Up until my recent success with sencha, my favorite type of Japanese tea has been kukicha, or karigane. (It is my understanding that karigane is simply a snazzy way of saying kukicha). Various people had suggested that I try some of the tea at Hibiki-an, and with the imminent arrival of a new kyusu dedicated solely to Japanese green, I decided it was time that I did.
Hibiki-an is a tea farm in Uji, just south of Kyoto, owned by the Yatsui family. Uji is the oldest tea growing region in Japan, and a historically interesting place. The latter chapters of The Tale of Genji, one of the worlds first novels, were set in Uji. Uji is also the home of Tsuen, Japan's oldest teashop, and of Sohen Nagatani, who developed the steaming process used to make sencha in 1738.
I'll skip the brewing parameters this time. I'm still experimenting a bit, and the reviews are from my overall experience with these teas, rather than from a single session.
Tea: Sencha Karigane
Origin: Uji, Japan
Year: 2007 Ichiban (First Flush)
Price: $20/200 g.
The sencha karigane was very good, but I was a little under-whelmed by it. My regular kukicha comes from Shizuoka, and its quite sweet; I am very fond of it. I was hoping that by purchasing this tea direct from the farm, I would get something that was even better. In the end I think my high expectations spoiled this one for me. The aroma is still wonderful though, and the tea is clearly fresh. I'll come back to it when I've finished off the gyokuro and give it another chance.
Origin: Uji, Japan
Price: $19/100 g.
The aroma and flavor of this tea is amazingly crisp. Crisp is the single word that comes to me every time I smell or taste it, like biting into a fresh vegetable or an apple. At first I didn't care for this much, but it is growing on me fast. Its kind of sweet and smooth. I took a whiff of the wet leaves, and it was like walking into a produce valt, very fresh, vegetal, and crisp.
Of the two, I prefer the gyokuro to the sencha. The gyokuro karigane is rather unique and bold, while its sencha counter-part isn't as enjoyable as what I'm used to.