Tsukigase Zairai Sencha (月ヶ瀬村在来煎茶) is an organic sencha from a native Japanese cultivar grown in Tsukigase Village in Nara Prefecture. It is characterised by a gentle and refreshing flavour that is surprisingly low in the grassy and umami flavours that are often associated with Japanese green teas. This particular crop was picked in early spring 2017.
This sencha tea is grown at a fully organic farm without any artificial pesticides or fertilisers so it has full organic JAS certification. The lack of artificial fertilisers results in a slower growing rate for these plants. Combined with the unique mineral rich soil of this terroir, the resulting teas from this farm have a unique aspect to them. This is the same location where our Tsukigase Yamatomidori Wakocha black tea comes from.
Furthermore this Tsukigase Zairai Sencha green tea is crafted from a zairai (在来), or ‘native’ cultivar. In Japan ‘zairai’ refers to any collection of ‘native’ tea plants – as opposed to plants of a specific cultivar. Generally these are old tea gardens with plants that pre-exist modern cultivars and have therefore evolved on their own. Most times these plants would also be grown from seeds rather than cuttings, thus increasing the diversity of the plants in the garden. Generally zairai gardens produce lower yields and are less uniform in output. This is a negative aspect for the farmers as it makes harvesting and processing more costly and complicated while yielding lower returns. However, zairai gardens are very much part of the Japanese tea heritage and give a fascinating insight into what tea used to be like before modern selection processes and cultivars were introduced.
The zairai plants at this tea garden were planted over 50 years ago using seeds from other ‘native’ tea plants. Using such a traditional tea type, combined with a fully organic production as well as utilising traditional methods of tea production, the tea master achieves a tea that is much more traditional than modern Japanese tea varieties. In fact, this tea is somewhat like a time machine into the past, an opportunity to try out something that has been drunk in Japan for centuries and well before the arrival of modern farming and modern tastes in tea.
Tsukigase Zairai Sencha has long large dark green leaves with a fresh grassy aroma. The liquor itself is a typical bright yellow green that you would expect from a sencha. However, unlike most senchas there is a distinct lack of grassy flavour, with no real bitterness or astringency. There is also none of the typical umami or seaweed layer to the taste. Instead we have a more herbaceous, almost scenty taste, reminiscent of mint and herby, leafy greens. It is generally verdant, clean with a mineral and mildly chalky finish, that leaves a slightly sweet and savoury aftertaste. A notable and unusual sencha.
We suggest brewing at 80°C for 1-2 minutes according to your taste. It can be brewed around 3+ times depending on your taste preferences. This tea will perform at its best if brewed using a good traditional side-handled kyūsu (急須) tea pot specifically designed for brewing sencha tea. In such case, adjust the amount of leaves to 2.5g per 100ml of 80°C water, brewing 40-60 seconds per infusion, repeatedly increasing brewing time until there is no flavour left.
Tsukigase Zairai Sencha green tea was first featured in our June 2018 Curious Tea Subscription Boxes.