Saturday, August 28, 2010

2010 Sencha Tenryu Tezumi Baraki (“wild bush”)

It seems like autumn has already started; temperatures dropped down to just about 21 degrees, accompanied by stronger wind and frequent downpours. Even though, I still am in a mood for cool, spring teas from Japan.

This is the second of two extraordinary Japanese teas I purchased via Slovak shop Tealand. This time, it isn’t a Kuradashi (aged) tea, but fresh Sencha, labeled by its distributor as the “absolute top of this year’s season of Japanese tea”.

This tea comes from garden of well-recognized producer Oota Masataka, being hand-picked only from wild bushes (Baraki) of Yabukita cultivar on 26 April 2010 in Tenryu, Shizuoka. Only few kilograms of this tea were produced, though I’m not sure about the exact number.

Dark-green needles, once again beautifully processed, just a bit shorter than leaves of another competition grade Sencha I’ve talked about before, Marukyu Koyamaen Sencha Unjyo.

They smell heavily of fruit, vividly fresh, though less deep than Sencha Unjyo from Uji – quite typically for top-grade Shizuoka Sencha.

First infusion is pale-green in color, soft and gentle in smell as well as the taste. From the first sip to aftertaste, it maintains light, fruity tones, creamy sweetness and noble, though only subtle umami note; this tea is humble in its flawlessness.

Although the second infusion is darker-green in color, it still maintains all soft, humble tones of its predecessor, being enriched by somehow spicy, yet favorable aftertaste.

Third infusion smells vividly fruity and a bit sour, almost like white grapes juice. Taste of this brew is surprisingly most intense and strong of all infusions, yet still not at all bitter. This strong, full-bodied impression even intensifies in aftertaste, pleasantly lingering on tongue.

This tea also produces still enjoyable fourth infusion, though it already is dominated by woody, astringent tones and vivid sourness.

After the session, some leaves are eaten as well – they are soft, sweet and humble yet juicily, somehow similarly to the infusions it produced before. Once again, tea leaves my mind clear and calm.

Tea in Liptov

As I have already said in my previous post, I spent five days out of the city, in a beautiful region of Liptov in northern Slovakia, just close to High Tatras mountains - surrounded only by nature and good friends.
This is going to be a picture post rather than informative, as I have this strong need to share at least a bit of atmosphere of this wonderful place.

photo by Martin Hatala, a friend of mine

First day, I found my favorite spot for tea drinking - quite a big grass-field, located on small hill. This is the look-out from this grass-field, draped in morning mist.

There is nothing better than good Japanese tea, consumed in a place like this.

Lying in the grass, just with tea, sun, breeze and silence.

Just a few minutes of walk from the place when we resided, you would find Kvačianska valley. There were few traditional Slovak wooden houses in this place, including historical water-mill.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Kuradashi Kabusé Tezumi Yabukita 2005

I’m leaving Bratislava again tomorrow.

This time, the destination I’m heading to is a lovely little village in the midst of woods, located close to Slovakia’s highest mountains, High Tatras. I already can’t wait, as the place is known for its breathtakingly beautiful and untouched nature and, therefore, also is an ideal place for tea drinker. I will spend one week there, with only limited (or, more likely, none) connection to internet.

Other than that, this small package arrived to my place today – containing two bags, both filled with quite uncommon Japanese teas. These two teas come from offering of local shop Tealand, both of them come from Shizuoka and are hand-picked (Tezumi), though they come from two different famous producers – one from Yutaka Katahira and the other one from Oota Masataka. This post is going to be a closer peek on the first one.

As some of you may remember, this Kuradashi (aged) Kabusecha comes from the same producer (and same cultivar as well - Yabukita) as the one I drank on my last trip to Brno, Czech Republic. This one, however, has been aged “only” for five years; in contrast to Kuradashi Kirara Kabuse Yabukita, which has been aged for 12 years.

Whole production of this tea is just 600 grams (about 21ounces).

After opening the package, what I can see and smell is no surprise – in a good way, of course. Beautiful, shiny dark-green needles show highest quality of processing, perfectly handled aging process and great care this tea was made with. They smell of sweet fruit and milk – intensely and refined.

Being steeped in lukewarm water for quite a long time, first infusion is pale yellow in color and has, similarly to smell, taste which is mild and vivid at the same time, with distinct umami tone, deep sweetness and a little bit spicy aftertaste.

The second infusion, prepared shortly after the first one, is golden-yellow in color, though the infusion is still quite pale. The taste is even more intense, being very complex, deep and milky with most fruity tones receding. This is, in my opinion, the best infusion, as it represents all that I expect from top-quality Kuradashi tea.

Third infusion is already prepared with water which is a bit higher in temperature, though still far below the boiling point. It has a rich, noble astringency and very intense aftertaste, being most vivid of all brews.

This tea is also enjoyed in fourth infusion, which is mild and astringent, though still surprisingly pleasant and specific.

After the session, my mind is as calm as it rarely is; this tea truly is a gem.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

2010 Sencha Unjyo by Marukyu Koyamaen

Another cloudy day.
Though many people would say this isn't exactly an ideal weather for Japanese green tea, I drink it all the time - days like this are no exception. Perhaps this green, cool freshness can bright up the overall unpleasant mood, caused by weather outside.

This tea was kindly given to me as a sample to try by’s owner. They are the only company in Slovakia (as well as in Czech republic) that sell Marukyu Koyamaen teas and though this one isn’t in their offering, it was packed in last shipment from Marukyu Koyamaen as a gift.

I have already talked about Marukyu Koyamaen in many of posts on this blog, so here’s just a short introduction – famous company located in Uji, Kyoto, “the birthplace of Japanese tea”, as it’s often called, being established sometimes in Genroku period (16881704). Since then, the company has won numerous prestigious tea competitions all over Japan, including first prizes at The All-Japan Competitive Tea Exhibition nineteen times.

Unjyo is the second highest grade they offer and has also competed at the All-Japan Tea Competitive Exhibition.

First obvious sign of very high quality of this tea are dry leaves. Beautiful, straight dark-green Asamushi needles in absolutely perfect condition; condition which clearly implies that this is a competition grade Sencha.

They smell just like I would expect from this grade of Sencha – noble, fruity and sweet, yet unobtrusive, mild and with no unpleasant tones at all.

First infusion is vividly deep, nutty and milky in taste and, for a Sencha, has quite a distinct umami tone. As with smell, there are no unpleasant or unwanted tones in taste of this tea.

Second infusion is prepared with warmer water and left brewing for just a short while. Resultant beverage is just as vivid as the first one, being a bit sharper and fresher in taste, while maintaining all milky deep tones and wonderfully strong and long-lasting aftertaste on tongue.

Third infusion is steeped for the same time as the first one, just with a bit warmer water. It still is deep and milky to some extent, though these tones are already being suppressed by the fresh grassiness typical for further infusions of good Japanese teas. The aftertaste is also a little weaker than before and already shows slightly bitter tones, which however still are pleasant and noble.

One more infusion is made with water just below the boiling point and long brewing time, though this tea has already delivered up all it had. This infusion is therefore just a nice memory of all previous.

This tea was enjoyed from the very beginning to the very end, from dry leaf to its wet counterpart. Thanks once again for an opportunity to try it.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

2010 Kabusé Okuyutaka Kari

I made a little pause between my travels and came back home from Czech republic for a few days – it isn’t a long way at all, just one and half of an hour by train from Brno to Bratislava. Meanwhile, the weather here has calmed down and finally stabilized on delightful 25 degrees Celsius. It seems like new spring is being born outside – after two weeks of terrible heats and one week of heavy downpours and thunderstorms, flowers are growing again in large quantities and are now in their blossom – very enjoyable to watch and feel.

This Kabusé is one of two fresh Ichibancha teas I bought in a teahouse in Brno. It comes from offering of Martin Špimr’s Teamountain, which, from all my previous experiences, is a synonym of good tea. This tea is made of Okuyataka cultivar – quite uncommon and rare in some way. It was produced in a village of Nunosawa, Shizuoka and possibly comes from farm of Mr. Katahira, who already is a well-known producer for me and probably also for readers of this blog, though I’m not 100% sure about this, as Teamountain gives no information on producer on their website in this case.

Long, shiny, dark-green and narrow needles in perfect condition – that’s what you find after opening the package. They are really quite dark in color, resembling Gyokuro more than Sencha. This tea is prepared in my new Shiboridashi made by Petr Novák, as it fits it perfectly – and, moreover, thanks to high quality of processing and care these leaves received from producer, they won’t require the thick strainer of my good old Kyusu.

These dry leaves have very soft, sweet and noble smell, which is at least as wonderful as their look.

After being brewed in almost lukewarm water, they produce an infusion which is light-green in color and very deep, sweet and pleasant in taste. The umami is very vivid, once again greatly resembling high-grade Gyokuro. There is one exception, however – this fresh, light and fruity tone, so typical for good Sencha.

Second infusion is being prepared with just a bit warmer water and shorter brewing time. The tea now is brighter green in color, while its taste and smell are now more Sencha-like. There still is a distinct umami tone, though. Yet, this infusion is very fruity, complex and strong, full and deep on tongue and is followed by strong aftertaste with tones of ripe apples and plums.

Third infusion is also very fruity and already leaves most of the vivid Gyokuro characteristics behind. It still is very complex in mouth, with aftertaste even stronger than before. There still is no unwanted astringency or bitterness in this infusion.

Fourth infusion is already lighter in color and whole character, though still being very pleasant and maintaining many positive qualities of previous brews. Fifth infusion is made after this one, being similar to fourth, just with less fruity, noble and deep tones and more of woodiness and a bit of grassy feeling.

After this last brew, leaves are still lively-green and full of life; big part of them is therefore eaten with same pleasure as I drank the tea made out of them. These leaves are very sweet and tasty, still demonstrating high-quality of this tea.

Also a small note on the teaware I used - this little, cca. 80ml Shiboridashi with cup is the first work by Petr Novák in my collection. Until now, I never used his teaware, apart from few teacups in various teahouses in Czech republic - I always have been just admiring his works on internet, mostly on
After using this set for three times, I can already say that it immediately became my favorite tea-brewing device. It not only is pleasant to watch and touch, it also fits in hand perfectly and is very functional, with great pouring action. I also appraise that thanks to its elevated edge, it doesn't burn fingers at all and, therefore, is very easy to manipulate without unnecessary effusion.
Great work, Petr, keep it up.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Brno and its tea

As some of you may remember from my previous post, I am currently staying in a charming village near Brno, the second largest city of Czech republic. Apart from large and really interesting city center, castle and cathedral, Brno has much more to offer - especially to tea-lover, as it hosts more high-quality teahouses than any other city around.
I visited three of them in last few days. Each had completely different, unique atmosphere, different tea menu and different selection of teaware - thing I'm interested the most every time I visit this city, as I thing there are many great ceramists in Czech republic, blending traditional Czech and Moravian pottery with strong inspiration from Japan and Korea - the results are unbelievably pleasant to watch, touch and, in most cases, use.
Today, I was in mood for some really special experience, so I visited teahouse called Probuzený Slon, which is well-known by local tea-lovers and offers mostly teas from Martin Špimr's Teamountain and Zdeněk Prachař's Longfeng, which are, in my opinion, possibly two of best tea-distributors in Europe - or Central Europe, at least.
I am sorry for bad quality of photos, but they were taken with mobile phone in quite dark room.

I ordered really special tea - Kuradashi Kirara Kabuse Yabukita 1998. They serve higher grade teas like this in this teahouse, with small kuysu and thermos of hot water, which is, in my opinion, ideal serving and should inspire many other teahouses to do so as well. You may also notice the small teacup in lower right corner, which seemed to be Petr Novák's work.

This unique aged tea comes from farm of Mr. Katahira, from whom I remember drinking this year's Shincha - wonderful tea as well.
This Kabuse was left to age for 12 years. Now it's the right time to try it.

The first infusion. I used 65 degrees hot water and brewed this infusion for one minute. This method gave me very light-yellow infusion with intensive smell. Then, I tasted it - unbelievably complex, milky, rich and heavy taste, with vivid tone of quince fruit. This tea is like no other Japanese tea I've ever experienced; it was completely different than any Kabuse, Gyokuro or anything else, from infusion collor to smell and taste.

The second infusion is being brewed. I made four infusions overall, though I enjoyed the first and second one the most.

After savouring this special tea and relaxing a bit in teahouse's nice atmosphere, I made a small purchase before leaving - buying this Shiboridashi and teacup made by Petr Novák and two fresh 2010 Japanese green teas - one Sencha from Yame and Kabuse Okuyutaka Kari from Shizuoka.
Will post more about these teas and teaware in near future.
Until then.