2018 Sencha Iwasaki Hand-picked Yabukita green tea

Sencha Iwasaki Hand-Picked Yabukita

$32.00

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Green Tea

 

Sencha Iwasaki Yabukita

 

Organic: Shizuoka Organic Tea Farmers Union (SOTFU)

 


Jien-cha:
completely farmer grown and processed tea
Tea Farmer: Mr. Iwasaki Jr.

 

Hand-Picked
Grade: Ichibancha
Oxidation: none
Manufacture: steamed and oven-fired (baked)
Steaming Method: Asamushi

 

Appearance: Uniformly large, deep green color
Flavor: Clean and pure vegetal flavor with no sharpness
Aroma: Deep, rich and enticing
Liquor: Pale yellow, tinged green

 

Ryougouchi Tea Harvesting Area
Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan

Hand-Picked
2018 1st Spring Pluck Ichibancha
(May, June)

Japan makes many styles of green tea, and each type requires its own steeping parameters. It is easier to mis-step with Japanese green tea than it is with Chinese green tea because Japanese green teas are more sensitive to water temperature and length of time in the water. Sweetness/astringency in Japanese teas can be influenced by steeping technique. It is important to know for each tea you have what water temperature and steeping time is appropriate.

The reason for this is that premium, spring-plucked Japanese green tea contains a large amount of amino acids and a lesser degree of tannin, which is what makes a tea bitter. Steeping Japanese green tea in cooler water encourages the amino acids to release into the steeping liquid, but not the tannins.

 

We follow our mentor Mr. Saito’s instructions for steeping Japanese green tea and he has been spot on.

 

However, we decided to see if we could come up with two different measurements of tea – one for those who like their Japanese green tea lighter and another for those who prefer a fuller dimension of flavor.

What was interesting is that the tea did not become astringent when we used 4 grams of leaf (twice the usual amount).  In fact, the larger quantity of leaf brought a more complete fullness of flavor to the liquor without any bitterness. We tried this test with all the tea from the Shizuoka Organic Tea Farmers Union, and found that across the board these two measures worked beautifully.

 

And for us, Bob preferred the tea steeped with 2 grams of leaf while I preferred the same tea made with 4 grams of leaf.

 

Steeping Instructions:

 

Use a generous 2 teaspoons (2 grams) or 4 teaspoons (4 grams) per 4 oz water
(this leaf is quite bulky for a Sencha)

Steep 1-2 infusions at 1 minute each
Water temperature should be 170°F – 185°F
(depending on your preference)

 

Re-steeping:

 

Japanese green teas can generally be re-steeped with delicious results.

We recommend:

4 ounces of water cooled to 160°F
1 minute re-steep
Steep as many times as you can until the flavor is diminished.

This tea is classified as Jien-cha, a term that means that it has been grown, processed and packed by a tea farmer.

This is an uncommon situation in Japan regarding tea. Most Japanese tea is manufactured in a small or large tea factory by a company that does not own its own tea gardens. Instead, the factory purchases aracha (stable, semi-processed leaf) from various tea farmers and blends different lots of aracha together to arrive at the flavor that they want. These teas are sold under the label of the tea company and the origin of the tea is usually unknown to the consumer.

While it is unusual for a tea farmer to process his own tea, this is an accomplishment that Mr. Saito and the other members of the Shizuoka Organic Tea Farmers Union are proud of. Jien-cha gives them total control over the finished tea, and also allows them to put all their years of knowledge about tea cultivation and manufacture into making truly delicious artisan tea.

Mr Iwasaki Jr has come close to perfection with this tea.

This very special, hand-picked sencha is made from the leaves of the Yabukita cultivar, the most widely grown tea bush cultivar in Japan. But very little of the leaf for Sencha is hand-picked these days. As this leaf shows, it is very different to prepare tea with leaf that has been hand-picked as opposed to the normal Japanese method of ‘shearing’. The many elements of terroir such as soil, climate, etc, the level of steaming, and the skill of the tea farmer during manufacture come into play to make any premium tea unique, however when the tea maker is starting with hand-picked, single-cultivar leaf the bar is raised significantly.

This is a carefully-made sencha with a clean, fresh flavor that is ever-so-pleasantly ‘vegetal’ without any sharpness. This tea is a beautiful, even, dark green color. Very large, uniformly-full leaves show off the hand-picking and expert handling during manufacture.

The tea liquor is pale yellow tinged green, which shows a high amino acid content. The fragrance is fresh and lively – and brings the mind back to a sparkling early spring morning.

While Yabukita varietal often shows moderate body, this hand-picked leaf has a full body that is deep and smooth. The maturity of the flavor of this batch is outstanding, and we are more than pleased with Iwasaki Jr’s efforts at tea-making again this year. He has crafted a gem!

Those who enjoy Japanese sencha understand that Sencha is traditionally a blended tea and that the core elements of terroir including tea garden location and tea bush cultivar conspire with the factors of steaming and rolling and firing during manufacture to create the the many varied tastes of each particular sencha. However these elements are brought together in most sencha manufacture by the split-second choices made by the tea blender/buyers while tasting samples of ‘aracha’ at the tea market because it is normally all about the blending of several different lots of leaf.

When a tea maker decides to craft his tea from a varietal leaf, everything changes. Local tea bush cultivars can be ‘heirloom’ varieties while others are new cultivars that have been developed by one of the Japanese government’s tea research institutes or by educated and experienced tea farmers such as Mr. Iwasaki and his son. This hand-picked leaf is from a pluck of 100% Yabukita cultivar, so is much more challenging to manufacture. Instead of being able to adjust for the elements that it has or does not show by blending various different batches of leaf, the goal is to have the leaf be as perfect as possible off the bush and then during the steaming, preparation and manufacture the goal is to bring out a balanced and unique overall flavor profile. This tea does that incredibly well.

One interesting aspect of this tea is that it is made with leaf picked from bushes that received damage not too many years ago and have been carefully tended by Iwasaki Jr. His goal was to revive the bushes back to their former glory and maintain the integrity of this Yabukita stock in the family gardens in Ryougouchi. We think that he has succeeded masterfully.

Background on our relationship with Iwasaki and his family:

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 Shinobu Iwasaki. He has been an organic tea farmer for many years and his son is now following in his footsteps.

For this season (2018) Mr Iwasaki, one of the original ‘Four Musketeers’ of SOTFU, wanted to show us examples of the current work of his son who is just now really becoming a masterful tea farmer. Known to his friends and colleagues as “Junior”, he is following in his father’s footsteps and will at some point be in charge of the tea garden.

The family gardens are in a region known as ‘Ryougouchi’ which is of historical importance regarding tea manufacture in Japan. This region was traditionally one of the premier locations for tea gardens, but at one point fell into disrepair. Because of the efforts of tea farmers such as the Iwasaki family this area has reclaimed its reputation as a first-class tea-growing region in Shizuoka Prefecture.

We were offered two teas from the Iwasaki family’s tea gardens this season and, on tasting them, accepted both of them without hesitation!

Want to know more?

Shizuoka Organic Tea Farmers Union