Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Shizuoka Sencha Hatsumi

Some may have noticed that in spite of my fervid interest in Japanese teaware, there is a certain lack of posts or reviews concerning sencha. Well, I have been drinking it; I just haven't been prepared to write about it. The thing is I didn't like it. I wanted to, but it was never enough for me, not as soothing as Chinese tea, nor as sweet as kukicha. I thought it was kind of bland. During the whole time I was experimenting, my fellow tea-enthusiasts were raving about O-cha, so I knew sooner or later I would have to buy some tea from there to see if the problem was that I honestly didn't like sencha, or if I was simply buying the wrong stuff.

The problem was I didn't like the owner, Kevin; the guy got under my skin, and I was not inclined to send him my money. I say this not to sound petty, or to besmirch O-cha or Kevin, but to make it clear that the lavish praise I will soon bestow upon his tea is not idle sycophancy. When I say that the Hatsumi is the best sencha I've had, the first one that I not ony liked, but enjoyed and perhaps love, I have to swallow a certain amount of pride to do it. Thankfully I have some wonderful tea here to help me get it down.

Tea: Sencha Hatsumi
Origin: Shizuoka Japan
Year: 2007
Vendor: O-Cha
Price: $24.95/100 g.

(Take a second to marvel at the price. I just did the math. If you get 22 first infusions out of one package, that's $1.14 each. But you also get 4-5 solid infusions out of each serving, which means some of the finest Japanese sencha, shipped direct from Japan, costs about a quarter a cup, cheaper than many teabags).

About 50 percent of the tea grown in Japan comes from Shizuoka Prefecture, an area that is south of Fujiyama and southwest of the Greater Tokyo Area, historically notable for once being the home of Tokugawa Ieyasu. For more about tea production in Shizuoka, take a look at this video from the Discovery Channel.

The tea is well packaged, nitro-flushed and shipped in a foil bag.

When I first tried the Hatsumi last week, I was disappointed, but I had some help with the brewing parameters, which improved the tea greatly. I use 4.5 grams for 7 oz. and start with 175 F for 2 minutes, increasing the temperature and time for each brew. By the fifth infusion, I use boiling water for 4-5 min.

The aroma of both the dry leaf and the tea is amazing, rich and fresh and green, the benefit of buying tea direct from Japan. The liquor is fairly consistent, a bright green that is slightly cloudy for the first infusion or two.

This is one of the few teas that I can regularly drink five infusions of without getting bored. I'm on my tenth for the day. It starts off soothing yet with an astringent finish, sort of lingers on the tongue. By the third infusion the the astringency is gone. With the fourth I start to notice a natural sweetness that is more pronounced in the fifth and final infusion.

If you like to know about the wet leaves, they, like all sencha I've seen, become a goopy mess.

This truly was an amazing tea, I'm only sorry it took me this long to buy it. I look forward to trying the Miyabi and Yutaki Midori next.

Thanks should go to Chip from Teachat and O-Cha's forum for helping me with the brewing paremeters.


Hobbes said...

Thanks for the review, very interesting!

I always think the practice of quoting the "price per cup" of gongfucha-esque tea and then comparing it to the cost of a low-price teabag is a touch specious, though, if you don't mind my saying. It's impossible just to buy a single cup of the good stuff (there is a minimum number of infusions) and one seldom brews more than a single cup of a teabag. Several vendor web-sites do this in an attempt to justify what initially appear to be high prices, and I often feel a bit uneasy reading it. :)



Space Samurai said...

Good point, and perhaps I got carried away with the math. Even so, really good tea can be remarkably inexpensive.

Salsero said...

Great review, Space. It's got all the elements of great drama, and a tea review as well!

How much of your new affair with sencha can be attributed to the Hatsumi and how much to the changed brewing parameters?

BTW, I've been religiously doing 1.5 m, 30 s, 30 s with sencha. I've never tried the Hatsumi from O-Cha, does it really benefit from the much longer brew times?

Anonymous said...

Very interesting parameters Space... Because you're using so much leaf you certainly are a lover of the Japanese leaf...

As a rule, starting out, I use roughly .6 grams per ounce for Japanese sencha. There are some sencha's I use as much as 1 gram per ounce but those parameters are only for the sencha's that demand it. I'm surprised you start out with 175F. I never go over 170F ! But your brewing time is identical to me for Hatsumi that isn't shincha. 2 minutes is perfect.

You should try 165F - 170F and see if you like the tea even more that way. Though, I always preheat the pot.

Obviously, your change in parameters had a positive effect on your liking for this tea. You should probably try these parameters for sencha you get anywhere. Sencha is one tasty tea and if not prepared right, will leave a very false impression.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I should add, that I don't ever go over 170F on a first infusion for sencha, but 175F on subsequent infusions is often perfect.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... are colors in the dry leaves picture correct? Certainly not polished deep green tea leaves.

Space Samurai said...

To anonymous: The pictures only alterations I make to my pictures are cropping and re-sizing. The color has not been altered in the least, so yes, its right.

Salsero: I like my sencha strong, realy strong, so you might be happier with your current parameters.

Hell, I might be happier with your current parameters, I'm still very new at sencha.

Salsero said...

Wow, everybody's got opinions about sencha!

What kind of sencha inspires you to ratchet the dose up to 1 gr per ounce? Stale? Har, har, har!

The color of sencha both in the leaf and brewed used to strike me as weird and artificial looking compared to other greens. The Japanese really developed something unique in their tea.

Anonymous said...

It is some colorspace/calibration issue.
The colors did look odd at home with my SRGB calibrated Eizo. With this uncalibrated 9300K crt (at work) leaves look deep green enough.
(but not shiny/polished).

Anonymous said...

Salsero. Fukamushi superior from Hibiki, I find the flavor at its best with 1 gram per ounce

That is basically the only one now. However, last time I tried their sencha premium, it was very light. I will also try that one at a gram per ounce. Other than that, generally 3 grams per 5 ounces is my way.

You know, so many people brew their sencha so differently. And, regarding the "artificial look" on the contrary. I think sencha makes the most beautiful looking cup in the world.