10 Tasting Notes
This tea doesn’t seem to be available on Lupicia’s US online store, so I was surprised to see it at the San Francisco retail location and decided to try it out.
The aroma and taste of this matcha are not too exciting. Perhaps it is an older batch? But what is interesting is that it brews up very sweet and incredibly creamy. Beautifully frothy and easy to drink.
I was at Lupicia looking for soba-cha (buckwheat “tea”) or some similar non-caffeinated, roasted drink when I discovered this delightfully packaged Orzo product imported from Italy. Having had barley tea (mugi-cha in Japanese), I was expecting a similar taste.
To my surprise this Orzo was incredibly strong and difficult to drink. The dried form looks like coarsely-ground coffee. When brewed, the grounds turn into a thick sludge that clogged up my infuser, and the resulting drink is dark and murky.
The flavor is like mugi-cha but magnified and with an unpleasant texture. I won’t be trying this again.
I purchased this tea at the “Cha Ginza” tea room in Tokyo in the fall of 2013. From the Kumamoto area of southern Japan, this is a tama ryokucha style green tea, meaning the leaves are kneaded into a slightly curled shape.
The prominent sticker on the bag is the character for autumn (秋). I’m not sure if this indicates a particular quality of the tea, or simply marks at as a seasonal limited availability item.
The leaves are a muted yellow-green color, small and slightly curled, with some brighter stems are mixed in. The aroma is sweet and grassy like other Kyushu sencha, although perhaps not as strong as e.g. Yame-cha.
My experience with this tea is that it holds up extremely well to hot water. Brewing at 208°F for 30 seconds brings out a wonderful toasty aroma, like baked bread. The taste is mild and smooth, without much caffeine despite the high temperature.
Flavors: Baked Bread, Grass, Iodine, Ocean Breeze
Outside Kyoto station I stumbled across the brightly-lit storefront of Itohkyuemon, which had just opened in autumn of 2013. I tasted some samples and left with a 50g packet of “Kanro” gyokuro for ¥1575 (about $15).
I’m not very familiar with gyokuro teas, but it seems that “Kanro” (甘露) is a designation of the quality. Kanro is somewhere in the middle: not “extra” or “ultra” premium, but perhaps higher grade than your average gyokuro.
The packaging recommends lukewarm water (50°C). I found that slightly warmer water also works well (58°C).
This tea brews up with a nice pale evergreen color that is less yellow than sencha. The wet leaves look like cooked spinach and have a rich vegetal aroma. The liquid is very sweet and tastes like cooked vegetables. Lots of umami.
Some gyokuro I’ve tried are very intense and are an acquired taste. This Kanro is more mild and very easy to drink.
4.2g leaves, 4oz water @ 58°C (136°F), 1 minute 30 seconds.
This is not my usual sencha from Lupicia (I prefer their Yame blend), but it came as part of the “happy bag” (福袋) I purchased during the New Year 2014 promotion.
This must be a deep-steemed sencha, judging by the texture of the dry leaves. There are some needles here and there, but most of the leaves are pulverized. The aroma is still fresh, grassy, and sweet. Not bad for a tea purchased in January!
Lupicia’s packaging mentions hints of “sweet potato”. I didn’t pick that up in the dry leaves: to me they have that same sweetness I associate with Kyushu sencha in general. Upon steeping though, I think I get it. There is a nice savory aroma that also comes through in the taste. With practice, maybe I could pinpoint sweet potato. In any case, the taste is good.
The brew was cloudy with a lot of tea particles that settle to the bottom of the cup. Some nice umami was hiding in those dregs! A good, rich fuka-mushi sencha with a classic flavor.
5g leaves, 5oz water @ 160°F, 45 seconds.
This tasting is for Breakaway Matcha Blend 97, which is at the higher-end of the Breakaway spectrum (Blend 100 is their most premium).
97 was my first experience making matcha at home. Since I’m not normally a matcha drinker, I compared 97 with a mid-grade drinking matcha from the local Japanese grocery in order to calibrate my taste buds. The difference was stark: the grocery matcha was a dull green powder that makes a harsh and bitter cup, whereas 97 was vibrant, nearly neon green, smooth, and sweet.
I used the recommended Breakaway technique to make a thin (usu-cha) cup:
- Sift 1/2 teaspoon of matcha
- Add about 1 ounce of 165°F water
- Whisk with an electric frothing wand
- Pour into a serving cup
- Dilute with more 165°F water, to taste (about 3 ounces)
This is not traditional, but the results were good.
97 has the strong grassy aroma I associate with matcha, but with none of the bitterness. My biggest surprise was the caffeine kick: it is pleasant, gentle high that is quite noticeable. The aroma paired with the pick-me-up is the hallmark of this tea. I find myself craving it sometimes. Is this what coffee addiction is like?
Despite the nice aroma, the taste is fairly flat. Perhaps this is due to the whisking technique. I remember tasting an usu-cha on my last trip to Tokyo, prepared in the traditional method, that had wonderful hints of umami, nuttiness, and a tad of astringency in addition to the grassy green baseline. I don’t get that kind of complexity out of 97.
In any case, Breakaway Matcha has piqued my interest. I will definitely be exploring matcha further and making it part of my tea rotation.
“Tsubo-kiri” tea, as far as I understand, refers to new tea that is placed carefully into storage immediately after harvest in the spring, then opened and sold to customers in the fall. Perhaps in English you would call this “aged sencha”? This is a limited edition tea sold only in October and November. I purchased this particular tea in the Isetan department store in Kyoto.
The dry tea leaves are dark, almost bluish green and rolled very tightly into a needle shape. This must be a lighter steamed sencha, as the leaves are fairly large. Aroma is mild.
Brewed at 165°F, the result is a very nicely-balanced, smooth, and mild sencha. The taste is initially sweet, followed by an earthy savoriness and a pleasant bit of astringency. Even with this low temperature, the tightly-rolled leaves fully open up and are quite pretty.
First: 3g tea, 5oz water @ 165°F, 1 minute 30 seconds
Second: 195°F, 15 seconds
Bocha is literally “stem tea” and refers to the fact that this tea is made from stems of the tea plant rather than the leaves. Kaga is a place in Japan (near Kanazawa) known for producing this particular style of tea.
The tea is roasted like houjicha, and is similarly very aromatic and produces a light brown or golden color liquid. My local Lupicia store advertises this tea as “the taste of autumn” and for some reason the smell of Kaga Bocha does somehow make me think of cool crisp air and fallen leaves.
Currently this is my favorite tea to drink in the afternoon. Like houjicha in general, it is pleasantly sweet, and has less caffeine that other Japanese green teas. Compared to most other houjicha I’ve tried, this Kaga Bocha is lighter and smoother. I much prefer it. And it’s cheap!
I find that water at a full boil can add some bitterness, so let it cool for a bit first. Otherwise this is a very easy tea to brew. A spoonful of leaves in a mug full of 208°F water for 30 seconds comes out great.
I was really looking forward by this newest offering from Tea Wing, as I have been consistently blown away by their various Yame sencha. I also heard good things from people who had received samples in the Steepster Select program.
The tea (as usual with Tea Wing) did not arrive with any brewing recommendations, so I first tried my standard sencha technique of 175°F for 1 minute. Quite a lot of astringency and a very hard caffeine edge. Not what I was expecting.
What I discovered later is that a much cooler temperature brings out the best of this tea. The dry leaves have an incredible almost berry-like sweetness and freshness, and that same aroma translates to the cup when this tea is brewed at 160°F.
Once the leaves have opened up with the first steeping, hot water can be used for a second or third infusion. Using 208°F for a quick 10 seconds worked well. This tea has an incredibly long finish; the sweetness lingers in my mouth for several minutes, something I normally associate with good oolong teas.
First: 3g tea, 5oz water @ 160°F, 1 minute 30 seconds
Second: 208°F, 10 seconds
Third: 208°F, 10 seconds