Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas & 2010 Sencha Fukamushi Yabukita 3rd Prize Winner

There is something about spending Christmas in the countryside; something one can hardly achieve in the city. This year, we decided to move for the holidays to our house located in a lovely little village to the north of Bratislava, near the town of Myjava. This house is located close to the forest in a quiet mountainous area (the upper picture is taken right in front of its door); together with a bit of snow, this resulted in really magical Christmas.

I've returned to Bratislava three days ago and decided to write one more post this year today.

Just like the competition grade Gyokuro Saemidori I wrote about in previous post, a sample of this tea was kindly sent to me by Martin Spimr of Teamountain. Originating in Shizuoka and picked in May from Yabukita cultivar, it competed in National Tea Competition of Japan, where, with an amount of f 186 points out of 200, it received the third prize in Fukamushicha category.

The package is opened and reveals leaves, which are typically short as a result of deeper steaming; what is unusual on these, however, is their color – light green, almost yellow, yet still shiny and overally very attractive. Their smell is very humble, fresh, predominantly fruity and has tones of apricots, peaches and blackberries.

Because of the higher fragmentation of its leaves, this Sencha is prepared in a small kyusu with mesh filter instead of my favorite shiboriashi. The first infusion is very opaque and has color similar to that of dry leaf – yellowish green. Its taste is very fruity, complex, with vivid hint of umami and freshness, which somehow reminded me of Nunosawa Shincha I'd been enjoying at the beginning of this summer.

The second infusion is brewed only for a short while, resulting in even more opaque, almost non-transparent yellow color and very smooth, harmonic and complex taste with tones of young fruit, milk and umami. The overall feeling of this infusion is a bit warmer, less fresh and lacks the similarities to Shincha. The aftertaste is very humble and mild, quite sweet and once again predominantly fruity.

The third infusion is similar to the second in color and its vivid opaqueness. While still maintaining the fruity sweetness and umami of previous infusions, this brew is now a bit sharper, mouthfilling and somehow heavy.

One more infusion is made of these leaves, resulting in a bit woodsy, warm brew and fruity, full aftertaste, already a bit flat.

I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of Fukamushi teas – I tend to avoid them because of their almost aggressive sharpness and something I would call “fake deepness”. Purity and complexity of Asamushi somehow seems to fit me better. This tea, however, is an exception to some extent, being unusually humble and harmonic, even in further infusions.

May the new year be really successful and filled with good tea and happiness for all of you.

Monday, December 20, 2010

2010 Gyokuro Saemidori Competition Grade

The sun is shining once again in Bratislava (melting all the snow so there likely won't be any on Christmas, but oh well, what can we do) – after such a long time, it really is a nice alternative to the cold, cloudy days, during which I usually tend to lack natural light a lot.

Not to mention, that such sunny day seems to be ideal for good Gyokuro.

A sample of this tea was kindly sent by Martin Spimr of Teamountain. This Gyokuro originates in Yame, Fukuoka (quite a famous Gyokuro-producing region) is made of Saemidori breed and competed in National Tea Competition of Japan, about which I've already talked in a post about prized Tamaryokucha and about which Hibiki-an recently published an article as well.

Right as the silver package is opened, amazingly rich, heavy smell pops out and fills my nose with fresh tones of fruit, creamy milkiness, pines and intense sweetness. This aroma belongs to beautifully uniform, short needle-like leaves which are very dark-green in color, almost blue-green and possess the typical plastic shine.

Such competition Gyokuro truly deserves special treatment – just as with all teas of this kind of such high grade, I decided to use the traditional way of preparation. Whole sample is therefore poured into the small preheated shiboridashi, even boosting the already intensive, vivid smell of these leaves.

Water is then let cooling down for the first infusion until it reaches the point of 50 degrees Celsius.

The first infusion is then brewed for four minutes; the result is yellow in color and deep, creamy and fruity in smell. It's very thick and has oily consistency, hitting the tongue with rich taste full of various nuances - intensive milkiness, noble sweetness, vivid umami, pears, plums, and hazelnuts. As most Gyokuros, this tea seems to be warm in character, lacking the floral freshness and something I would call “the feeling of spring”. It's just as mouth-filling and sated as a good, thick chicken-soup and seems to have a significant impact on stomach. The aftertaste is mainly milky and nutty, very long and, in some way, dry.

A bit warmer water is used for the second infusion, which is also brewed for shorter time. Its color is now yellowish green with typical opaqueness and heavy, deep taste, now dominated by tones of ripe fruit, followed by rich umami note, sweet creaminess and milk. The aftertaste lingers on tongue for even longer time than in the previous infusion, though it seems to be lighter, less concentrated and not so mouth-filling.

The third infusion is once again prepared with small amount of a bit hotter water, is light-green in color and much lighter, yet sharper on tongue. This brew is mainly fruity, with nuances resembling pears and plums just like those in the first infusion, with milky and creamy tones slowly receding. The aftertaste is quite short in this case; light, warm and calm, lacking the vivid sharpness found in the infusion itself.

These leaves still seem so lively and full of energy after the last brew – as always, some of them are eaten just as the sun goes down. They lack any bitterness, being gently sweet and mild.

haven't found any Christmas-related candleholder at the moment, but...

Four days left until Christmas; as I'm not sure whether I will post anything in the next few days or not, I would like to wish all the tea-lovers out there Merry Christmas, filled with a lot of good mood and, of course, good tea.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

2010 Gokuchanin Bihakkou Sencha Sayamakaori 1

For Yoshiaki Hiruma, famous Temomi master from Saitama prefecture and a great experimentalist, creating various kinds of oolongs called Hanhakoucha obviously wasn't enough – he even went so far as to invent and start producing tea, which undergoes the process of slight withering before it's steamed and processed, resulting in an almost green tea, which however already has some of the characteristic notes of lighter oolongs – quite similarly to Taiwanese Bao Zhong.

He named the unique kind of tea “Bihakkou Sencha”; this particular Bihakkou is made of Sayamakaori breed and, for an (at least for me) unknown reason, is labeled “1”.

Just like the Hanhakoucha I've written about some time ago, this tea was brought to central Europe by Teamountain.

In terms of appearance, these needles are just like a typical, high-quality Asamushi Sencha leaves – long, narrow, dark-green and shiny. Main difference from typical Japanese green tea can however be clearly noticed in smell, which is much more flowery rather than being milky, though it also has the tones of butter, fruit (bananas in this case) and nuts. This scent, even though it also has the typical tones of Sencha, really reminds me of Bao Zhong quite a lot.

Slightly hotter water than what I would use for regular Sencha of similar quality is used to prepare the first infusion of this tea, resulting in vivid yellowish brew, quite aromatic in smell. It tastes like no other tea I've ever encountered, beautifully binding the milky, deep and buttery taste of good Sencha with fresh, flowery and fruity notes so typical for Bao Zhong and other lighter Taiwanese oolongs. The aftertaste is long, intensive and very fruity, with nuances resembling bananas and wild berries, among others.

The second infusion has even more yellowish, warm color and full, deep taste with numerous tones of butter, bananas, berries and a slight hint of caramel. It now is even more flowery and aromatic, resembling Bao Zhong as much as possible – even so, this tea still maintains some of the typical Sencha tones and a hint of umami, which I find really interesting.

The third infusion is prepared just as the sun is setting down behind the window and now seems more greenish-yellow and opaque with floral smell, quite intensively ascending from the cups. Its taste is sharper, more spicy and with a bit shorter, yet completely different aftertaste, slight astringent and sweet at the same time. Most of the previously found tones of flowers, fruit and milk are still here, though they seem to be more or less covered by the dominating spicy sharpness.

Astringency is already quite vivid in the fourth infusion, though it still isn't really unpleasant – other than that, this brew is also dominated by spicy, fruity sharpness, has quite warm character and longer aftertaste than the third infusion, which now is simple and fruity.

As it seems to be able to produce more infusions than typical Sencha, this tea is also taken into the fifth and sixth infusions; these seem to be very simple in character and similar to the fourth brew, differing by gradually increasing astringency, woodsiness and sharpness.

After the session, the remaining leaves also demonstrate the unique way this tea was processed – though green in the middle, most of them has brown margin as another result of the slight withering this tea undergoes.

Friday, December 10, 2010

2010 Temomi Iruma

In present day Japan, most of even the highest, competition grades of Sencha are, though often picked by hand (Tezumi), processed by machines. This is related to the difficulty with which Japanese teas (or at last Asamushi teas) gain their uniform, needle-like shape – when done by hand, this process can often take hours. With Japan and its high average salary, it's no wonder that hand-kneaded teas became almost impossible to find, being only a negligible part of the country's tea production.

These completely hand-made teas are called Temomi, meaning “hand-kneaded”.

This particular Temomi comes from Martin Spimr's Teamountain, is packed in a traditional Washi canister and was made by one of famous tea-master Yoshiaki Hiruma (Gokuchanin)'s direct students.

For more informations on how complex and difficult the production of Temomicha is, I recommend you visiting Kohei's great blog, specifically these posts:




I also hereby apologize for the following picture spam of which this post is mainly comprised, but there's no helping it.

Just as I expected, these are among the longest, narrowest and most beautiful leaves I've ever seen. They are unbelievably uniform, just like a shiny, plastic dark-green needless, as close to perfection as possible.

Their smell is reminiscent to that of top-grade Senchas, especially to that of this year's Tenryu Tezumi Baraki, yet being even more buttery and heavily fruity.

This smell even intensifies after the leaves are placed into the preheated pot, revealing even more of their noble, fruity aroma.

For such special tea, I decided to use water of quite low temperature, almost similar to that which I would normally use for Gyokuro and enhance the brewing times. This results in the first infusion, which is one of the lightest and clearest brews I've ever experienced, with its light-green tone being almost indistinguishable from white glazing of the teacup. This, however, is in contrast to the infusion's smell, which is much more intense than the smell of regular Sencha brew.

The taste is a story of its own, being light as a feather on one hand, yet deep and mouth-filling on the other; noble and fruity just like the smell, buttery, milky and finishing with long, cool aftertaste, once again predominantly fruity and creamy.

The second infusion is prepared with just a bit warmer water and shorter brewing time, stil having the unbelievably clear, light jade-green color, intensive smell and a bit sharper, warmer taste, which however maintains its light nobility. The tones of milk and butter are now covered by countless notes of various fruit, among which are young light grapes, apples and plums.

A bit warmer water is once again used for the third infusion, before which the leaves are already completely opened, demonstrating their whole beauty. There isn't any significant color change even in this brew – it still is the beautiful, jade-green lightness and clearness. The taste seems to be an interstage between the first infusion's noble mildness and the second's fruity sharpness, showing notes of both. The character is still quite warm, accompanied by tones of fresh, young fruit, creamy milkiness and deep, buttery aftertaste.

The fourth and fifth infusions still have the same jade-green color and are now a bit rough in taste, yet still not unpleasant with tone of woodiness and much drier, though comparably long aftertaste.

After the session, all of these leaves are eaten. Honestly, who would throw away such leaves?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

2010 Kamairi Tamaryokucha 2nd Prize Winner

Apart from Kuchikiri no Gi, autumn also seems to be the time of tea competitions in Japan, biggest and most prestigious of which is the National Tea Competition. This nationwide contest is organized into categories such as Sencha, Fukamushicha, Gyokuro and Tamaryokucha.

This year, we were lucky to see that Martin Špimr of Teamountain once again managed to bring some extraordinary teas from this competition to our region, one of which is this Tamaryokucha.

Made of Yabukita breed, it comes from Kumamoto prefecture of southern Japan and is of Kamairi type, which means that it was roasted instead of being steamed (Mushisei). With a score of 192 points (out of 200.?), this tea was awarded the second prize.

After opening the package which is typically beautiful in its elegant simplicity, wonderfully uniform, plastic dark-green leaves are added into the preheated Shiboridashi.

They gently, yet intensely smell of almonds, hazelnuts and fruit with slightly roasted nuance, reminding me of this year's Ureshino Tokunaga Seicha Tamaryokucha a bit. Though this tea maintains its original character, it shares the basic notes typical for high-grade Tamaryokucha.

The first infusion is then prepared with water cooled down for a while and sipped from the newest members of my tea-ware family – two little cups made by Petr Novák purchased from Slovak shop Nomad.sk, which arrived to my place today. This brew is pure, light yellow in color and expectably has the slight typical opaqueness. While not losing the roasted nuance, its taste is buttery, milky, sweet and deep with vivid umami note and numerous tones of fruit, nuts and almonds. The aftertaste is mild, yet rich and mouth-filling.

Slightly higher temperature water and shorter brewing time is used to prepare the second infusion, resulting in a yellowish, more aromatic infusion, taste of which is sharper than that of the first infusion, rich, milky and nutty with warm character. This brew is less fruity and more buttery than the first infusion, followed by long aftertaste, still lingering on tongue as the third infusion is prepared.

The third infusion maintains the sweet, buttery character of previous, being significantly less sharp; instead, it's milder; just like a harmonic, complex fruity nectar, enriched by still vivid tones of almonds, hazelnuts and milk. Its overall character as well as the aftertaste is very similar to that of the first infusion, which also seems to be quite a typical characteristic of good Kamairi Tamaryokucha.

Two more infusions are prepared with quite hot water, showing a loss of buttery, milky sweetness and umami, which are now replaced by woodsiness, last leftovers of fruitiness and vivid, though still not intruding sharpness and aftertaste which is humble and pleasant even after many brews, just as this beautiful tea itself.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

2010 “unspecified” Hadong Yellow Tea

As the days continue to get colder and colder and it already had been some time since I last saw something green outside, my demand of “darker” teas increases as well. This seems like a great opportunity to try the sample kindly given to me by Daniel Klasek of Darjeeling.czKorean yellow tea from Hadong. Daniel recently started importing more Hadong teas – apart from this one, he currently also offers two picks of Nokcha - Saejak and Daejak. He also sells some Korean ware and “The Korean Way of Tea” book – overall, this makes him the biggest Korean-tea-related merchant on Czech and Slovak market nowadays.

I've never drank this type of tea so far – I probably wouldn't even know there I something like Balhyocha, if not for Mattcha's Blog. This handmade tea comes in a generic Hadong packaging, which doesn't provide us with any info on producer, just marking that it possibly comes from smaller production.

The leaves are dark, curly, quite uniform and generally seem to be very nicely processed. Their unusual smell immediately hits my nose – vivid tones of honey, fruit, citrus, spices and countless others fragrances. In a way it reminds me of autumnal Darjeelings, though it definitely doesn't smell like one – in this case, it seems like the “Darjeeling-like smell” is just one of the numerous nuances found in this tea.

The first infusion, golden-yellow in color, offers as many – if not more - notes as the smell, being smooth, citrous, juicy, spicy and a bit like ripe apples and peaches without any trace of bitterness. It also completely lacks roasted notes which I initially expected, leaving long, yet gentle aftertaste which is a bit sour, bit sweet and very juicy and fruity.

The color seems to be a bit more brownish-yellow and deeper in the second infusion, which follows the first one in its smoothness, being sweeter, even more fruity and less citrous and refreshing. The aftertaste is drier, warmer and seems to be dominated by apples and pears.

even the sky was curious what's on the tray today

The third brew proves that this tea doesn't get any bitter even after longer brewing with water just under the boiling point, once again being brownish-yellow in color and delivering up tones of ripe fruit, honey and sweet juiciness, being generally more intense than the second infusion though also lacking the citrus tones found in the first brew. Strangely, this strong, pleasant citrus odor can still be found in the smell of leaves after the third and latter infusions, though it can not be felt on tongue.

This tea is also taken into fourth, fifth and sixth infusions, quite uniform in character with warm, fruity character with leftovers of sweetness, juiciness and dry aftertaste.

My first experience with Korean Balhyocha and I already want to try more. This tea is like no other I've drank so far; it reminds me of so much and yet is a complete original in its own way.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

2010 Kanbayashi Sencha High Grade

Snow! The weather suddenly changed few days ago and sunny, windy autumnal days were completely replaced by typical winter atmosphere with temperatures dropping under zero and whole country being covered in snow and mist – it's snowing heavily even now, as I'm writing this. Don't get me wrong, this definitely isn't complaining - after spring, winter would probably be the season I enjoy the most.

This tea is the second sample kindly sent by Calogero of Ochaya.de. Just like the first one, it was produced by Kanbayashi and originates in Uji, Kyoto.

Labeled “High Grade”, this Sencha is lower grade than Premium, being the less expensive one of two Kanbayashi teas in Ochaya offering.

Its dry leaves are shorter than those of Premium grade, less uniform and lighter in color. Compared to the Premium grade, their smell is less sweet and nutty with more vegetal tones, though still is as deep as I would expect of good Ujicha.

Brewing temperature is just a few degrees higher than that used for this tea's Premium counterpart, resulting in a light-yellow, clean first infusion, just as clear and light in color as in taste, which is buttery, deep, milky and fruity, leaving a cool, balanced aftertaste with tones of plums and vanilla. There also is a significant sweetness in this infusion, which wasn't that vivid in smell of dry leaves.

The second infusion, prepared with water of the same temperature as the first one and brewed for shorter time, has light-green color and is more opaque than the previous brew. Its taste is fuller, more intensive and with vivid note of ripened fruit, especially apples and pears. The aftertaste is milky and creamy, though surprisingly shorter than that of the first infusion.

The third infusion is then prepared with warmer water and enhanced brewing time and once again has light yellow color similar to the first infusion. The taste is light, similar to the previous brew in its fruity character and milky aftertaste, though it is generally much lighter and humblier, resembling the first infusion a lot in its clear simplicity.

This tea is then brought to one more infusion – very mild, woodsy and dry; still enjoyable, though the flavor is already quite flat.

Though this tea offers smaller range of tones and is much more simple and mild than Kanbayashi Premium, these two still have something in common – both are deep, fruity and good representatives of Uji Sencha. In my eyes, Premium is more of a “special-occasion” kind of tea, while High Grade is an ideal daily-drinker Sencha; that kind of tea which is simple, yet still won't get boring after some time.

As a bonus - have a blurry picture of today's snow in Bratislava, taken from my apartment's window few minutes ago:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

2010 Kanbayashi Sencha Premium

After a week of cold rain and weather that seemed almost like Winter was already on the way, this is one of those days reminding me that there still is a lot to love about Fall. It's sunny and windy, with this constant breeze being chilly in a positive way, molding the idyllic autumnal atmosphere.

This tea is the first of two samples kindly sent by Calogero of Ochaya.de which arrived to my place at the beginning of this month. Both of these are Sencha produced by Kanbayashi and originating in Uji, Kyoto.

Among two Kanbayashi Senchas in Ochaya's current offering, this is the higher grade, labeled “Premium”.

The package reveals very nicely processed, medium-long uniform needles, dark-green in color with typical plastic-like shine and soft, deep smell full of sweetness, nuts and ripe fruit.

The first infusion is light green in color, its taste is complex, buttery and creamy with quite warm character and tones of almonds, pears and milk, among others. Typically for high-grade Sencha, this taste is humble in its complexity and deepness; with countless notes, yet creating a perfect harmony with no tone being vivider than the others.

The second infusion, brewed in a bit warmer water for just few seconds, has more yellowish color and once again reveals buttery, warm character, now sharper and more fruity, mouth-filling and juicy with strong umami and long-lasting, intense aftertaste.

The third infusion is yellowish-green and opaque in color, more woodsy than previous infusions, piquant and strong, still warm in body with dominant tones now being slight dryness, pears and hint of pleasant spiciness. Its aftertaste is longest and most intensive of all brews.

The fourth infusion brings out mainly harsh, sour notes with dry woodsiness dominating the taste, which now lacks the remarkable sweetness found in previous infusions and indicates that this is the last brew.

After the session, this tea left my mind clear, aligned and concentrated – just as good teas tend to do.

Thanks for an opportunity to try it, Calogero.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Wood-fired Ceramic Tea Tray by Mirka Randová

Yesterday I've returned from Brno, Czech republic, where I had visited Daniel Klasek's Darjeeling.cz. My goal had been set days before this trip – as soon as I saw this tea tray in the e-shop, I knew it has to be mine.

A work by Czech potter Mirka Randova, this tray is quite big and heavy, with rough surface and overall rustic feeling. Even so, it demonstrates mastership of its creator – with no fancy garishness, it is beautiful in its balanced simplicity, in its unique spirit and energy, so typical for wood-fired pottery.

Mirka is Petr Novak's partner and co-worker and this fact can somehow be clearly seen when you put some of his works on her tea tray – they are in complete harmony, just as two parts of one set.

This Shiboridashi now even seems strangely incomplete, whenever it isn't lying on the tray – same goes with the cup belonging to it.

The tray's surface is black on the top – that kind of black which cools down in summer and warms up in winter. In contrast, the bottom maintains color of bare clay, even conducing to the overall rustic, natural look of this work, which is a key element of this piece's unique beauty.

Quietly prepared on this tray, even tea tastes better than ever.


Apart from the tray, I also received two generous samples of quite unusual teas from Daniel Klasek – some 2010 Balhyocha from Hadong and 2010 Nepal Jun Chiyabari „Himalayan Jade Oolong“. Will talk about these later.