56 Tasting Notes
I found this when I was running gleefully through a Japanese supermarket, heaving pounds of tea and miso soup ingredients into my cart. (Yes, that was me. -) I wasn’t expecting much because I got it in a supermarket, but I was actually pleasantly surprised.
First of all, for those who don’t know, fukamushi is a Japanese variety of green tea which is steamed for extra time, as compared with sencha. This results in a sweeter flavor with less astringency. It also is said to make the leaves more brittle, so sometimes there are small pieces, and even powder — reminiscent of matcha. Yet, this is not a bad thing, because one of the results of ingesting bits of the tea rather than just the water it’s brewed in, are increased health benefits.
I brewed this four times at around 180F each time, 3/4 tsp of leaves, starting at 30 seconds and adding 15-20 seconds each subsequent time. It’s a lot hotter than I brew my sencha so I’m glad I looked at the bag, which specified this as the temperature for this tea (80C – 90C).
It smelled so sweet and clean in dry form that I did not rinse it. The brewings started out smelling sweet, like sweet peas, then that scent faded to more of a sweet green scent like a nice sencha. The taste started out astringent, faded out and then back in with a bit more astringency at the end. The flavor was very similar to the scent, though more vegetal towards the end, rather than green (a note which I think of as more sweet).
Overall, I am truly amazed at the balance of this tea! It’s not complicated. There is a very simple scent and flavor profile. But, it fades in and out in perfect harmony, which makes for such a balanced, satisfying drinking experience.
This is sweeter than teas I drink regularly (i.e. sencha, genmaicha, hojicha, etc.), but it’s such a satisfying experience that I can imagine myself saving this for those times when I need the influence of some balance, or just want to treat myself. I consider it a plus that this tea actually has some body, unlike many premiums that I’ve tasted. I like that because it makes for a drinking tea rather than merely a tasting tea. I would say that this has the body of a sencha with the spirit of a premium. It makes a perfect combination in my opinion, which is why I’d recommend this one in a heartbeat!
I couldn’t find this tea online, but I got it at Mitsuwa, a Japanese supermarket. There are a few of them in the U.S., so if you’re interested in trying to find one, check out their website for the locations: http://www.mitsuwa.com/ (on the main page, scroll down) If one is not in your area, don’t despair, as you could make a note of it for if you travel. If you get a chance to visit, they have quite a few other Japanese teas (not to mention many exotic ingredients), which you may also find interesting to try. (It is a hobby of mine to try new foods and beverages and this is one of the places on my list.)
Flavors: Astringent, Green, Peas, Sweet, Vegetal
I really needed this today. There’s just something so comforting about it. It reminds me a bit of my grandma. I haven’t the faintest idea why. She never drank this tea, as far as I know. But, something about it reminds me of her. Maybe it’s how comforting it is? I don’t think it’s possible to have too much of that.
It’s also nice that it’s more resistant to being stewed than plain green tea. I haven’t gotten my new electric kettle with temperature settings in the mail yet, so until then, I’m really just guessing at what temperature this old one is spitting out. The old electric kettle that I have is so rugged that I have to sit here and babysit it to make sure that it doesn’t burn the house down. It doesn’t shut off once it boils, when I turn it on, the lights in the house dim, and about fifteen minutes ago, it blew a fuse. If you see a cloud of smoke out the window, that’s probably my house on fire. But, it’s okay…smoked tea is a thing, right? It’s all good. ;)
Flavors: Green, Roasted
So, I feel like I’ve been taking my life in my own hands lately. First, I drink old, moldy pu-erh. Then I had strange, smoky pu-erh last night, the brew of which looked like mud. Then, I have a candy company send me a free sample of candy which has something from insects as an ingredient (seriously). And, how, here I am with this mushroom — the foulest-smelling thing I got in my order. Such a strange time for foods and beverages right now!
I do feel better considering that this evolved more in its scent than the other cakes. But, I still feel like I had to work up courage to try this one. When I first got it, I took it out of the plastic bag that it was in and it smelled like hot garbage. (I’m not kidding.) I thought that maybe I smelled it wrong, but no. It smelled like hot garbage. I set it aside and then took the wrapper off, thinking that maybe it was just the wrapper. I think it was. At first, the scent was much better, then after letting it sit for a while in a plastic bag alone, it let off a scent similar to vanilla.
I found some rice paper of my own (I do artwork so I had some from that) and I re-wrapped this, then set it at the bottom of the clay pot (I had to put it at the bottom because of its awkward shape. Since putting it in there, it has mellowed more than any of the other cakes. When I took it out, it didn’t have any strong scents at all. I used a pu-erh tea needle to pry leaves off. Not only did I get a lot of larger leaf pieces than I had expected, but the needle didn’t break any leaves. I wondered if I needed it when I first bought it, but I was truly amazed with how well it worked. (This was my first time using it.)
I used about 1 tsp and washed it for a short while. At first, the scent of the leaves and taste of the tea wasn’t great. It was like somebody had made mushroom tea and then sweetened it. The wet leaves smelled like mushroom leather — like somebody skinned a mushroom, tanned its hide, and then made a saddle out of it. The tea smelled like somebody steeped mushrooms and then sweetened it. It wasn’t all that appealing. But, the taste of the tea evolved as it cooled. By the time it reached room temperature, it was sweet with hints of spiciness and not much of any mushroom or leather tastes or smells.
The second brewing was sweet with spicy notes. The effect that the tea had came on a bit rough at first but then evened out. It was in-between the 2015 pu-erh and the 2007 pu-erh that I had, which makes sense, considering that this is a 2011 cake. I find it interesting how the effect changes as the tea ages. I think this is good now, though I think it would be even better in a year or two. It’s certainly drinkable, while the 2015 absolutely is not. They are both from the same brand, so perhaps this manufacturer just makes tea that ages this way. My 2007 was ready to drink much earlier but who’s to say that they use the same techniques. I’m going to drink a few more steepings of this and then give a more detailed impression. But, so far so good. I’m much happier with this one than the others, and it’s a wonderful surprise considering how terrible the smell was at first.
Flavors: Leather, Mushrooms, Sweet
The scent of this is absolutely delicious. But, as my pu-erh has been pounding into my head, remorselessly: smell does not equal flavor — not by far. In fact, sometimes, they go in opposite directions all together. This was one of those times.
The scent of this was very sweet, like glutinous rice — just as the website’s description puts it. But, the flavor and scent upon brewing it was very unappealing to me. It was smoky — more smoky than earthy or woody, but there were earth and wood scents and tastes in there. There was a sweetness still in there somewhere, but it was barely detectable under the smokiness.
Part of this could be because I used a bit more tea this time. The flavor was very strong and the brew was so deep in color that I couldn’t see the bottom of the glass unless I put it in bright light. The other issue could be that I used a lot of pieces of leaves. I also noticed that one of the small chunks I broke up was very easy to break. I tend not to have good results from cakes that just fall apart, but that’s just my own experience.
I will brew this again with pieces from a larger chunk and with less, as this seems to be very strong. That said, smoky is not a flavor that I like so I don’t anticipate liking this one. I’m allergic to smoke, so as I’m sure you can imagine, tasting or smelling smoke is not the most pleasant experience of me. So, while I’m sure that another tasting will give me more details and perhaps a better experience, I still don’t anticipate deciding to buy this one. It’s just not my taste. But, I’m hoping it will at least be a more pleasant experience. This one was not pleasant for me. Even after cutting the brewing time in half for the second steeping to compensate for the strength, it was still just too much. I should have enough left for at least two gaiwan steepings, so I’ll have the opportunity to make adjustments and see how it goes next time. For now, I’ll leave it without a rating as I don’t think I have a good grasp on the experience of it yet.
Flavors: Dark Wood, Rice, Smoke, Smoked, Sweet
I refrigerated the steeping of this that came from the poorly-stored tea with the mold spots on it, just to see if the effect of it was the same after refrigeration (knowing whether or not cold affects the taste and effect helps to narrow down their origins). Anyway, I just had two sips and already I have a feeling of tea drunkenness coming on. If tea drunkenness were equated to alcohol drunkenness, this poorly-stored tea would be like very strong whiskey. Still, nothing tastes the least bit ‘off’ about it. It’s a very unobtrusive, clean woody flavor. What a curious thing! I wish I had the scientific tools and understanding to investigate it. I’d love to know what makes this so strong. Is this overflowing with l-theanine or mycotoxins (hopefully not) or what? I wonder…
I just got a huge shipment of samples of pu-erh (both raw and ripe). I looked at them and smelled them without reminding myself of the price or the notes which other people detected. Most of the time, it was very obvious to me which ones were higher quality. Even without tasting them, I detected much of the same notes as others did.
Then, there were the lower-priced ones that just had something special in them. One of them had their price raised by the vendor in the time between my ordering these samples and receiving them! The same thing happened to me when trying to order a cake online. I had it in my shopping cart and it shot up to almost twice the price before I clicked “buy.”
I must have a similar eye and nose for flavor as others! — Though, I wish that would stop impacting the price so much. I’m not swimming in money…only in pu-erh. ;)
Reviews of these samples will come soon. (I think I will prioritize those which seemed best to me just so that I can maybe catch them before the price gets raised again!)
I find it very interesting how these have been progressing in the clay pot that I put them in. The pot itself has taken on such a strong scent from the tea cakes and it’s only been a few days. The top of the container has what looks like some faint clusters of white mold which smells exactly like the tea cakes themselves. In addition, the tea cakes now seem to have a slightly more pleasing flavor than previously. I’m going to wait much longer until I try tasting them again (at least a month). But, this is a very interesting process to watch. It’s hard to understand just how alive these cakes are when they’re just sitting there all quiet and unassuming. But, to see this growth happening now is such an amazing thing. I had been thinking of these tea cakes as tea, but with this much life in them, they seem much more within the realms of yoghurt and probiotic drinks.
So, I’ve been doing my comparison of the three differently-stored portions of this tea, and this has been a pretty wild experience for me. The one I’d stored in a plastic bag actually turned out well (which goes against the many claims that airtight plastic bag storage is bad). Now, I’m tasting the one that was stored out in the open and got moldy.
I took a sample from inside the piece, which didn’t visibly have mold on it, but I got such a whiff of mold after rinsing the leaves that I rinsed them for a second time. (As a note, the mold I found on the pu-erh was white and looked the same as the mold I found on the inside of my clay pu-erh storage pot after cleaning it thoroughly and putting newly-purchased pu-erh cakes in it for a few days. So, I really think that this was already on the pu-erh cake. I think it just multiplied by leaving the pu-erh cake out as I did.)
After each of the first few brewings, the wet leaves were so unimaginably sweet. I had no idea that tea could smell this sweet. It also had such a clean, wet red wood taste and smell.
I haven’t been really drinking the cups since it concerned me how much mold was on the outside of the chunk that I took this from. But, even with drinking so little (maybe eight sips so far), I feel tea drunk. (Seriously.) I’m glad that I didn’t try drinking the whole cup each time, because I’d probably be unconscious right now. Whatever process these leaves went through made the tea ridiculously stronger, even if it didn’t change the taste or smell all that much!
Edit: I wanted to add some links for anyone who is interested. According to a study: “Aspergillus niger and Blastobotrys adeninivorans were frequently documented as dominant lineages in Pu-erh from both culture-dependent and culture-independent studies.” Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4918958/
Aspergillus niger can range from black to white: http://fungi.myspecies.info/all-fungi/aspergillus-niger
Blastobotrys adeninivorans is depicted as white: http://preview.tinyurl.com/ba-white-culture (I had to use tinyurl because for some reason, Steepster didn’t register the link correctly)
There are other cultures which can appear on pu-erh, not all of them are safe or beneficial. So, while seeing evidence of cultures on pu-erh isn’t necessarily bad, it isn’t necessarily good either. For more on this, see: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4918958/ (Though, be warned, as it is technical.)