In 2012 Mary Lou was asked to visit Japan with an international group of tea experts, on a trip to meet with a variety of tea farmers and evaluate the tea market and explore new export potentials for premium tea farmers. In Shizuoka Prefecture she met with a group of farmers who were united in their desire to grow premium tea organically and to attempt to continue to grow some of the more unusual cultivars that many farmers have ceased to maintain. Mary Lou affectionately gave these farmers the moniker of the “Four Musketeers’ of Shizuoka premium organic tea. We have developed a strong relationship with this group in the years since, and their tea has been amazing. One of the farmers in this group was Minoru.Iizuka. He has been an organic tea farmer for more than 40 years now, and his eldest son, Iizuka Jr was just starting to follow in his father’s footsteps when Mary Lou visited with them.
For this season (2018) Mr Iizuka, one of the original ‘Four Musketeers’ of SOTFU, wanted to show us an example of the current work of his son. Known to his friends and colleagues as “Junior”, he has really come into his own as a tea farmer and manufacturer in the last decade. The family gardens are in a region known as ‘Fujieda-shi’ which is of historical importance regarding both green and black tea manufacture in Japan (for those who follow Japanese tea gardening and manufacture).
We were offered two teas from the Iizuka family’s tea gardens this season and, on tasting them, accepted both without hesitation!
This tea, a superb Fukamushi Sencha, is special for many reasons: the history of the location of the gardens, the long history of the family in this region, the depth of commitment to organic farming, the knowledge and experience of the family regarding tea cultivation and manufacture, all of which combine to realize the over-all goodness of the leaf being produced.
Junior’s Fukamushi Sencha is very full-bodied, as one would expect with a fukamushi steaming (see below), but what is so special about this tea is the balance that Junior has achieved between the body and the flavor. Many fukamushi sencha teas become all ‘mouthfeel’ and little taste because of the deep steaming and its affect on the chemistry of the leaf. Some Japanese tea producers include a small amount of deeply-steamed leaf in their blend to provide body, but it is rare for a tea that is completely a fukamushi steaming to have such exquisite flavor.
Junior has started with the most traditional of the Japanese cultivars, the Yabukita variety of tea bush, and given it a perfect deep steaming. The finished leaf is therefore a deep dark green, chopped to the traditional fine-ness for quick, easy steeping. The particles have the beautiful mottled coloration that deep steaming can provide when done perfectly. The flavor is classically pure and straight-forward – fresh, deep, smooth, and sweet. The aroma is solid and balances nicely with the flavor and color. The aroma is also fresh, and bright – and teases the palate to expect the flavor that follows.
The steeped tea liquor is a cloudy medium green (the cloudiness is a by-product of the fukamushi steaming) and is the perfect visual for the incredibly well-flavored tea that it is.
A note on the meaning of the term ‘fukamushi’ as it applies to tea production:
On entering the tea factory, all fresh leaf in Japan that will be manufactured into green tea undergoes a short period of steaming. While there are 3 or 4 specific levels of steaming possible (depending who you ask in Japan) the steaming step (which is one of the largest influences on the taste of Japanese green teas) determines what style of sencha each batch of tea will be. The steaming step is also one of the principle reasons (among many) as to why Japanese green tea tastes different than Chinese green tea.
Fukamushi refers to the longest period of steaming – it lasts for 120-150 seconds depending on the preference of the tea maker (and this may vary throughout the season). Sencha in this style has a rich and soft , buttery taste. This level of steaming tones down the fresh green vibrancy of early-plucked leaf, and creates a harmonious, delicious tea that has abundant umami.
Essentially this is sencha for tea lovers who like their tea rich, smooth and vegetal; full in the mouth; and with rounded edges and very little astringency.
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