Wednesday, July 27, 2011

2011 Zencha Nakai's Organic Uji Sencha Matsu



It's already been some time since this tea arrived to my place; more than three weeks, to be accurate. Since then, various things continuously prevented me from writing about it, most commonly those related to weather – for me, the best occasion on which to enjoy a good fresh green tea is a sunny, warm day, but the last week and a few more days before it somehow lacked this kind of weather almost completely. If there was a warm, sunny and free day, I usually haven't stayed at home and went somewhere out (such as the FesTEAval) and, therefore, the days left for me when I had time to stay at home and write about tea were usually those filled with cold air, rain, dark clouds and lack of natural light, during which I mostly weren't in mood for anything green and rather switched to roasted oolongs and puerh.

Today, finally, sun decided to shine a bit and the temperature is noticeably higher as well. There is an advantage of all the time I kept waiting for the right occasion to write about this tea – since it arrived, I've tasted it quite a lot of times (though mostly only as a quick morning session without that much time to concentrate on the tea itself), which helped me to make up my mind about this not-so-usual Sencha.





This light steamed Sencha comes from Mr. Michio Nakai's farm located in my favorite region, Uji, Kyoto and is certified organic. In Zencha's offering, it is the middle grade of Uji Sencha. Its leaves are a bit shorter and more broken than those of usual Asamushi teas, but still quite nice and shiny. Their smell is very fresh, very sweet and unusually nutty and creamy, much more than most Uji Sencha teas. There is also a slight hint of roastiness; overall, aroma of this tea unexpectedly reminds me of fresh Long Jing quite a lot.




The first infusion is yellowish-green in color and has a mild sweet smell and full, balanced taste, again different from what I'm used to find in most Uji teas – this one is much more bread-like, nutty and roasty, while still being very sweet. In this case, however, it isn't the typical Gyokuro-like, umami related sweetness, but instead something very reminiscent of sweet pastry or even freshly baked cookies. Just as smell, this tea's taste reminds me a bit of Chinese Long Jing while still bearing some typical Uji notes – very interesting combination of different characters. Aftertaste of this infusion is long and mouth-filling, mostly nutty, vivid and yet quite refined.

The second infusion is brewed with a bit hotter water for just a few seconds, resulting in much greener brew, which is now a little bit opaque. Its taste is basically very similar to that of the first infusion, though it now has a bit more fresh, “green” note of sharpness, making the taste of this brew more refreshing. The aftertaste is also a bit sharper and greener, but still very sweet and subtle.





Once again a little hotter water is used for the now mostly yellow third infusion, enhancing the already dominant bread-like, sweet taste and smell. The aftertaste is even stronger and longer-lasting than that of the previous infusion, now being quite crispy, sweet and slightly astringent, though not in any unpleasant way.

One more infusion is made of these leaves; this time, the taste is mostly woodsy, roasty and a bit astringent with less profound aftertaste – nicely finishing the session.




This tea is definitely different in an interesting way. While the vast amount of Uji greens tend to be on the deep, umami side of taste, this one, with its bread-like roasty character, is a nice, unconventional change – and still, it has the typical feeling of a good, traditional Ujicha.



Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bratislava's FesTEAval 2011



Warning: picture spam ahead!
Today, Bratislava's (and, as far as I know, Slovakia's) only and still quite young tea festival took place in Medicka zahrada (Medic garden) public park in downtown, organized by a summer tea-house which is settled in this garden. FesTEAval, described as a festival of Slovak tea culture and Slovak tea-houses, took place last year at the same place, though it was said to be the 0-th year; this was therefore the first official year of this promising festival, which I hope will become an annual tradition in our city. I attended last year and it already had a great atmosphere, so I really was looking forward to seeing what will the 2011 event bring.



Compared to last year, the weather was almost ideal for such an outdoor event - sunny and just a bit windy. Last year, it was accompanied by heavy rain, so everything had to take place inside, inside the big tent of the summer teahouse. There weren't many visitors this year, though I would say it was more than the last year - still, the festival is only at the beginning of its path. On the other hand, the atmosphere wouldn't ever be so personal and friendly with much higher visitor rate - this really was somehow a plus for me, as I don't really fancy big crowds very much.



Avra Kehdabra - new literary teahouse from Bratislava, one of my favorites

The unique thing on this event is that it tries to cover up and connect all teahouses across Slovakia, allowing them to present their teas, teaware and tea-serving customs to the visiting people, all of them at the same place - and all for free. Even though only a small fraction of teahouses really arrived, mostly those from Bratislava (I believe it isn't easy to travel to the capital from the other end of country just for one-day-long, small event), the offering was quite diverse - thanks to this, I was able to visit different stands of different teahouses, both those well known which I visit frequently, as well as some which I've never heard about until now - all this under the blue sky, shaded only by the garden's old green trees.



Avra Kehdabra served really nice Sencha Houkouen from Shizuoka - last year's pick, though as the package was opened just now, still very nicely preserved and refreshing.



Another part of FesTEAval was taking place inside the tent - various lectures and discussions about tea accompanied by tastings of teas that were the theme of every lecture - Japanese greens and Sado ceremony, Chinese teas and Gong-fu ceremony, Darjeeling and Puerh.



Japanese teas - we tasted four different teas, "typical representatives" of the main categories - Sencha, Kabuse, Gyokuro and Tamaryokucha - most of which were from Teamountain.



Teaware for sale - outside the tent, mostly used teaware from various sources, countries and producers was offered for quite an interesting prices (including some Petr Novak pieces, which were especially tempting).



Tea-related decoration on the garden's walls - some of you may recognize three of my photos, obviously downloaded from my blog without me knowing - it's impossible to be mad at them, though :-) even though it really was surprising and sort of funny to see these photos here.



Once again, I was able to experience a whole day in company of great tea, great mood and great people - a big thank you to everyone who contributed to this event. FesTEAval is a great idea and I hope and believe it will get even better next summer, hopefully also attracting much more visitors.




Monday, July 11, 2011

Melting Green



It's that time of year again - temperatures are reaching their peak every day, air is on the edge of not being breathable and there doesn't seem to be any summer rain on the way to change all this. At such time, this solution once again proves itself to be the best to cool down both the body and the mind (even though fresh green tea is great to do so even when brewed hot).
Fresh Shincha, combined with slowly melting cubes of ice.




Wednesday, July 6, 2011

2011 Hadong Gyeun Farm Saejak Nokcha



Another post about Korean tea? Yes. Unexpectedly, it seems like this season is going to be quite Korean for me – there are more interesting fresh teas from this country on Czech and Slovak market than ever before.

This particular Saejak was purchased on my last visit to Teatrade.sk's store. It cannot be found on their website nor in their regular offering, but, along with two other Korean teas mentioned below, can be tasted in their neighboring teahouse “U veseleho slona”.

This exact same tea can, however, be purchased on Darjeeling.cz – this year, they offer three different Hadong teas, one Ujeon, this Saejak and one Yellow tea. All of these teas come in the generous Hadong packaging (see Matt's very informative post here), but, at least for this one, there is a sticker on the back of its box – mostly in Korean, the only exception being web address of Gyeun Farm, which I suppose is the producer. It originates in Ssangye area and is, according to the Darjeeling website, completely hand-picked and hand-processed from wild tea bushes.

Since it was purchased, I've enjoyed this Saejak quite a lot of times, always discovering something new and liking the tea more and more – it really grew on me.




These leaves are quite uniform, small and a bit curly with very pleasant sweet, deep and, again, forest-like smell. As they are placed into the preheated Shiboridashi, this smell intensifies and new nuances come out, reminding me of various things – sweet pastry or bread among them.




Always using just a slightly hotter water than I did for the previous brew, several infusions are made of this tea, as its character gradually evolves, changes and becomes interestingly different in each and every one of them – generally, these brews are quite light, yet very aromatic at the same time. The taste is mainly soft, bread-like, bit roasted, sweet and fresh; it embraces all the deepness found in its smell and even more, fruity tones reminiscent of sweet young pears and something I would call “mountain forest air” and the sensation of breathing it. The aftertaste is mild and sweet, being noticeable for a very long time and seems to carry different main tone after each infusion – nutty sweetness after the first one, fruity freshness after the second, almost vanilla-like creaminess after the third and so on.

This tea reaches its peak around third or fourth brew, when it is strongest and most intensive in taste, smell and aftertaste. After that, it still produces more than enjoyable infusions – gradually, these are just less deep, a bit more sharp and spicy and have smaller scale of tones, most persistent of which is probably the roasted bread-like taste and nuttiness.





One of the most amazing things about this tea is the almost spiritual-like, peaceful state of mind it leaves me in after the session – the need to just quietly sit and breathe, still sensing this tea, not only on the tongue.

I feel like taking this tea on a trip with me and enjoying it in the nature – hopefully, I really will, before I completely run out of it.