Friday, September 23, 2011

2011 Kagoshima Sencha Asanoka Kirishima

This is the second of two fresh Japanese Teamountain tea I've ordered from – while I've been familiar with Ureshino Kamairi Tamaryokucha as it is a stable part of TM offering, this one is completely new. It looked very promising from the beginning and I was personally looking forward to tasting it a lot - now, after quite a few of sessions with this unusual tea, I have finally managed to take some photos and transform thoughts into notes.

First thing that caught my attention was the description of this tea itself – hand-picked, Asamushi (light-steamed) Sencha grown in former Makizono town near Kirishima mountain in Kagoshima, Kyushu by quite a well-known producer Mr. Nishi, whose teas are often participating in various competitions. Moreover, this tea is made of Asanoka cultivar – one of the newer, less common varietals cultivated in southern Japan. Asanoka is said to be a crossbreed of Yabukita and some Chinese cultivar from Jiangxi and is characterized by its mildness and umami, therefore being suitable for production of shaded teas – I remember seeing Kabusecha made of this varietal, but this is probably the first Asanoka Sencha I've ever came across.

Packed in a beautiful white bag typical for most high-grade Teamountain Japanese teas, these shiny, dark-green leaves are a little bit more fragmented than usual light-steamed teas, though there is a lot of beautiful, long and narrow needles among them as well. Their smell is very soft, fresh and sweet, reminding me of young peas – that kind of mild, fresh and lively sweetness.

When placed into the preheated Shiboridashi, this smell gets stronger, sweeter and deeper, being slightly reminiscent of shaded teas, such as Kabusecha and Gyokuro.

The first infusion is completely transparent and beautifully jade-green; its smell is light, fruity and noble while its taste is full of umami, creamy sweetness, milkiness and freshness. It seems like this Sencha stands out of all the fresh Japanese teas I've tried out so far this year – it's very mild and full at the same time and has a vivid umami base very similar to that of young peas – both in smell and, even more pronouncedly, on tongue. This Sencha truly has some characteristics typical more for Gyokuro than Sencha; the already mentioned umami and deep sweetness, among others. Its aftertaste is long, light and yet mouthfilling, quite milky and fresh. Also notable, this tea has a non-negligible effect on mind and body, but not too strong – it slightly awakens the senses and makes mind focused, though, at least in my case, it isn't the suitable-for-work kind of focus – rather than that this tea seems to make mind better focused on the tea itself, somehow even enhancing the session.

The second infusion is brewed with slightly hotter water for only five seconds and is still very transparent, more yellowish-green and sharper in taste, fruity and still sweet. The creamy and milky tones are a bit weakened and covered by new tones reminiscent of fresh, wild strawberries and white grapes, together with once again dominant note of young peas and umami. The aftertaste is longer, sharper and more mouth-filling that that of its predecessor, now being more typical Sencha-like rather than having similarities to shaded teas.

The third infusion emits vivid green color with slight jade-like undertones. Its taste is milder than that of the second brew, though it also partially lacks the vivid umami and milky sweetness, now being dominantly fruity and a little bit spicy. Its taste is refreshing and, literally, very green, while the aftertaste is a bit shorter and less pronounced than before, also mainly fruity and sharp.

The last infusion is still beautifully green in color and completely transparent, while its taste is comprised of woody, sharp and slightly astringent tones with only a short aftertaste – still very enjoyable and refreshing, though.

So far, it seems like this unusual Sencha has become my personal favorite among all the 2011 Japanese teas I've tasted so far. While I can't say that the other teas were of any significantly lower quality, this one just stands out, being different and unconventional. There are, though, still a lot of teas to try; considering the fact that this is obviously a strong year for Japanese tea, there still is a high chance I will come across, at least, equally interesting and likable teas – I can't wait for it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

2011 Ureshino Kamairi Tamaryokucha

I've been traveling quite a lot during the second half of august and, luckily for me, had enough time to drink teas at such amazing places as a meadow inside a pine forest, surrounded only by green hills and a couple of good friends. Originally, I intended to take some photos of these sessions and share them on this blog, but I ended up just enjoying these moments and surroundings, documenting them only with my own eyes and mind. Looking back, I think it was a good decision.

Meanwhile, new teas arrived – thanks to their preciseness, started offering some fresh Teamountain teas to Slovak tea-lovers almost immediately after they were listed available on TM website.

This year, Teamountain's Japanese teas arrived significantly later than usual – caused mainly by the Earthquake and its consequences and the fact that big part of their offering used to consist of Shizuoka teas from Mr. Katahira's farm, which, unfortunately, they decided not to sell this year. However, first wave of these teas is finally here and, so far, it seems like it really was worth the wait.

This Kamairicha from Ureshino has been a stable part of Teamountain offering for quite a few years and it's the most basic Tamaryokucha they offer – this being said, it still is a high-grade, hand-roasted tea made of Yabukita cultivar.

Its dry leaves are a bit less uniform than those of competition grades of this type of tea; even though, they are good-looking, curly and vivid green in color. They emit a strong smell, which is soft, fresh and a bit nutty.

The first infusion is light green in color, transparent and very aromatic. Its taste is similar to the smell in a way that it is vivid and soft at the same time, being milky, fruity, very nutty and sweet with fine umami tone. Almonds and sweetness are the dominant tones in aftertaste, which isn't long, but very pleasant nonetheless. This brew also seems to have nice, gentle awakening effect on mind, making it calm, simple and yet sharp, just as the tea itself.

The second infusion is poured off immediately as the water touches the leaves and is lively green and a bit opaque. Being more mouth-filling and pronounced than the previous brew, it's dominated by notes of fruity sweetness and umami, followed by unusually fresh, cooling feel on tongue and a roasty, nutty touch in aftertaste, which is now longer and sharper.

Similar intensive green color shows up as the third infusion is prepared, now a bit less sweet and more refreshing and sharp, reminding me of freshly picked young green apples. The nutty tones of almonds and hazelnuts as well as the previously vivid umami are still detectable, though they now seem to be quite covered over by the fruity, fresh character.

One more infusion is prepared with freshly boiled water, cooled only for a very short amount of time. It shows the complete departure of former sweetness and milkiness, being sharp, refreshing and a bit astringent. The aftertaste is simple, having the same pronounced character as this infusion's taste.

Judging from this humble, pleasant Kamairicha, this is a promising year for Ureshino. I'm looking forward to encountering other teas from this region soon – hopefully also the competition grades of Tamaryokucha, which I really grew quite keen of during the last season.