Welcome to the September 2021 edition of the Curious Tea subscription! This month is our Japanese special, featuring four different Japanese teas. Here’s a closer look at the four exciting new teas that we are sharing with our subscribers this month.
The first light tea this month is a smooth pan-fried Kamairicha green tea made from the Koshun cultivar from the organic garden of Kajihara-san in Ashikita.
The second light tea is a deep steamed Fukamushi Sencha from Kagoshima that is shaded during growth, resulting in a complex sweet and savoury taste.
For the dark side of the selection we have a black tea from Kajihara-san, also crafted from the Koshun cultivar to create an expressive fruity flavour.
Finally, the last tea we are featuring this month is a flavoursome black tea made from the unusual Yumewakaba cultivar grown on the slopes of Mt Fuji.
Let’s get into further detail on these teas featured in our September tea subscription boxes.
Ashikita Koshun Kamairicha
Ashikita Koshun Kamairicha (芦北町香駿釜炒り茶) is a light pan-fried Japanese green tea grown on Kajihara Tea Farm that is run to organic standards in Ashikita District of Kumamoto Prefecture. This tea is crafted from the unusual Kōshun cultivar plants, which results in a smoother, creamier and lightly floral flavour. We source it directly from the grower, Mr Toshihiro Kajihara. The current batch is the first flush harvest from May 2021.
While Kajihara tea garden mostly focuses on heritage native ‘zairai’ plants, they also have a number of various Japanese cultivars planted on their farm to further differentiate and extend their range of teas. This Ashikita Koshun Kamairicha is made from the leaves of Kōshun (香駿) cultivar plants. This cultivar is still quite rare and it is largely used to make steamed green tea, known for a distinctive floral aroma. However some farmers like Mr Kajihara are starting to experiment with producing some more unusual teas from this cultivar like this pan-fried Koshun Kamairicha and Koshun Wakocha black teas.
Kamairicha (釜炒り茶) literally translates as ‘pan-fried tea’. Pan-frying or steaming fresh tea leaves is the process that stops oxidation of the leaves, making green tea. Most Japanese green teas are steamed, which results in a distinctive taste that tends to be heavy on grassy, savoury and astringent flavours. By contrast, kamairicha undergoes pan frying that results in a different flavour profile that is more balanced with sweeter and lighter green notes. Less than 5% of current Japan’s tea output is within the pan-fried category.
The process of pan-frying of tea leaves first arrived to Japan from China in the Edo period, around the 17th century. This was the preferred method for stopping leaf oxidation in order to produce green tea. To this day, this is the most common green tea production process around the world. It is considered that the first time steamed tea was produced in Japan was in 1737 when a tea grower named Nagatani Sōen developed a new process of tea production. This process, which consists of steaming the tea leaves fist, then rolling them and finally drying them in the oven is considered to be the standard production method of tea in modern Japan. By contrast, pan-frying has fallen out of favour due to demand for steamed Japanese style of tea as well as the ease of processing steamed tea. It is much easier to automate steamed tea production, thus greatly reducing production costs. By contrast pan-frying is still largely performed by hand and requires great skill by the tea master to achieve the perfect results. Hence the general rarity and higher costs for kamairicha pan-fried green tea.
Ashikita Koshun Kamairicha green tea has a very neat dark green leaf that has a distinctive curled appearance common with other kamairicha teas. It produces a clear and bright liquor with a light vegetal aroma. The smooth taste has no harshness, astringency or dryness and leaves a juicy, mouth-watering impression. The taste is vegetal, creamy and a touch floral with some light savoury notes of wood and hay. It has a spicy, peppery and herbaceous aftertaste reminiscent of asian herbs. Overall the aftertaste is clean but some pleasant refreshing tannins can be found towards the end of the taste. The smoothness and ease of drinking makes this an excellent everyday tea!
It is best brewed at 80°C for around 2-3 minutes, with multiple infusions.
You can also buy Ashikita Koshun Kamairicha green tea in our online shop.
Kagoshima Asanoka Fukamushi Sencha
Kagoshima Asanoka Fukamushi Sencha (鹿児島あさのか深蒸し煎茶) is a Japanese green tea that undergoes ‘deep steaming’, a process that imparts a character that is more complex and sweeter than other conventional sencha teas. Grown in Kagoshima City of Kagoshima Prefecture, it is made from he unusual Asanoka (あさのか) cultivar. It is also a partially shaded tea (similar to gyokuro) that is shaded for 5 days prior to plucking to concentrate the flavour in the leaves. We source this tea via a specialist tea merchant in Shizuoka. This batch was harvested on 7 April 2021.
The uniqueness of this tea lies in the use of the uncommon Asanoka cultivar, registered in 1996. This cultivar was developed by crossing Yabukita and a Chinese green tea cultivar and is still mostly grown around Kagoshima Prefecture. Green tea made from the Asanoka cultivar tends to be more aromatic, while delivering a richer and more savoury liquor with balanced sweetness. This particular tea is also roasted a little stronger, making the taste more appealing.
This Kagoshima Asanoka Fukamushi Sencha, like most of Japanese green teas, is steamed rather than pan roasted. However it is rather more special as it undergoes a lengthier steaming processes, referred to as deep steaming. In Japanese, fukamushi (深蒸し) means ‘deep steamed’ as the tea is steamed for 1-2 minutes as opposed to the usual futsuumushi (普通蒸し) steaming, which is only 30 seconds to 1 minute. There is also an even lighter version that is called asamushi (浅蒸し) or ‘light steamed’ tea, which undergoes steaming for less than 30 seconds. Even though gyokuro, kabusecha and even bancha can be deep steamed, it is usually sencha that undergoes such treatment. Therefore ‘fukamushicha’ will usually refer to a deep steamed sencha.
This longer steaming process makes quite a big difference to the flavour of the tea. It diminishes the astringency and increases sweetness, resulting in a good balance between the classic umami depth and a pleasing sweet aftertaste. The steaming process makes the tea leaves very soft, so during the next processing stage, which is rolling, the leaves and tips can often break. This results in variable leaf size, with many very small broken leaf fragments. It can appear like a low-quality sencha, but the reality is completely the opposite as it the result of the specialised deep steaming process.
When brewed, fukamushicha also has a stronger, more vibrant, green color, with a cloudy liquor and sediment visible. There are Japanese teapots specifically designed for brewing fukamushicha, which have a finer brewing mesh with a larger surface area so that it doesn’t get clogged with the fine tea particles. We recommend using a very fine mesh infuser if you have one. On the plus side, having fine particles in your tea can increase the health benefits, as you will be consuming more leaves (and their catechins, fibre, vitamins, and chlorophyll), very much akin to matcha drinking!
Kagoshima Asanoka Fukamushi Sencha has a very fine, small leaf with a fresh, green, grassy and vegetal aroma. It produces a cloudy green liquor with a grassy and lightly toasty aroma. The smooth taste is sweet and savoury, nicely balanced between the two. The overall vegetal profile has creamy, toasty and grassy notes. Further tasting notes include fresh asparagus, nori seaweed and yuzu peel. The aftertaste is lasting and refreshing with a grassy and savoury edge. The yuzu citrus notes are particularly evident on the aftertaste. This is a nicely balanced tea with a complex but approachable character.
It is best brewed at 70°C for around 2 minutes, with multiple infusions. For best results use a special Fukamushi tea pot or other brewing vessel with a very fine mesh filter. Our Samadoyo infuser mugs with the steel infuser do a pretty good job at filtering this type of tea.
You can also buy Kagoshima Asanoka Fukamushi Sencha green tea in our online shop.
Ashikita Koshun Wakocha
Ashikita Koshun Wakocha (芦北町香駿和紅茶) is a fruity Japanese black tea grown on Kajihara Tea Farm that is run to organic standards in Ashikita District of Kumamoto Prefecture. This tea is crafted from the unusual Kōshun cultivar plants, which results in a distinctive profile that is sweet and fruity. We source it directly from the grower, Mr Toshihiro Kajihara. The current batch is the second flush harvest from June 2021.
This black tea version creates an interesting comparison to the kamairicha version that is included in this month’s box. Generally Koshun cultivar is used for making green tea, but turns out it is also excellent for making wakocha! Kajihara-san does make a Koshun oolong but unfortunately the extremely small quantity and popularity of this unusual oolong means that we have not yet been able to purchase it from him. But we are trying to persuade him to make enough next year for us to purchase!
Wakocha (和紅茶), or Japanese black tea, is still rather rare and sourcing it can be quite a complex process due to small production levels and mixed results. Different cultivars are utilised for producing various Wakocha black teas with different flavour profiles. For example our Makinohara Benifuki Wakocha has a more broken leaf and a much bolder black tea profile. Some of these Japanese black teas aim to emulate their counterparts from India, China and Taiwan to capture some of the established market. Some however, just as this Kōshun Wakocha does, create something completely new and exciting – a distinctive flavour profile that is unique not only to Japan, but to specific cultivar and farmer.
Ashikita Koshun Wakocha black tea has a mixed twisted very dark leaf that produces a dark amber liquor. The taste starts off on sweet fruity notes of apricot jam, quince marmalade and is followed by an array of deep floral flavours. It is undoubtedly a supremely smooth tea with no astringency or bitterness and minimal tannins. The overall impression is that of enduring fruity sweetness. The flavours progress to a lasting aftertaste that develops some malty and intriguing mineral notes. This tea makes for an extremely satisfying drink.
It is best brewed at 90°C for around 3 minutes, with multiple infusions. The sweet fruity flavours also make this tea perfect for cold brewing in your fridge overnight!
You can also buy Ashikita Koshun Wakocha black tea in our online shop.
Fuji Yumewakaba Wakocha
Fuji Yumewakaba Wakocha (富士ゆめわかば和紅茶) is a unique Japanese black tea grown on the slopes of Mt Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture. This tea is crafted from a newly introduced Yumewakaba cultivar. The resulting complex liquor has good strength and a savoury profile reminiscent of Taiwanese black teas. We source this tea via a specialist wholesaler in Shizuoka who directly works with the farmers. They specifically support smaller farmers in distributing their teas, developing new tea types, improving their techniques and providing additional end processing and refining at their small tea factory in Makinohara. This current batch is a second flush harvest, picked on 20 June 2021.
This wakocha is made from an unusual Yumewakaba (ゆめわかば) cultivar that was developed in Saitama Prefecture. This cultivar was only registered in 2006 and is a cross between Yabukita and a tea plant with designation Saitama #9. This cultivar is favoured in making ichoucha, a kind of withered green tea. To make ichoucha the tea leaves undergo brief withering before being steamed. When this withering is done specifically with the Yumewakaba cultivar leaves, it adds a floral aspect that is reminiscent of osmanthus blossom. As always, the same cultivar can be used in making different style of tea but Yumewakaba black tea is still not very common. Partly this is because of the general rarity of this cultivar but also due to lower demand for black tea in Japan.
This Fuji Yumewakaba Wakocha is a fine example of a flavoursome Japanese black tea. The Yumewakaba cultivar certainly works well in creating a distinctive tea. It produces a savoury liquor with a rich colour and a savoury aroma. The savoury aspect makes us think of the great Taiwanese black teas, like the Yuchi Assamica and Yuchi Red Jade. We do find this Wakocha a bit more refreshing and generally easy to drink. The complex profile has a tangy and fruity flavour with peppery notes that are reminiscent of vine tomatoes and sour plums. It has a lasting aftertaste with some light tannins coming through at the end with notes of fruit skins and underripe kaki fruits. This is definitely an unusual tea that has a unique charm.
You can also buy Fuji Yumewakaba Wakocha black tea in our online shop.
We really do hope that you enjoy the Japanese tea selection for September and are looking forward to the selection in our next box. Our October box will feature two very unusual Indian Darjeeling teas: a ‘Spicy’ White tea from Rohini Tea Estate and an ‘Umami’ Oolong from Gopaldhara Tea Estate. Also featuring is a Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong Oolong from Master Huang’s organic tea garden in Chaozhou and a Kenyan black tea from Nandi Hills.
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Happy tea discoveries!