24 Tasting Notes
I am getting more and more fond of gyokuro lately. It might be because I now have become used to the taste, but also because I now have more experience brewing it.
I have really noticed that to fully enjoy a gyokuro, one should make a decent amount time off to enjoy it. The brewing takes a bit more time and due to the small amount of tea from each serving, it should also be enjoyed slowly, making sure to appreciate each little sip. Perfect on a Sunday afternoon!
The taste is wonderful and produces a mellow and slightly sweet taste with a strong and lasting umami. Unfortunately, the second steep is not as delightful as the first one, but personally I feel that this creates a nice opportunity to make a cold brew or more concentrated iced gyokuro, something I did a lot during the summer.
Certainly, a tea for those special tea moments.
It has been a long time since I have written anything here. A certain earthquake in 2011 kept me busy for a while, and afterwards I guess I did not find the motivation to continue logging as much. That is, however, all in the past, and I hope to keep blogging here more often from now.
During the summer holiday, some of my friends and I got the opportunity to visit Hibiki-an in Uji. I had already tasted some of their teas and was very happy to visit them. It was also my first time visiting a tea farm, and the experience was a delightful one!
As they did not charge anything for the trip(!), we were more than happy to buy several of their different teas. I have already finished a few, which I will write about later, but now I will use the opportunity to review one I am currently enjoying: Their houjicha bancha.
As most of you probably already know, the bancha part of this houjicha indicates the quality of the leaves. This is very much an everyday-tea and does not contain as high grade leaves as other houjichas I have reviewed earlier. The score will therefore be lower this time, but that does not mean that it does not fulfill its role as an everyday-tea, because that it does. It has a pale roasty flavour that has a very thirst quenching feel to it. It works well both as a hot and a cold brew. Though I think I will be sticking to the hot version for now, as the autumn cold is slowly closing in.
Good to be back!
My apologies for not writing any notes here for a long time. Exams, traveling and the lack of any special tea experience makes it hard to find the time or motivation. That, however, clearly changed yesterday as I both got more time and quite an extraordinary tea in my possession.
The tea this time is Tenryuu no megumi or Blessings of the heavenly dragon, a sencha tea I bought when visiting the Mejijingu or the Meji Shrine close to Harajuku, Tokyo. While the shrine also sells tea harvested from different, perhaps sometimes more unknown places in Japan, this tenryuu sencha is from Shizouka. The tenryuu can actually only be found here, as the tea has its name from being raised and picked on the mountainside close to the tenryuu river in northwestern Shizouka.
The leaves are thin and long and smell juicy and fresh. Usually, I would prepare it like a “normal” sencha on 80 degrees Celsius for about one minute, but since the leaves were giving such an impression of high quality, I decided to go for 70 degrees for about two minutes.
(On a side note, I actually visited a skilled tea specialist on Chinese tea some weeks ago, and she explained, as far as I understood, that tea infused on lower temperature steeping for a longer time, will give of more sweetness while tea infused on high temperature for a short amount of time, will have a stronger flavor releasing other flavors colder water would not be able to.)
When I drank this I was expecting the tea to taste like usual, perhaps a bit more round and and sweet sencha. Instead, the tea tasted almost like gyokuro, having the most wonderful juicy and sweet taste, and the delicious aftertaste remained in my mouth several minutes afterwards. I was, and still am, really astonished over this result.
I also infused the leaves again in the “normal” way, but although the taste was not bad, is was nowhere near the first result. Next time I will try the “normal” way when doing the first infusion, but I do think that I have already found the first preparation most suitable for my preferences.
Sixth sample from Lupicia.
It has been long since I have had any decent oolong tea apart from the bottled Suntory one. Oolong tea is quite popular in Japan, but still I feel that while a lot of shops label oolong teas correctly as “oolong tea”, they are usually only referring to darker and more roasted oolong teas in bottles or tea bags. It seems that it is enjoyed more for its health benefits rather than the taste itself. Not surprisingly, I have therefore seldom encountered any real loose leaf variations except when visiting professional tea shops.
Back in Norway I used to drink a lot of oolong tea, but these were usually more lightly oxidized green and fruity ones, so a meeting with the more baked and flowery Tie Guan Yin was certainly something else!
When brewing this, I used a small gaiwan with about 1 dl boiling water, steeping 5g of tea for about 45 seconds, just according to Lupicia’s instructions, and used the same leaves for about 5 times.
The first cup had a strong baked taste to it, and I wondered if I really had steeped it the right way. No bad astringency however, so I figured the first cup would be like this and that the taste would be more rich at the second and third serving. And indeed it turned out that way. As the baked taste became weaker in the second cup, a more nutty taste became more present, and was mixed with a more floral taste in the third cup. The fourth cup was also okay, but I do not think it is necessary to step it five times as I felt it became a bit too weak in the end.
Although the reunion with this good Tie Guan Yin was a warm and delicious one, I will still keep my focus on Japanese teas as much as possible while I am in Japan. Lately, I have been looking up different tea ware that could be more suitable to brew different kinds of Japanese tea in. Hopefully, I will be able to acquire something like that also in the not to distant future.
Fifth tea from the sample pack.
I have never tasted tea from Nara before so when I was preparing this, I was thinking that this tea should be a quite nice and interesting experience. And I was right – in a sense.
The tea leaves were a bit tinier than normal sencha leaves, but not quite like fukamushi leaves. Therefore I expected a quite strong sencha, not bitter, but strong and rich in taste. Instead I got a result very similar in taste to kukicha. The taste was both refreshing and sweet, including a slight touch of citrus. However, since I was expecting something stronger, I could not help to think that it felt really thin.
From now on, I will read Lupicia’s descriptions in Japanese, since they provide much more information than the English ones (that I tend to read since I am lazy and do not always want to translate and read Japanese). While the English description says “Tea produced in Nara prefecture. Thin tealeaves makes refreshing aroma”, the Japanese version also mentions, not only this, but that the tea will taste a bit thin. Apparently, it is like you can feel the silent night under the moon. Had I known this maybe the experience would have been a bit different.
The tea itself was quite good, but I am not sure if I would buy this when I can get loads of good kukicha for under the same price.
Fourth sample of the eight samples in the Lupicia pack. Halfway through already. I should really buy more sample packs, but then I would rather look for more Japanese or Chinese tea samplers, as I have realized that I do quite often prefer these teas over Indian black teas.
Nonetheless, it is an Indian blend that is on the breakfast menu today. It is the La Belle Epoque, which I guess you do not even need to know French to understand what it means. (Thank you, French influence on the English language.) I found it quite fitting to be saved for today as I am celebrating my birthday, and could use some nostalgia before moving on to the new year and new age.
And indeed, when the strong smell arises from the deep red coloured liquid pouring into the cup, I do indeed feel a slight bit of nostalgia – or maybe just a hint of imaginative refinedness.
The taste is strong and robust at first, yet contains very round chocolate darjeeling elements which become more present as the breakfast goes on. I guess a strong Indian blend is best consumed accompanied by a light meal, as they tend to be a little too strong alone for my taste. (Better prepare some good pastries for the Ceylon sample!)
All in all a good tea, a pleasant breakfast and nice start of the day.
Third tea from the Lupicia pack.
This ‘festival’ sencha is clearly a fukamushi sencha as it is written on the leaves and in Japanese on the package. (One thing that strikes me is how much that I could have missed if I did not know Japanese. Usually, they write a lot in Japanese, but leave only a small English translation. Oh well.) The leaves are tiny, almost like powder, and the smell is good.
The amount recommended was about 110 cc for 3-4g of tea. I guess that means about 2 dl for 5g, being generous with water. I might have used a bit to much water as the cup I use usually use contains about 2.5 dl, and I poured in enough water to fill the whole cup.
As a result I guess the first cup, although very good, without any trace of bitterness, was perhaps just a bit bleak. I would have wanted it to be a bit stronger. The second cup went to my Japanese resident manager as we often enjoy tea together. The third cup, however, was strong, sweet and deilicious! Especially, the aftertaste, or umami if you want, was what made this tea special.
I might not buy this right away, as I have loads of tea to consume, but it is a tea I will keep in mind when shopping sencha.
Second tea from the sample pack. This time it is Kaga Bocha.
The first thing I noticed when I opened the package was the light brown/green colour. This is an excellent sign of a decent houjicha. Usually many people would roast bancha, kukicha or sencha too much and then the tea would often have more of a scorced, and sometimes bad, taste to it. (Do not get me wrong , I do like some more roasty houjichas as well.)
A good houjicha is usually more green than brown, so this might have been just slightly overdone but seemed promising nonetheless. (The leaves I tend to see here are dark brown) Since the tea consists of only stems, I assume it has been made from kukicha.
Certainly, the tea was much less strong and roasty than other houjichas I have tasted and the taste itself was much richer. There was also a slight natural sweetness attached to it as well, that made the beverage much more enjoyable. I love it, actually.
I think I might just buy more of this tea to enjoy during the now more colder winter days in Japan. Not that I should complain though. As I am writing this, it is about -18 degrees Celsius at the place I usually live in Norway, compared to 1 degree Celsius here in Japan.
Better make another cup!
Since a got a sample pack from Lupicia for Christmas I have decided to try these teas during the winter holiday. First one out is the Darjeeling, The First Flush.
Since it is about 5g per pack of tea I will stick to the instructions on the accompanied booklet. It says 5g for 300ml for 2-2.5 minutes. My cup can contain about 2.5 dl so I did use about 3.5-4g.
The colour of the tea was amber and orange and the smell reminded me of how long it has been since a have had a cup of good darjeeling. While the taste certainly contained a light yet round flavour like many darjeelings do, I did however first feel that it was a bit thin. I think this is mainly due to me eating an onigiri with tuna and mayonnaise before tasting, as the tea got much better after a while.
Still, since this is a first flush darjeeling, I would have expected a little bit more from it. The tea is in no way bad, but I guess I wanted it to be better. All in all a good tea.
Merry Christmas, everyone!