I think this tea is definitely one many of those leaving low ratings are misunderstanding, going into it – much of this is due to Lupicia not making it especially clear for western consumers that this is not sakura-cherry green tea. This is brined sakura leaf green tea. Brined sakura leaves are obviously a radically different flavor from fresh fruitiness… a traditional Japanese taste utterly nonexistent in the western palate and one that would not please someone seeking fruity floral freshness. To a Japanese person, this combination evokes images of spring time and freshness – because they’ve grown up in a culture where brined sakura is linked to that. A big part of that also probably has to do with using boiling water and/or long brewing times – sencha wants lower temperatures and shorter times, and the briny sakura does as well. Too hot and long with this and you end up with a horrible bitter salty mess.
For me today, I picked this tea as a pairing with music – I just got my hands on Tama Onsen’s “Open Your Heart(s)”, and the second track, Setsuna Yamai, left me wanting something extremely traditional.
The aroma of this tea is somewhere between genmaicha and shincha – the roasty savoriness of the former, over a much fresher leaf than is usually found in genmaicha. Flavorwise, it hit the spot for what I wanted perfectly. It is what you’d expect, for the most part – the fresh grassy flavor and astringency of a good sencha, with a distinctly present salt note, and a very subtle sweet cherry fruitiness beneath. The saltiness is definitely a dominating note, and makes for a salt-water sort of mouthfeel, and for some people would be a dealbreaker and stop them before they got to the other flavors. If it works for you though, the sencha and the sweet cherry begin to show themselves.
The combination of a roasty saltiness and sencha on their own would make for a warming, nostalgia-inducing traditional japanese green tea experience. The addition of the sweet cherry under-flavor that lingers on your tongue after the rest have faded makes it into something else entirely. Rather than a synergy, it’s like drinking two separate teas simultaneously, the sweet and salty halves coexisting but not as one. Definitely a very complex and uniquely creative brew as I’d expect from Lupicia, and one that really hits the spot in certain, specific moments for me.
This is definitely a super polarizing tea, and not for people who are primarily fans of mellow, sweet teas. It’s intensely calming and relaxing to me, but make no mistake – it’s intense, and odds are, very unusual to your palate. Brew it gently, and don’t let the leaves go stale, or the bitterness and brine will overpower everything else. I also found that it had a ton of dust to shake out through the basket before brewing, and I recommend you do this, lest that dust end up in your cup and sour the brew. Even with my best efforts, quite a bit made it into the bottom of the cup – I don’t think it suffered for it, but if I hadn’t shaken it mostly out first, it would have.