Hon Yama Zairai Sencha - 2010 1st Harvest Shizuoka Zairai Sencha

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150 °F / 65 °C 0 min, 45 sec

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From Norbu Tea

This is a very exciting tea for us to offer for two main reasons. First, it is from the Hon Yama region, which is one of the most famous tea growing regions in Japan. Hon Yama is a bit of a confusing appellation, since it denotes tea grown on the hilly/low mountain slopes along the banks of the Abe and Warashina (a tributary of the Abe) rivers in Shizuoka instead of a specific county or prefecture. Hon Yama is one of the oldest tea cultivating regions in Japan, and its foggy, mountainous terrain is reputed to produce some of the highest quality & sweetest tea in Japan.

The second and most important reason this tea is so exciting to us is the fact that it is composed entirely of Zairai cultivar tea plants. Zairai is a term that means “Native” to Japan, and in this case is used to denote old, well established cultivated tea plants with deep & extensive root systems. For those more familiar with Chinese (Pu-Erh in particular) tea terminology, the Chinese term for this type of tea would be “Lao Tai Di” or “Old Terrace/Old Plantation” tea plants. Zairai tea plants are interesting in Japan since tea produced from them do not command as high a price in the domestic market as tea from other cultivars, but, to my taste, the flavor and aroma of Zairai-Cha is much more rich and penetrating.

In my research about Zairai plants in Japan, I was not surprised but saddened to find out that farmers have tried in the past to eradicate these amazing old plants from their plantations to replace them with varietals that have a higher yield fetch a higher price in the marketplace. The happy ending to this piece of research was that many farmers were not able to remove these plants because the root systems were too well established to completely get rid of because the plants kept coming back! The tea produced from these valuable (in my way of thinking anyway) plants is usually kept by the farmers for their own consumption, but some is sold in the marketplace and is usually by processors to blend with other, lesser quality teas to give them more body and sweetness.

The batch that this tea came from is a blend of Zairai tea from various small producers throughout the Hon Yama region. It was all plucked and processed\between 5/10 and 5/27/2010, and it was further dried, sorted and packed into cold storage until we placed our order. When we placed our order, the processors removed it from cold storage and put it through a brief roasting/drying process to make sure the moisture level was appropriate for packaging. Then it was divided into 50 gram portions, packed into the resealable pouches, nitrogen flushed to remove the oxygen from the package and sealed for shipment.

When infused, the liquor of this tea is a bright and clear greenish yellow/gold. The flavor is exceptionally rich and sweet with a nicely balanced astringency, a full mouthfeel and a lovely, unique, sweet & lingering aftertaste. In our experience, the first steeping is marked by an interesting, slightly roasted/nutty aroma & flavor from the final roast/drying which lessens in intensity in the second and subsequent steepings. Keeping the steeping temps low & times short, we have been able to easily get 3-5 distinctive steepings out of this tea.

I would just like to emphasize that it is a real privilege for us to be able to carry a unique and exclusive tea like this Honyama Zairai Sencha. I can’t seem to get enough of this tea, and I really hope it finds a new fan base with our customers here in the US.

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3 Tasting Notes

311 tasting notes

This is a sweet, nutty, vegetal sencha without the strong briny umami that I so often find offputting in more heavily steamed senchas and gyokuro.

The leaf is deep rich green, medium long fragments—not quite as long as the Sayamakaori from Yuuki-cha, but longer than my average Asamushi sencha, very sweet smelling, even a bit nutty.

2.5 grams of leaf in a small gaiwan, about 2.5 oz or 75 mL of tap water per infusion

1st infusion, 30 seconds
sweet, vegetal, nutty, very nice

2nd infusion, 10 seconds
vegetal, sweet, nutty—the nutty is a hint of astringency, I think, but not bitterness, and a hint of toasted/roasted flavor

3rd infusion, 45 seconds
again, the toasty, vegetal nuttiness, astringency, but light

a 4th infusion, 1 minute
still nutty, vegetal, now fairly astringent

The finished leaves are bright green, and moderately broken up, although I did fine one or two small whole leaves

I think part of the astringency is the brewing, here, because just for accuracy’s sake, not really for comparison, I’m brewing up some of the Yuuki-Cha Sayamakaori sencha at the same time, and finding some of the same elements in it—not the roastedness, but more astringency than I’m used to. I think my leaf-to-water ratio is really not quite the same as in the kyusu. But I’ve got a pretty good idea that this is going to be a very nice sencha, and am looking forward to first proper session with the Tokoname kyusu.

Both with this and with another new green tea I tried this weekend, it’s quite clear that despite attempts to control conditions, changes in brewing conditions for the purpose of doing these comparisons—brewing sencha in my gaiwans instead of my kyusu—sometimes distorts the results, because I’m moving outside my usual comfort zone.

A 2nd set of infusions, in the 5 oz kyusu with 4 grams of leaf, tap water 160 degrees at first, infusions 30", 15", 30"; raised temp to 170 degrees for 45 seconds and 1 minute infusions, worked out better, still some astringency but not as much, more to my taste.

This is a nice, vegetal nutty sencha.

160 °F / 71 °C 0 min, 30 sec

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348 tasting notes

I was first a little turned off by the aroma of this. It reminded me of poor-grade bancha. I’m…not a fan of bancha. The medium-cut, mediam-green leaves smelled like roasted nuts. Luckily, this only partially translated to the taste thanks to a surprising buttery note. However, it’s just a shy skip above ordinary sencha.

Full Review: http://www.teaviews.com/2011/04/13/review-norbu-tea-2010-spring-hon-yama-zairai-sencha/

145 °F / 62 °C 1 min, 30 sec

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