature tea leaves. Tencha has no roasted flavors, only pure vegetal notes. It makes for a wonderful comparison with the roasted flavors of the other great green teas, Japanese and Chinese alike.
Tencha is a shade-grown tea like Gyokuro, covered over during the last three weeks before the earl May harvest. The best Tencha comes from the Uji tea fields in Kyoto prefecture, where it originated, as well as from Mie prefecture to the southeast. Immediately after harvesting, the teas are steam-fixed to preserve their brilliant green color. Unlike Gyokuro or Sencha, Tencha leaves are not rolled; they are merely chopped up and then placed in a cylinder, where they are blown with warm air. Tencha is hardly ever drunk in Japan; the leaves are usually ground into Matcha powder. Though rare, Tencha makes for a delightfully light, refreshing cup of tea.
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.
A chilly 22 degrees here in Millerton, NY. This morning pot was just what we needed to get the day started. With it’s toasty flavors and sweet aroma, this warmed us right up, getting us ready for a day of retail!
Without further ado, another excerpt from Malachi’s book, “How to Make a Decent Cup of Tea”.
“Forty years elapsed between the first proud declaration and the second sorrowful inquiry, a shameful interval indeed which saw the decline of the most basic of institutions. I refer to the Decent Cup of Tea.
We can survive functional literacy or shattered windows of vulnerability, but not the demise of a Decent Cup of Tea. So, while we may, let us review the proper way.
Firstly, of course, you must keep your tea in a proper tea-caddy, preferably on one of those little wooden boxes that are lined with tea-chest paper. (Tea is sometimes sold in these boxes: whenever I’m in Dublin I go to the world-famous Bewley’s to savor the tea, the ambiance, the Harry Clarke stained glass windows, the conversation at the tables – and to pickup a box or two of their wonderful tea.)
Of course we’re talking “loose” tea here. No teabags OK?
Incidentally you may be interested to know that the word ‘caddy’ comes from the Malay word, ‘kati’, meanigf a small unit of weight, that tea was sold by in that part of the world."
Stay tuned for the next excerpt about a Decent Cup of Tea!
This picture doesn’t do it justice. The emerald green of the powder whisked together with boiling spring water produces a frothy green bowl of thick tea. The flavor of the Tencha is there, but much stronger and with a bit of a bite. Try it with a piece of chocolate on your tongue!
Tencha, the tea leaves that eventually become the wonderful brew that is Matcha…
This tea is much lighter than the senchas that we have. It is smooth, and vegetal and creamy, but with very little body and astringency. It is quite lovely for the afternoon, when you just need a gentle wake up.
Yunnan black teas come from a remote area of China on the border of Laos and Burma where the very first tea plants are thought to have originated. Yunnan black teas have a very earthy quality that is complemented with a maple sweetness.
The large black leaves with touches of gold evoke a smokey aroma. The flavor brings forth a sweetness that strikes a perfect balance with the earthy notes.
Golden Monkey is a magnificent Chinese black tea. Its aromas are lightly sweet, with hints of apricots, nuts, and a mild rose background note. Its body is light and its flavors are a blend of cooked stone fruit, specifically baked apricots, and semisweet chocolate. Its finish is nutty, with flavors of raw pecans.
Golden Monkey is a relatively new Chinese export that has recently grown quite popular in the United States and Europe, where its apricot aromas and chocolate flavors are highly appreciated.
This is a delightful medium light bodied tea. Its leaves are long and slender with many ending in golden tips. Its aromas are fragrant with notes of chocolate or cocoa, with a light scent of ripe apricots. The flavor of Keemun Mao Feng Treasure is light and sweet, with hints of chocolate and stone fruit flavors of baked apricots.
Keemun Mao Feng is possibly China’s most famous black tea and has been a long time Western favorite. Like the Keemun Hao Ya A, the Keemun Mao Feng is most notable for the distinctive chocolate flavors, a quality that is reminiscent of unsweetened cocoa, without the bitterness. The harvest period for this tea is both early and short, which makes this a rare and delightful tea.