Wednesday, October 27, 2010

2010 Horaido Sencha Jin

This is another traditionally stored Horaido tea from Peter Stanik of This time, I decided to take a closer look on one of those less commonly seen, side-products of standard Sencha and Gyokuro production – Jin.

Sencha Jin, as well as all other Horaido teas mentioned on my blog, comes from Uji and was traditionally stored until the beginning of October, when the Kuchikiri no Gi ceremony took place in Kyoto.

To Sencha (as well as Gyokuro, though this is not the case), Jin is what Tamacha is to Tamaryokucha - comprising mainly of the smallest, top leaves and tips, rolled and rounded during procession and therefore resembling grain in shape, while still maintaining the dark-green, plastic shine, typical for most Japanese green teas.

As for the smell, this tea has tones of flowers, pines and herbs, though this scent is somehow lighter and softer than smell of regular Sencha.

The first infusion demonstrates difference of this tea's character from more common Sencha and Gyokuro, not being that sweet, harmonic and deep and instead being generally lighter, more flowery and herbaceous in taste. Yet, this tea is surprisingly vivid, strong and intensive, creating aftertaste which is long, seaweed-like and literally fresh, just like modern Japanese Sencha after harvest - tone which I haven't found in any Horaido tea I've tried so far.

The second infusion is golden-yellow in color and maintains strong, vivid taste, which is now a little bit astringent, full yet still light, flowery and with aftertaste that remarkably lingers on the tongue for a long time.

The third infusion once again reminds me of seaweed, with moderate astringency and simple, somehow flat character, still being light and herbaceous.

One more infusion is made of this tea, though it isn't much different from the third one – herbaceous, astringent, flat and not at all deep, nutty nor sweet. Quite a simple tea.

I have to say that this isn't really the type of tea I prefer to drink – that would probably be the deep, nutty character, which can be found in Gyokuro, Kabuse and high-grade Sencha. Instead, this is a simple, basic grade of Japanese green tea, which may be good as a daily, though I have bigger favorites even in this category.

I'm not saying it's bad; it just isn't that much of my type of tea.

Friday, October 22, 2010

2010 Horaido Gyokuro Fuuki

This is the second of 2010 Horaido teas, which were traditionally processed and stored until October in Kyoto, mentioned on my blog. After beginning with Sencha, I've chosen to try Gyokuro Fuuki – of three Horaido Gyokuros I got from Peter Stanik, this is the middle grade. According to Horaido description, citing, “High grade Gyokuro. With fine rich taste and aroma. We recommend this tea for the first try to Gyokuro. It is very popular Gyokuro in our shop.” though this by any means is not my first Gyokuro, it, for a reason which remains unknown to me, was the first one to subconsciously catch my attention among these samples.

The package reveals leaves which are very dark, almost blueish-green in appearance, shiny and shorter than Asamushi Sencha leaves; typical appearance for high grade Gyokuro. Their smell is rich, heavily deep and just like sweet milk cream with decent tones of blackberries, ribes and even caramel.

I decided to prepare this tea in a traditional way, as, in my opinion, it really deserves this kind of treatment. This means that quite a big amount of leaves is brewed in minimal amount of 45-50 Celsius degrees lukewarm water (Horaido even recommends 40 degrees) for two to five minutes. I choose the middle way, brewing it for four minutes, preparing two infusions.

The first infusion, being yellow in color is, up to the expectations, very thick, having a consistency comparable to that of oil. The taste is heavily intense, hitting tongue in the first second with all of its numerous tones and nuances, most vivid of which are deep sweetness, milkiness, nuttiness similar to that of almonds and a note of ripe fruit; all kinds of fruit. It has all the qualities typical for traditionally stored Gyokuro, with freshness replaced by deep, noble fullness and absolutely no bitterness. It however still is somehow lighter in character than most regular types of Gyokuro, or at least seems so to me – possibly the reason why Horaido recommends it as a “starter” Gyokuro for those who don't have much experience with this type of tea yet (though I believe it would be a “cultural shock” to such person even so – Gyokuro always seems to be). Still, this lighter character definitely isn't a minus, but instead just makes this tea more distinct and impressive.

The second infusion is brewed in water which is a bit warmer than the first one (55 degrees) and even smaller in cubage – just enough to cover the leaves. It seems greener in color, is less thick in consistency as well as taste, which is lighter, more flowery yet still creamy, sweet and deep with long aftertaste, which can be characterized as the umami itself – it's often said that Gyokuro is the embodiment of this taste and I cannot disagree.

After the session, I suddenly felt very hungry – another thing typical for Gyokuro and one of the reasons Japanese almost always serve something sweet with tea. These teas have a big impact on tummy and should never be consumed on empty stomach – this pertains all Japanese teas, but can be especially noticeable on Gyokuro and Matcha.

My mind hasn't been so calm – calm and vigilant at once - for a long time; another impact of this, without any doubts, beautiful tea, which brightened this beautiful, sunny autumnal day even more.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

2010 Horaido Sencha Miyako no Midori

Kuchikiri no Gi is a traditional ceremony hold every year on the first Sunday of October in Uji, Kyoto. After this day, teas which were left for ripening since the spring harvest are taken out of the storage, as autumn is considered to be the season when Japanese tea is in its best.

Nowadays, it isn’t easy to find teas which are processed like this, being stored until October. One of the most famous tea shops in Kyoto, specializing in such traditional exquisite teas, is Horaido, established in 1803.

I’ve got seven samples of 2010 Horaido teas from Peter Stanik, owner of the newly established local shop He normally specializes in puerh and yixing ware - these teas therefore aren’t in his regular offering, but seemed to be more of a one-time import.

Among the samples I got, this is the lowest grade of Sencha; in Horaido offering, it’s labeled as medium. For a Sencha of this price, the dry leaves are unbelievable – dark green, shiny, plastic-like and wonderfully processed long needles – in one word, beautiful. They have a vivid, deep smell which is nutty, creamy and reminiscent of high mountain pines – very intense, yet not at all obtrusive aroma.

The first infusion is yellow in appearance, pine-like in smell and very fine, distingue in taste with nutty milkiness and refined umami. It’s heavy in character and can literally be felt in stomach after drinking, just like after eating a warm, sated soup.

The second infusion, brewed in water of the same temperature for just ten seconds is a bit more greenish in color and even more vivid in taste, with pine tones present not only in smell, but, this time, also on the tongue. This tea not only looks like fir-needles, but also tastes and smells like it – just like a whole forest in my room, filled with pines and spruces.

A little bit warmer water is used on the third infusion, which is a bit sweeter than the second one, though the deep, pine tones still dominate the taste along with nutty, heavy creaminess and milkiness.

The fourth infusion still demonstrates the complexity of this tea, not being bitter nor astringent at all while still maintaining tones of coniferous trees mixed with nuttiness, which, however, is already less intense, being followed by somehow dry woodiness.

One more infusion is made of this tea, still surprisingly more enjoyable than expected.

After finishing the session, I honestly feel like having a walk in some woodsy mountains.

This tea has all the characteristics of traditional Ujicha which I enjoy so much – for the price of 1200 yen for 100g, it’s no wonder that this is the most popular Sencha in Horaido shop, as stated on their website. This kind of deep, creamy pine-like character is quite typical mostly for higher grades of Uji Sencha – this, however, is a middle grade according to Horaido’s classification, which indicates that there really is a lot to look forward to in the rest of teas I’ve got.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

2010 Spring Fujian Anxi Huang Jin Gui

To diversify this blog a bit, here is a tea which is neither Japanese nor green – instead, this is a lightly oxidized and lightly roasted oolong from Anxi, Fujian, southeastern China.

Sample of this tea was gladly received from

Leaves of this Huang Jin Gui look quite typical for lightly oxidized oolong, comprising mainly of small ball-shaped and curled leaves, which are mostly light green in color and generally quite similar to lighter, modern versions of Tie Guan Yin. Smell is very sweet and creamy with scent of various flowers, including the expectable Osmanthus.

Being brewed in water cooled down just a bit, the first infusion is golden-yellow in color and quite simple in taste, matching the smell of dry leaves well – flowery, creamy sweet yet fresh and juicily.

The second infusion is more milky and silken with tones of honey and berries. This brew also shows the slight roasted note of this tea, which are in harmony with its fresh, flowery character.

This note also echoes in the third infusion, where the slightly roasted character blends with lighter tones of Osmanthus, meadow flowers and long, fine piquant aftertaste.

The fourth infusion is once again dominated by honey in taste, though the color is less golden and a bit greener than in all previous infusions. It’s creamy and smooth with touch of decent astringency in aftertaste.

Several further infusions of this tea are then enjoyed, being gradually weaker in taste and more unvaried in overall character, though still drinkable to that extent that I don’t want to stop pouring hot water on these leaves.

Even after the last infusion is gone, sweet honey character of this tea lingers in my mouth for a very long time and doesn’t seem to disappear.

I always enjoy looking at leaves of good oolong after the session – unbroken, even and well-sorted. This tea, of course, is no exception.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

2010 Ureshino Tamacha

Autumn is already in its full-strength in Slovakia, expressing itself by rainy, windy days and cold nights. Even though this definitely isn’t the best possible weather for green tea with all of its freshness, I’m going to continue posting about these teas, though I also drink significantly higher amount of oolongs and teas with warmer character in general these days.

Still, I won’t give up Japanese green tea just because of autumn and winter (Moreover, Kuchikiri no Gi took place today, so it's somehow even seasonable).

Tamacha comes from Ichibancha harvest, picked around the town of Ureshino in Saga prefecture of southern Japan. It’s quite a novelty and one of those lesser-known, untraditional teas, brought to Czech Republic by Teamountain. Last year, I had a chance to try it as well and I really enjoyed its pleasant simplicity – something I’m also expecting of this year’s version.

Most obvious difference from all other Japanese teas can be noticed on the shape of dry leaves, majority of which have a form of small, hard dark-green balls, slightly reminiscent of lighter Taiwanese oolongs. Apart from these, there is also a significant amount of “non-ball” leaves, which are quite curly and similar to typical Tamaryokucha, proving that Tamacha is pan-processed.

This tea gently smells of sweet almonds, combined with fresh fruit, particularly white grapes. Adding these leaves into the preheated Shiboridashi, this smell slightly intensifies, though it still isn’t that deep, massive aroma which can be found in some (mostly Fukamushi) teas, but instead a subtle, delicate and enjoyable scent.

First infusion is very light and transparent in color as well as the taste, which is soft, light and humble yet very harmonic. It lacks the deeper tones often found in higher grade teas, though in this case, it definitely isn’t a minus.

Second infusion is already a bit more intense in taste and color, result of the way Tamacha is processed – being curled into small balls, which gradually, yet slowly unroll during the infusions. It tastes of almonds, hazelnuts and, most surprisingly, raspberries.

In contrast to other Japanese green teas, third infusion is the most flavorful of all, as all the balls are now unrolled, ready to get out everything they have. It maintains its nutty and fruity character, being followed by mild, yet noticeable milky aftertaste.

Fourth infusion is a bit harsher than the third one, but it still maintains all of its pleasant, light tones.

This tea is also taken into fifth infusion, which reveals more roasted, bread-like character of its taste, somehow typical for latter brews of Tamaryokucha.

Similarly to last year’s version, this is a simple, yet complex untraditional tea, being much lighter and literally less heavy than most Japanese green tea. It’s refreshing, enjoyable and, being really inexpensive, has much more to offer than the price can imply.