Mary Lou had a chance to taste tea made from many of Japan’s heritage tea bush cultivars when she visited Japan in November 2012, and she also had the opportunity to visit with tea producers in the southern-most, second-largest tea producing region of Japan – Kagoshima Prefecture, on the island of Kyushu.
She was excited to discover these teas, which are different in flavor from the teas of the prefectures of Shizuoka and Uji, whose sencha teas historically provide the base of the Japanese tea industry (and that we, too, sell the most of). It is always a pleasure for us to visit tea producing villages or regions and learn what it is about their cultivation and manufacturing methods and their terroir that makes their tea distinctive from other teas in that same country or geographical region.
This tea is a flavorful blend of fresh leaf from a single-varietal tea bush cultivar that grows particularly well on Kagoshima – the Asatsuyu varietal. We asked one of our tea suppliers which of the many cultivars that grow on Kyushu was particularly unique and this was the recommended finished tea. One taste and we had to have it! As many of you have known, we have also had, in the past (as a direct result of ML’s trip) a Sencha from Kyushu that was a blend of two different cultivars (which is much more usual) but this year we again have this delicious and unique single-varietal tea for you to enjoy.
Another special attribute of this tea is that because the gardens are located at a much lower lattitude the leaf can be plucked much earlier in the year than the leaf can be in the gardens on Honshu. This provides a fun ‘sneak preview’ of the upcoming Japanese tea harvest!
Great tea blends are sometimes the result of endless fiddling and tweaking with particulars like tea cultivars, time of harvest, and in the case of Japanese green tea, whether or not the leaf was shaded in the garden while it was growing, and the amount of steaming that the fresh leaf was given when it entered the tea factory. There is also something very special about a varietal when it ‘just works’ as a distinctive product of its terroir. We have many single-varietal Senchas from our friends at SOTFU later in the year, mostly packed in the traditional, Japanese 50 gram pouch. – link to our tea from Shizuoka –
In this case, our Sencha Kagoshima Sunshine is given Futsumushi steaming, which, our tea mentors advise us, is an unusual level: in-between light steaming and medium steaming. It allows the fresh, vegetal flavor of the tea leaf to come through in the taste while it tones down the grassy notes. This seems to be the favored steaming for leaf that has been grown in the predominately volcanic soil of Kyushu. When Mary Lou arrived on the island years ago it was already night-time, and luckily her hosts warned her that the volcano was quite close to the hotel, because when she rose in the morning and opened the curtains – WOW – right there in her face was a huge volcano … Good Morning Sunshine!! This is why we name our tea from Kyushu ‘Kagoshima SunShine‘.
Also, our Kagoshima SunShine is a shade-grown tea, which is a cultivation method widely used throughout Kagoshima. What does this mean? Well, during the growing season the tea bushes are covered with a type of mesh cloth that shades the tea bushes (and tender new leaf growth) from the sun. Shading alters the natural ratio of chlorophyll in the tea bushes and encourages the leaf to produce more amino acids that affect ‘sweetness’ in the fresh tea. Shading is done in other parts of Japan for Gyokuro and the leaf that will be processed into Matcha, but rarely for Sencha.
So an accumulation of small differences such as these can, in tea manufacture, when combined with major influences such as the effects of environment (which all add up to be “terroir’) yield unique results and distinctive character.
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