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Japanese Green Teas - Sencha, Gyokuro...and more,


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#1 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 17 October 2008 - 07:14 AM

While I have been drinking a few Senchas over the last few years, I have recently been interested in learning about other Japanese green teas. I had a Kukicha and two Machas last month at the T-Bar Club of The Cultured Cup last month and look forward to trying Gyokuro in particular.

What Japanese Green teas have you tried? What are your experiences with vendors of Japanese Green teas in your local area or based in Japan? Do you have any you recommend?

#2 nakji

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Posted 17 October 2008 - 07:21 AM

Last week I was in the Sogo department store in Yokohama looking at the selection in the Ito-en booth there. I couldn't afford any then, but I'm looking forward to going back and picking some up next week. I've heard the teas from Shizuoka are supposed to be good.

I like houjicha (roasted tea), which I often buy if I'm in Asakusa. There's a touristy tea shop there that roasts their own tea - every time I come out of the train station, I can smell it, and I can't walk by without buying a bag. I also really like genmaicha (tea with roasted rice), which I started drinking when I lived in Korea. Both make excellent bracing cups of tea for first thing in the morning.

#3 mikepetro

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Posted 17 October 2008 - 09:10 AM

What Japanese Green teas have you tried? What are your experiences with vendors of Japanese Green teas in your local area or based in Japan? Do you have any you recommend?

View Post


I have found that Japenese vendors are far superior to deal with, and generally more economical, than domestic vendors.

Be sure to factor in the shipping cost which can be significant, and calculation methods vary widely amongst the vendors. Even with shipping, quality for quality, the offerings from Japan are usually less expensive than domestic. Also the base prices for Japanese vendor teas are usually VERY indicative of the quality, with very little hype, in other words you are paying for the tea and not some BS story as is common with domestic vendors.

The vendors I have used, in no particular order, are:
http://www.hibiki-an.com
(very decent tea and fair pricing)

https://shop.ippodo-tea.co.jp/shop/en/
(very highly recommended)

http://www.kaburagie...sh/index_go.php
(high end, national competition winning teas)

http://www.tsuentea.com/engindex.htm
(great quality, supposedly will have a shopping cart soon)

There are a few more that I like but I will have to wait until I get home to find them.

I am partial to Shincha which is the first harvest of the season, I usually buy a kg or so of Shincha Sencha in the spring and then nitrogen pack it myself into one week portions. When the nitrogen flushed packs are kept refrigerated they will maintain their freshness quite well through the rest of the year. For details on nitrogen flushing see my pictorial here http://www.pu-erh.ne...php?StaticID=12

I also like genmaicha but I blend my own using the shincha and maicha (toasted rice) from a local Japanese grocery store.

Matcha is stupendous and an art unto itself. I prefer the thick matcha to the thin. Ippodo sells very good matcha, I usually get the second to the best as at the level the small difference in quality doesnt justify the price difference.
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#4 mikepetro

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Posted 17 October 2008 - 06:21 PM

What Japanese Green teas have you tried? What are your experiences with vendors of Japanese Green teas in your local area or based in Japan? Do you have any you recommend?

View Post

The vendors I have used, in no particular order, are:
http://www.hibiki-an.com
(very decent tea and fair pricing)

https://shop.ippodo-tea.co.jp/shop/en/
(very highly recommended)

http://www.kaburagie...sh/index_go.php
(high end, national competition winning teas)

http://www.tsuentea.com/engindex.htm
(great quality, supposedly will have a shopping cart soon)

There are a few more that I like but I will have to wait until I get home to find them.

View Post


OK, the other two I find very noteworthy is:
http://www.maiko.ne.jp/english/
(great tea and Dr Faerber will go the extra mile to educate you)

http://teashop.jp/
(site is Japanese only but you can run it through a translator, great tea, great service, and they can communicate via email in English, although tricky to pay with a CC)
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#5 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 19 October 2008 - 08:15 PM

Last week I was in the Sogo department store in Yokohama looking at the selection in the Ito-en booth there. I couldn't afford any then, but I'm looking forward to going back and picking some up next week. I've heard the teas from Shizuoka are supposed to be good.

I like houjicha (roasted tea), which I often buy if I'm in Asakusa. There's a touristy tea shop there that roasts their own tea - every time I come out of the train station, I can smell it, and I can't walk by without buying a bag. I also really like genmaicha (tea with roasted rice), which I started drinking when I lived in Korea. Both make excellent bracing cups of tea for first thing in the morning.

View Post


Thanks, nakji. Let us know what Ito-en teas you get and how you like them.

#6 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 07:51 AM

What Japanese Green teas have you tried? What are your experiences with vendors of Japanese Green teas in your local area or based in Japan? Do you have any you recommend?

View Post

The vendors I have used, in no particular order, are:
http://www.hibiki-an.com
(very decent tea and fair pricing)

https://shop.ippodo-tea.co.jp/shop/en/
(very highly recommended)

http://www.kaburagie...sh/index_go.php
(high end, national competition winning teas)

http://www.tsuentea.com/engindex.htm
(great quality, supposedly will have a shopping cart soon)

There are a few more that I like but I will have to wait until I get home to find them.

View Post


OK, the other two I find very noteworthy is:
http://www.maiko.ne.jp/english/
(great tea and Dr Faerber will go the extra mile to educate you)

http://teashop.jp/
(site is Japanese only but you can run it through a translator, great tea, great service, and they can communicate via email in English, although tricky to pay with a CC)

View Post


Thanks for the recommendations, Mike. I was aware of hibiki-an and Ippido, but the others are new to me. I'll check them out.

#7 Gregory Glancy

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 01:01 PM

Has anyone tried the Kuradashi Gyokuro that Hibiki-en has been talking about for a while now?

I'm very intrigued by the concept of an aged Gyokuro and would love to hear some opinions and thoughts.

Greg
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#8 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 28 July 2009 - 05:48 PM

Has anyone tried the Kuradashi Gyokuro that Hibiki-en has been talking about for a while now?

I'm very intrigued by the concept of an aged Gyokuro and would love to hear some opinions and thoughts.

Greg

View Post


I am curious about this, too. Here's a link to the Kuradashi Gyokuro that Greg mentioned. Does anyone have any experience with this?

#9 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 28 July 2009 - 08:44 PM

Organic Uji Hachiju Hachiya Gokujo Sencha (2009)
Harvested by Harima Organic Green Tea Farm
Grown in the Uji region of Japan
"100% first pick leaves picked on the 88th day of spring (hachiju-hachiya).
JAS and USDA Certified
Yuuki-cha.com

This gyokuro-like sencha is a challege to brew and I would not recommend it to someone starting to explore senchas. Not that it's bad; it's just too much work and potentially discouraging when there are easier, more accessible ones available.

That said, it's interesting in that organic Japanese green teas are still fairly scarce and this one is brewed like a gyokuro. The brewing suggestion from yuuki-cha.com is 6 gr per 2 ounces water at 140 F for the first and second infusions, then for the third infusion shorter time and more water that is hotter.

I am brewing it better after four sessions, but think I can tweak it a little more. The third and fourth infusions have been rather consistently better than the first two, which have had a more vegetal quality that evolves into a more pleasant asparagus note by the third.

Anyone else drinking the 2009 harvest Japanese green teas?

#10 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 29 July 2009 - 08:49 AM

I asked Dan at Yuuki-cha for advice about brewing the organic sencha from Uji in the post above. He wrote back in an email ---

The brewing suggestion we supply will give you a very "full" first infusion. To some this might be too intense. I would suggest that you increase the water volume. However, too much water will have an impact on the fullness of flavor. First, try 120ml/4oz per cup then increase or decrease it from there. For the other parameters I would recommend the following ranges:
60-65C
1 1/2 - 2 minutes.
start with 6g of leaf (2-3g extra per cup)

It's probably the trickiest sencha we offer the others are fairly straight forward. I highly recommend the Yabe Supreme. It's very easy to brew and it has a very enjoyable, agreeable, distinctive taste.
Organic sencha in general brews well at 1 gram of leaves per 1oz of water at around 70°C (apart from gokujo sencha). Start with 6g of leaves from the get go (no less), and you will be on your way to enjoying organic sencha. Probably the biggest mistake people make with organic sencha is using too much water and not enough leaf!

I hope that helps a little.



#11 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 09 August 2009 - 05:07 PM

I'm getting a little better with the challenging gyokuro-like sencha from Yuuki-cha.com. I've been tweaking the leaf:water ratio and think i may be able to improve my brewing a little more, but rather consistently the third and fourth infusions are favored by me and those I have served it to. The first is the least liked.

Posted Image

#12 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 10 August 2009 - 02:01 PM

Ah ha! I finally got it right. I switched to a larger Banko teapot and brewed 7.5 gr in a little over 5 ounces of water. And poured 150 F water into an unheated pot, rather than 140 F water into the pre-heated smaller pot shown above. The first infusion is now pleasant. I think the sour component was too much for my taste on previous sessions.

Using about half the capacity of this larger 10.8 ounce pot is working better for me at this point than using a little over half the capacity of the 4 ounce pot.

Posted Image

#13 helenjp

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Posted 10 August 2009 - 07:31 PM

Haven't yet seen (=haven't looked) new harvest teas, but that "tricky" sencha looks very interesting indeed.

I will look out for the new tea, because the weather this year has been very trying for most summer crops, but possibly quite good for tea - lots of rain and overcast weather both before and after monsoon season, and warm but not blisteringly hot. Avoiding mold on harvested leaves might be the biggest challenge, but for a "cool" summer, we haven't had the really low temps we had back in 1993, so I expect that leaf crops have grown fairly steadily.

#14 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 21 August 2009 - 06:49 PM

I ordered a newbie sample pack from denstea.com. Small 10 gram loose leaf samples of Sench Fuka-midori, Genmaicha Extra Green (with Matcha), Organic Sencha and Houjicha Gold --- along with a paper tea filter to use as a fillable tea bag, as well as tea bag samples of Genmaicha Extra Green and Sencha. $3 shipped. So not much to lose if you want to explore Japanese green teas.

I'll post about each of these after I brew them.

#15 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 21 August 2009 - 07:22 PM

I mostly drink chinese teas, and am a little wary of green teas because of their propensity to turn bitter if I am the slightest bit careless with their brewing. I mostly drink green teas as jasmine or other flavored blends.

I've not sought out japanese green teas because I'm afraid I'll end up with a bitter cup, especially the powdered versions where you're supposed to consume the entire leaf rather than just steep it. But after playing with some barely oxidized green oolongs that are absolutely bitter-free, I'm ready to try some more greens again.

What would you recommend as a gentle introduction to japanese green teas, for a green-tea-phobe?

#16 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 21 August 2009 - 08:24 PM

Green teas simply may not fit your time and your brewing style. Most Japanese green teas will turn too bitter if over-brewed. You could try using a kitchen timer, of course. That's what I do for brew times over those I count out to myself, usually anything over about 30 seconds.

That said, I would suggest a roasted green tea - a houjicha - as a starter, especially since you like traditionally roasted TGYs. As you can see in the Houjicha Tea Tasting & Discussion, it tolerates a wide range of brewing parameters - 175 F, okay; 185 F, okay; 195 F, okay. So you might try starting with a lower temperature if you are likely to get distracted by something else. I'll bet you like it. It's delicious and really hard to abuse.

#17 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 21 August 2009 - 10:09 PM

I ordered a newbie sample pack from denstea.com. Small 10 gram loose leaf samples of Sench Fuka-midori, Genmaicha Extra Green (with Matcha), Organic Sencha and Houjicha Gold --- along with a paper tea filter to use as a fillable tea bag, as well as tea bag samples of Genmaicha Extra Green and Sencha. $3 shipped. So not much to lose if you want to explore Japanese green teas.

I'll post about each of these after I brew them.

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I brewed from the the Den's 5 gr Houjicha sample following the directions in the flyer included in the box. One teaspoon for 8 ounces for 15 sec with boiling water. A pleasant but much thinner result than previously with other Houjichas brewed for 1 - 2 minutes in the 175 - 195 range. So I'll try this one in a similar manner next.

#18 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 21 August 2009 - 10:13 PM

Green teas simply may not fit your time and your brewing style.

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Or rather, lack of style!

I do have my thermometer, and a good timer, and teapots, and sometimes time enough to use and enjoy them. It's also an excuse to buy a nice handmade japanese teapot, which is clearly a good thing.

#19 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 21 August 2009 - 10:50 PM

WmC, I use a glazed Japanese teapot for roasted Japanese teas like Hojicha and Genmaicha, so that the strong flavor does not affect the unglazed clay of teapots used for Sencha and Kukicha. Before getting the unglazed pots, I used a glazed one for everything. You could use a ceramic pot or your glass pot, too, to get started.

#20 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 21 August 2009 - 10:54 PM

I will start with a glass pot, unless a nice glazed pot grabs my attention when I go to wing hop fung tomorrow.....

#21 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 21 August 2009 - 11:04 PM

Here's an example of a Japanese kyusu side-handle teapot that is glazed on the interior. I have seen similar ones that are taller rather than flatter. Either will work, but the taller ones allow for a little more usable volume.

#22 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 25 August 2009 - 08:57 PM

I picked up an ounce of Matcha Genmaicha (toasted brown rice and powdered green tea), Shizuoka Japan, from The Cultured Cup last week. With the addition of Matcha powder, this version of Genmaicha is richer and green teaier than a Mariage Frères Genmaicha I got at the same time. In the latter, the toasty aroma and flavor dominates.

The directions on the zip package suggest "2g/1 tsp, 175 F, 1 - 2 minutes" and these directions are based on 6 ounces of water. But 1 measuring teaspoon of this tea weighs about 3g, so I decided to try 6g with 6 ounces 175 F water in a pre-warmed open kyusu for 2 minutes. Then a second infusion for 40 seconds. In the first the Matcha was primary and on the second infusion the roasted rice flavor became primary. Next time I'll consider cutting the first infusion back to one minute to see if the second infusions will have more green tea flavor without holding it back too much on the first infusion..

#23 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 25 August 2009 - 09:36 PM

how do you get a 2nd infusion when using matcha powder? Don't you drink all of the powder with the tea? Or use a really fine strainer?

Edited by Wholemeal Crank, 25 August 2009 - 09:38 PM.


#24 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 25 August 2009 - 09:43 PM

If I was making Matcha in a chawan (Matcha bowl), yes I would drink the powdered leaf, but this is Matcha powder mixed in with the toasted rice and then brewed in a kyusu and poured into a cup. It makes a murky olive green tea liquor and some powder gets through of course.

#25 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 09 September 2009 - 02:20 PM

I ordered a newbie sample pack from denstea.com. Small 10 gram loose leaf samples of Sench Fuka-midori, Genmaicha Extra Green (with Matcha), Organic Sencha and Houjicha Gold --- along with a paper tea filter to use as a fillable tea bag, as well as tea bag samples of Genmaicha Extra Green and Sencha. $3 shipped. So not much to lose if you want to explore Japanese green teas.

I'll post about each of these after I brew them.


Brewed the Den's Sencha Fuka-midori today. 2.9 g (I was aiming for 3.0 g, but this is close enough for internet tea drinking, isn't it?) in 5.5 ounces of 175 F water in a (not pre-heated) Banko kyusu. First infusion 1 minute, second infusion 30 seconds. Both were smooth with no astringency or bitterness, slightly more vegetal and sweeter on the second infusion. Also a little thin on the second infusion, so I think I could have gone another 10 seconds or so. I'll go to 90 seconds on the third infusion, but I don't think this Fuka will give much beyond that, which is okay.

#26 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 13 September 2009 - 07:53 PM

Adventures in Gyokuro Brewing

Gyokuro is considered to be the highest level of Japanese green tea and is expensive due to the special treatment it gets before and during harvest. The tea plants are shaded during the weeks leading up to the picking in order to make the leaf sweeter. I decided to buy a small portion of a Teance Uji Gyokuro at Central Market because it was convenient and I could buy a very small amount. Enough to learn on before going on to Gyokuro that I have more confidence in as to quality and freshness.

The teance.com site provided useless generic Japanese green tea brewing instructions. So I consulted a few sites that I am familiar with for ideas and the brewing sessions I'll be reporting on over the next day or two are based on my feeble attempts to follow these rather different sets of directions.

All the following brewing sessions used a Kuromatsu Tokoname teapot made by Tokoname craftsman Gyokko, Britta filtered water, a scale, a thermometer and a kitchen timer. The teapot holds 120 ml (4 ounces) to the rim, but only 2 - 3 ounces for brewing. The obiama 360 degree filter screen is very effective at holding back the leaves while letting the tea liquor through without clogging, but very slow pouring is helpful.

Kuromatsu Tokoname teapot made by Tokoname craftsman Gyokko
IMGP0573.JPG

IMGP0585.JPG

Obiami Filter
IMGP0587.JPG

For my first session I winged it, loosely making up a brewing sequence based on what I recalled from visiting several vendor sites recently.

2.5 g leaf, 2.0 - 2.5 ou water with pre-heated teapot and cup
1: 120 sec, 140 F - more vegetal than sweet
2: 120 sec, 160 F - better balance, but thin
3: 60 sec, 150 F - sweeter, liked this infusion the best

Then I decided to attempt to follow specific vendor instructions as closely as I could, while also knowing that their Gyokuros may well brew differently than this one from Teance by way of CM.

This brewing session was based on directions on denstea.com which says: 2 - 4 ounces water, 2 teaspoons leaf, 140 - 160 F, for 2 - 2.5 minutes. Those are directions that cover quite a bit of brewing territory, and do not address later infusions, so I chose these parameters, based on past experience with a gyokuro-like sencha --

The 2 teaspoons weighed in at 2.7 g.

1: 2.5 min, 140 F, 2 ounces water - asparagus-vegetal, slight astringency, then creamy mouthfeel emrges with sweetness
2: 2.5 min, 140 F, 2 ounces water - creamy mouthfeel, sweet assparagus, slight astringency, very slight bitterness
3: 1.0 min, 150 F, 3 ounces water - sweeter, less vegetal, less astringency, nice.
4: 1.0 min, 150 F, 3 - 3.5 ounces water - reduced flavor, but still some ceaminess and vegetal sweetness

Yuuki-cha.com has an interesting approach to brewing suggestions - three brewing methods, different in important ways: the 3 minute method, 2 minute method and the beginner's method.

The beginner's method. That sounds like me, but Yuuki-cha Gyokuros are organic and organic Japanese teas typically require twice as much leaf as the non-organics, so I decreased the leaf from 6 g to 3 g to 2 ounces (60 ml) water. The second and third infusion parameters were based on past experience with a gyokuro-like sencha.

1: 90 sec, 140 F, 2 ounces (60 ml)water - asparagus, mild astringency, thinner than previous method on first infusion, very pleasant
2: 90 sec, 140 F, 2 ounces (60 ml) - veggie more than asparagus per se, a little sweet and some mineral
3; 60 SEC, 150 f, 4 ounces (120 ml) water - nice sweet-vegetal balance

I think it would be worth trying that same sequence with 4 g leaf instead of 3 g.

Gyokuro dry leaf, grassy aroma
IMGP0570.JPG

Gyokuro wet leaf after first infusion
IMGP0612.JPG

Gyokuro tea liquor from first infusion
IMGP0604.JPG

Gyokuro wet leaf after third nfusion
IMGP0627.JPG

More to come.

#27 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 13 September 2009 - 10:58 PM

This is quite an odyssey. The water temps are so low that I'm surprised any bitterness comes through that.

#28 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 13 September 2009 - 11:21 PM

The temps will go even lower on some of my next sessions.

I do need to add that I found small print instructions on the Central Market label for the Teance gyokuro: 3 tablespoons, 8 ounces water, steep for 1 minute at 140 F in glass or porcelain teapot. I may try that after the others, but it looks like a bit of a brief infusion for 140 F based on my experience with this leaf so far.

#29 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 14 September 2009 - 11:02 PM

This is quite an odyssey. The water temps are so low that I'm surprised any bitterness comes through that.


Almost no bitterness at any point. Astringency, just a drying sensation in the mouth - yes. Since I drank so much in a short period of time, I have to assume that some astringency accumulated over the infusions, so that some of the astringency I detected would be less or little if I was just doing one brewing of this Gyokuro.

#30 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 14 September 2009 - 11:36 PM

I should note also that I have no way of knowing if the Teance Uji Gyokuro from CM that I am learning on is the same Uji Gyokuro on the Teance site, since it is $195/lb at CM and $56 for 2 ounces on the Teance site. Didn't buy a pound of course; less than $10 gave me plenty to play with.