Ibusuki Benifuki Sencha (揖宿べにふうき煎茶) is an unusual green tea from Japan. Grown at low altitude around Ibusuki in Kagoshima Prefecture, on the southern part of Kyushu Island, it is made from the Benifūki (べにふうき) cultivar. This results in a bold and potent tea with complex character and a slightly more unusual taste. It is grown and processed to organic standards without use of any pesticides. This particular batch is a summer flush tea, harvested in June 2019.
The Benifūki (べにふうき) cultivar (also often written as Benifuuki in English) is the result of cross-breeding two cultivars in Japan in the 1960’s. The selected cultivars were MakuraCd86, a Camellia sinensis that originated from descendants of Darjeeling plants, and Benihomare that originated from descendants of Camellia assamica plants found in India and Sri Lanka. The actual Benifūki cultivar was registered in Japan only in 1993 after many years of selection.
It has now become rather popular in Japan for production of Benifuki Oolong and Benifuki Wakocha black tea. The main reason behind this is that the originating plants used to develop the Benifūki cultivar are both mostly used for black tea production, yielding teas that are more flavoursome and robust in flavour. While great for black tea, this has drawbacks when making green tea as Benifūki tends to be more astringent in flavour.
Even though Benifūki green tea has a more potent flavour with sometimes pronounced astringency, there is an additional health benefit in consuming green tea made from the Benifūki tea plants. Processed as a green tea, it contains the largest concentration of methylated catechin of all the Japanese teas – this is actually responsible for the bitterness and astringency of the tea! Methylated catechin content of Benifuki green tea has been shown as having potential for reducing allergies and hay fever. Only Benifūki green tea is useful for that as the methylated catechin content is destroyed when the tea is processed as a black tea, or reduced when it is processed as an oolong. So it’s not a wonder that it has recently become a popular natural remedy in Japan to help to keep allergies at bay.
Leaving the potential health benefits aside, this tea makes for an interesting drink. Like other Benifūki teas, it can be a little tricky to get right, so good water, lower temperature and shorter infusion time on your first try are key! We tend to brew this one quite light, at 70°C for 1, maximum 2 minutes; this yields a complex and balanced flavour. When brewed at higher temperature, the astringency and bitterness can quickly dominate the flavours!
This Ibusuki Benifūki Sencha has a fine mixed leaf typical of sencha with some finer and larger leaves together. The dry leaf has a lovely fruity and grassy aroma and when lightly brewed produces a green-yellow liquor. The flavours are quite bold and potent even if not brewed strongly, but still balanced overall. The pronounced herbaceous profile has buttery vegetal notes and a smooth mouth-coating impression of sweetness. It transitions to a lasting aftertaste that becomes dryer and reveals some pleasant bitterness. When brewed for longer or at higher temperature the bitterness becomes more pronounced but so do the savoury flavours that develop into more umami seaweed notes.
This is an intriguing sencha that can be a little tricky to brew but yields fascinating results. And comes with a health bonus! Start with lower brewing parameters and then ramp them up to match your taste. We suggest starting at 70°C for 1 minute, increasing to 2 minutes. After that you can increase to 80°C for 1 minute and further to 2 minutes to bring out more of that tannic catechin content! It stands up well to multiple infusions – 2-3 depending on initial brew strength that you opt for.