Honyama Benifuki Oolong (本山べにふうき烏龍茶) is a complex oolong from the famous Honyama tea growing area of Shizuoka in Japan. It is expertly made from the leaves of the Benifuki cultivar plants. The resulting fruity taste is smooth and refreshing with light mineral dryness. We source this tea via a specialist refining factory in Shizuoka who work directly with the farmers. They provide end processing and refining at their small factory in Shizuoka but also support smaller farmers in distributing their teas, developing new tea types and improving their techniques.
This particular Benifuki Oolong comes from an artisanal tea business based in Aoi Ward in Shizuoka Prefecture. This consists of a small tea factory and a few tea gardens around Shizuoka in places like Okochi and Honyama. It is run by a team of young enthusiasts who share the same story. Growing tired of hectic life in big cities, they decided to come together and start a tea business that is completely opposite to their previous city life. Their focus is very much on developing and crafting new tea types. As traditional tea production is declining in Japan, this is a very much needed injection of energy and innovation that will hopefully contribute in a different way to preservation of Japanese tea craft in the longer term.
Their factory feautures new modern machinery that enables them to make both crude tea for further refining at refining factories, but also finished product, such as oolong tea and black tea. The two oolong teas (this Benifuki and Yabukita) are already showcasing their skill at making these. But they also have other highly experimental teas, such as Koji Fermented Kurocha and whisky and sake barrel aged teas (coming to our shop soon!). They are also taking over more of the abandoned tea gardens. As we witnessed on our recent visit to Shizuoka, there are quite a few of those!
Honyama is a terroir famous in Japan for producing particularly fine teas that has a tea growing history of over 800 years. The fields are located on steep slopes surrounding the Warashina and Abe Rivers that often produce foggy conditions. This fog and less exposure to the sun acts as a natural way to slow down the growth of the tea plants, resulting in richer and more fully flavoured teas.
This oolong utilises the leaves of the Benifūki cultivar plants. The Benifūki 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 but has become rather popular for production of Japanese oolong and Benifuki Wakocha black teas.
When made into a green tea, Benufuki green teas contain 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 Benifuki green tea is useful for that as the methylated catechin is destroyed when the tea is processed as a black tea, or reduced when it is processed as an oolong. It is this compound that brings a little astringency to this tea.
This Honyama Benifuki Oolong consists of large lightly oxidised leaves. It produces a bright lightly coloured liquor with a light fruity aroma. The complex smooth taste has a dominant fruity flavour with herbaceous notes. Peachy notes combine nicely with dryer woody and hay notes to create a slightly more drying flavour. There is pleasant minerality and chalkiness that is especially more evident on the aftertaste. There is a hint of dryness and astringency that showcases the Benifuki cultivar character, especially if brewed for longer or at higher temperatures.
It is best brewed at 80°C for 2-3 minutes according to your taste. It can be brewed 3+ times depending on your taste preferences. This tea is best brewed in a way similar to other green oolongs, so we encourage to experiment based on your favourite method of brewing those. The nature of the Benifuki cultivar means that you may find some astringency in the taste. Hence we suggest using lower temperature than with most other oolong teas.