Monday, September 20, 2010

2010 Gokuchanin Hanhakoucha Toyoka

Yoshiaki Hiruma, working under his trade name Gokuchanin, is a true artist.

Being a well-reputable producer from Saitama prefecture of Japan, he is especially known for his Temomicha (hand-rolled teas) as well as other completely hand-made teas and is recently gaining attention all over the world. Among his many achievements is the first prize in the prestigious Temomi Tea Competition last year.

Hiruma is unique in a way that he obviously loves to experiment, not sticking only to Temomi and other traditional Japanese teas, but also, among other things, producing highest-quality oolongs, which he calls Hanhakoucha (he even created something like Japanese version of Bao Zhong, just a very lightly oxidized tea, called Bihakkou Sencha).

This is the first of two unconventional Japanese teas I had bought in Brno and then mentioned them in this post. Teamountain offers three kinds of Hanhakoucha, all of them made from different, rare cultivars – this one is made from Toyoka, while the other two from Seirei and Sayamakaori.

Originally packed in a simple, yet elegant sac, these dry leaves remind me of autumn; they range from dark-green to yellow and brown, containing some stems as well. They vividly smell of flowers, honey, spice and pears.

First infusion is yellow in color and similar to dry leaf in smell. Brewed in water just below the boiling point for quite a long time and with high dosage, it tastes softly, yet vividly and not bitter at all. It’s light and complex at the same time, spicy and sweet and overall perfectly harmonic and balanced.

Next infusion is very reminiscent of honey in smell and sweet butter dominates the taste, being less fruity and light and more noble and creamy with wonderful mouth-filling aftertaste.

Third infusion is a bit lighter in character, though it doesn’t mean this tea is already drained out – it just shows its great extent, as this once again is being more similar to first infusion with its fruity, light sweetness and flowery smell.

Following infusion is also very fruity and less creamy in taste, though there is a new, interesting hazelnut-like tone present in taste and smell. This similarly delightful character persists in three more infusions, giving seven satisfying infusions in the end – reminder that this tea isn’t steamed like most Japanese green teas.

This tea is somehow similar to lighter oxided, high-quality oolongs from Taiwan, though it isn’t denying its origin and maintains something distinctly Japanese. Though these typical Japanese tones may be mild, they simply are present and that – among other things – is what makes this beautiful tea so unique and outstanding.

Real art.


  1. Goodness. Japanese oolong.
    The only novelty japanese tea I have tried is a japanese black. Oolong sounds quite interesting the way you described it!

  2. Actually black tea is not vovelty,they started to produce it in late 19th century already. It was originally invented by british, I guess but later pecial cultivars were developed specially forblack tea like Benihomare, Benifuuki aand Benihikari, but japanese teas are made also from other cultivars too. But its not very common, thats true...

  3. William,
    Hanhakoucha really is as interesting as it sounds, I would really recommend you trying it if you'll ever get the chance, it's a completely different experience! About Japanese black tea, I'm going to continue in response to Anonymous:

    you are right, Japan (especially its southern prefectures) used to produce black tea quite a long time ago. The production, however, had decreased to very large extent with globalization and opened market after WWII as cheaper, imported black teas from China, India and Sri Lanka critically suppressed the local black tea market, which wasn't able to compete in prices. At this time, most of the black tea producing companies in Japan went out of business. Luckily, there is a higher interest in Japanese tea in Europe and America nowadays and, therefore, Japanese black tea is demanded once again - and luckily, more and more farmers have started producing it again.
    Still, the production is very small compared to green tea and therefore it's no wonder that Japanese black tea is treated as a novelty, as it actually is a real novelty for Europe and America (and even a lot of mostly younger Japanese people).

  4. Actually there is also increasing demand for black tea in Japan and Mr. Katahira started to make the tea upon our request too, offered it to japanese customers with great success and he is improving his skills in making black tea. But I think it will remain rarity in Japan and even in Europe. Try his Koucha Koushun, its definitelly worth of trying...

  5. Martin,
    as far as I remember, every tea from Mr. Katahira I've tried so far was great. I think you meant his Koucha Ó Iwase (though, just to mention, I tried Sencha Koushun as well and really loved it - unconventional, yet very interesting Sencha) - I'll be sure to try this year's Koucha as soon as I get to Brno next time. I really enjoy last year's version, though I'm not such a big fan of black tea, so I'm looking forward to seeing what is this one like - I already heard that it's completely different tea.
    Glad to hear that Mr.Katahira's black tea is successful with Japanese customers!

  6. Well, this year you could already taste Koucha O Iwase which is ok tea but definitelly less aromatic and not that good looking as Koucha Koushun which was produced a bit later and which is now displacing O Iwase in TM list. Ask for Koucha Koushun when you come to Brno:-)
    And I also read once more the article of Toyoka and I have to correct the information that all Mr. Hiruma teas are hand made. None of those oolongs are hand made but Mr. Hiruma is master and teacher of Temomi making. I hope the fact that oolongs are machine made will not cover the fact that his oolongs are rare and unique in its character. Soon darker type of oolongs will appear in TM offer.

  7. Martin,
    I didn't know there is another type of Koucha in Teamountain offering, but I will definitely ask for the Koushun version in Probuzený slon - now this really captured my attention, as I can imagine how interesting can black tea made of Koushun be. Thanks a lot for recommendation!

    Well, I have to admit that these oolongs seemed a bit too inexpensive to be handmade ;-) I was just confused by the information on TM website, citing :

    "Výjimečný a vzácný, ručně zpracovaný čaj z dílny předního producenta a mistra ruční čajů prefektury Saitama, který minulý rok zvítězil v Temomi Tea competition of Japan."

    Learning that these teas are machine-made however definitely doesn't cover the fact that both this tea as well as the Sayamakaori version I tried in Brno last time are very special teas and I can just thank you for bringing such uniques to Czech republic and giving its tea-lovers a chance to try it ;-)
    Looking forward to darker oolongs as well as other new teas in TM offering!

  8. well, the description has been made long time ago after my misunderstanding of Mr. Hiruma mail and I see I have not corrected it yet, which I am doing immediatelly. I was wondering where did you get this info from and now I see it was me. There will be again competition teas in TM offer including Temomi teas from Temomi tea competition and 2 prize awarded Tamaryokucha as well as competition grade Gyokuros from Yame...

  9. Martin,
    I'm really looking forward to those competition teas - especially Tamaryokucha, as I drank one wonderful high-grade of this tea earlier this year. It came from small Ureshino producer and was like no Tamaryokucha I had experienced before, unbelievably deep in taste with umami not weaker than what can be found in good Gyokuro prepared in a traditional way. I therefore can't wait for these prize-awarded Tamaryokucha as I believe they will be at least as interesting as the one I received as a gift from Japan this summer, if not even better ;-)
    Keep doing your great work in importing such teas, I really appreciate it.

  10. There are different types of tamaryokucha (guricha). One is Mushisei that is first steamed before rolling and kamairi Tamaryoucha which is pan fried first and they are pretty different in taste. The notes which you descibe are pretty typical for high grade tamaryokuchas (you will note it in our Yoshino Ga Sato Tamaryokucha too its slightly milky, buttery, rich and with umami). And thanks a lot, its always pleasure to bring new types of teas and special teas for such enthusiastic people like you are. I like reading your blog and your effort.Take care and have fun.M