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Richard Kilgore

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

170 posts in this topic

Really seeing a difference between the grades now?

That's an interesting question and one I considered going in to exploring senchas and gyokuros. As I have tried a few of each, read more and picked the brains of tea people in Japan, it has become clearer that we can look at it as a matter of levels of quality, but it's really more complex -- organic vs non-organic, one green tea growing region compared to another, and even somewhat different styles from farm to farm within a region. Then add to that the effects of different clays used in the kyusu teapots...and maybe even the clay the teacup is made of. The final result - the aroma and taste - is formed by many factors.

I'll post an in-process summary soon to sketch this out in more detail, but I am sure I am just scratching the surface. Fortunately, going further will require more tasty field research.

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As a follow up to my last post where I mentioned that even the clay of the teacup may effect the taste of the tea: yesterday I was doing more gyokuro exploration and discovered that the yunomi I got on sale from a chain tea store was negatively impacting the tea. I poured the Organic Asahina Gyokuro Tsuyuhikari gyokuro from yuuki-cha.com out of the Banko and into the chain store yunomi or a relatively neutral fine porcelain tea cup and the difference was not at all subtle. I may have to re-order this gyokuro, as well as using the Organic Gyokuro Karigane, to continue some of my testing of the effects of brewing and drinking vessels using various materials and methods.

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After a particularly pleasing few cups to start the day, I am going to have to add some japanese green teas to my regular tea rotations. The roasted Bancha houjicha was not nearly as interesting as the sencha teabag in my sampler from denstea.com. I detected almost no bitterness, lots of sweet, and the liquor had a wonderful body. From what I'd been reading, I was expecting something more like a dragonwell, but this was much more to my taste, with hardly any bitterness.

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A little later, brewing some loose-leaf sencha fuka-midori, 2 grams in a 100mL gaiwan for 1 minute, it looked like dragonwell and brewed like it too--nutty, astringent, bitter, little of the sweetness that was so overwhelming from the teabag version. A second cup brewed for 30 seconds and diluted to about 5 ounces with water of the same temperature was much better, but now I get how tricky this is to do just right.

Not sure if the first bagged sencha was a different tea, or just beginner's luck. Plus the bag packaging doesn't list the grams of tea, and it's broken up, so different infusion performance shouldn't be surprising.

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Try, try, again....

1 gram of the sencha fuka-midori in the 100mL gaiwan, with 160 degree water for 30 seconds, was much better. Still, more astringency/bitterness than in the bagged tea. Will be very curious to see whether this is the same mix of tea as in the bagged version or not--have sent an e-mail to inquire.

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A safe ratio as a starting point for sencha is often considered to be about .6 g to an ounce, so I have to think it is astringency rather than bitterness with only 1 g to about 3 1/2 ounces of water. The first infusion is going to be more astringent and often times the sweetness emerges on infusion 2 or 3 for me. I think I have some of my sample of this tea and I know I did not brew the tea bag, so I'll do that tomorrow.

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First ever gyokuro today, gyokuro kin from my first order from denstea.com.

1 gram of leaf to 160 degree water, about 6 ounces in my little glass teapot, steeped 40", 60", about 90".

40"--sweet, mellow, almost no astringency or bitterness, also little aroma.

60"--similar, but can detect a little astringency, still very light aroma.

90"--losing the thick sweet sensation, this should be the last infusion--still quite nice, however.

This is a wonderful way to start the day.

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Wanted to be sure I didn't end up with bitterness, figured too short was better than too long for the first infusion. And it was so nice that I went on from there.

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Hi everyone :)

I was wondering if anyone has any experience with "unconventional" brewing of Japanese teas.

A few days ago, I went to an international exhibition of natural products, where I bought some grade 1 matcha tea from this producer. There were a couple of Japanese people there (I later learnt that one of them was the general manager of Jona) who were giving sample tastings of their products. To cut a story short, they were "brewing" matcha in cold water (and I mean fridge-cold) - a chashaku shot in a teapot with water, a quick whisk with a chasen and they were done. I tasted it, and it was very good. I was impressed. The color was amazing, and the fact that it dissolved completely in cold water was a bit of a surprise. I had only had matcha at tea-tasting events and tea cerimonies and for some reason I thought it only dissolved with heat. So, the man suggested brewing some to carry around during the day, and that's what I've been doing since: I fill my one-liter bottle with water, a couple of chashaku shots (I haven't been very precise and haven't weighed the exact amount), I give everything a good shake and I'm good to go. This also solves the various problems I have with brewing tea at work. the only thing I noticed with this "method" is that the tea tends to deposit in the bottom of the bottle, so I need to shake it every time I pour a cup (a glass, actually - I like to drink cold tea in a glass rather than a cup). It keeps well, but the color tends to be a tiny bit off at the end of the day, the taste is still good, but not as "vibrant" as it is when I first make it.

The gentleman also suggested doing the same thing with gyokuro - he said 12-15 min brewing should do it.

Does anybody have any experience or comment to that? I would gladly accept any suggestion :)

Interesting, Alessia. Never heard of this technique before. I may not be following this accurately, but it sounds like you are saying the matcha initially dissolved in cold water, but then deposits in the bottom eventually, correct?

I'll try this when I order matcha next month, and also try it with gyokuro in the next week or so.

Richard, well, most of the matcha dissolves and stays that way, I guess just a little fraction of it deposits in the bottom after a while - but keep in mind that I prepare a "big batch", so to speak.

I tried some gyokuro in cold water, but I have to adjust brewing times. Let me know if you're going to try it.

:)

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Wanted to be sure I didn't end up with bitterness, figured too short was better than too long for the first infusion. And it was so nice that I went on from there.

Two minutes for gyokuro is not over-brewing, so you're not going to get "bitterness". You will and should have some astringency (pucker at the front).

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Organic Kumamoto Sencha Yabe Supreme

2009 Harvest

Mid Steamed

Tea Bush Varietals: Saemidori & Okumidori

Origin: Kumamoto, Kyushu, Japan

Certified Organic By: JAS

NET Weight: 100g (3.53oz)

Brewing Suggestion: 1 gram of leaves per 1oz of water at 70°C for 1 min.

Second & third infusions at 70°C for 10-30 seconds.

from yuuki-cha.com

I have been brewing this sencha for a little over a month in a small Tokoname kyusu and a larger Banko kyusu. About 5.5 ounces water in the latter and 2.5 ounces in the former. Britta filtered water. One gram leaf per ounce water. The infusion sequence was the same for both:

1: 158 F, 1 minute

2: 158 F, 10 sec.

3: 158 F, 30 sec.

4: 148 F, 1 min,

5: 148 F, 2 min

Banko kyusu - The first infusion displayed rich umami with no astringency or harshness. The second showed umami and a very slight astringent edge. Sweetness emerged on the third and the edge was gone and umami still present. The flavor was slightly diminished on the fourth, but still good with umami, sweetness and no astringency. Surprisingly, the fifth was still good, though thinner and diminished.

Tokoname kyusu - in contrast to the results with the Banko kyusu, the first four infusions showed more astringency and a roughness or harshness, but this was balanced with the sweet and umami elements. (Another sencha brewed very roughly in this pot without the balancing umami and sweetness.)

My taste preference runs toward the smoothing sweetness typically offered by the Banko, but the balancing act found in the Tokoname with this sencha was still interesting and enjoyable.

So far my experiences brewing gyokuros over the last few months and senchas over several years tells me that you can get a good result with various teapots, but you can get a superior result for your personal taste preference by matching the tea and teapot. Some tweaking and experimenting really pays off.

This sencha also reinforced the truth that it's best to drink a sencha, any sencha, as soon as possible after the vacuum package is opened. Some say within two months, but my goal is a month. After a month the fading becomes increasingly obvious.

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After my lovely experience with the gyokuro kin over the weekend, I tried it at work today. Based on 1 grams of tea for my six ounce pot over the weekend, getting 3 nice infusions out of that, I tried 2 grams with several infusions to net 1 quart for the thermos. It looked lovely--pale green liquor in the glass pot before pouring into the thermos--and with nice aroma holding through the multiple infusions. But the tea was less than satisfying despite having that lovely scent.

I think it really may be all about the teacup, because I mostly drink from the plastic thermos cup during the day; and this evening I drank the last bit from the thermos in a small porcelain cup, and the delicate vegetal flavor came through much better.

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Today started with the gyokuro kin again but this time a longer first infusion of 2 minutes. There was a little more of the astringency coming through with the longer infusion. I prefer the shorter first infusions I used before.

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Drinking the gyokuro kin after a couple of days with the sencha from our teaching, and today I tried the same infusion timings I've been using for the sencha--30", 10", 30", 30". On the 4th infusion it was distinctly less losing power, whereas the sencha lasted another 2 infusions. I guess the gyokuro just extracts faster.

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Curious now: After another batch of gyokuro this evening, I am curious as to why this gyokuro doesn't last through multiple infusions as well as the sencha does--the sencha has a lot to give through 6 infusions in my hands, but the gyokuro is pretty flat at 4. Is this a general property of gyokuros and senchas, or something specific to these particular teas? I'm referring there to the gyokuro kin I got from denstea vs the sencha select from the cultured cup we just did a tasting with here.

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I think that in general senchas and gyokuros are often brewed only through three infusions; I tend to go for five and sometimes six just because I want to see what will develop and sometimes I get a nice surprise. Usually they are very thin by the fifth.

I have not had the Den's Gyokuro you have, so I can't compare, but The Cultured Cup's Sencha Select is quite rich, much richer than the last one they had, which was very good, just a different style and much more delicate. I think the variation among senchas and among gyokuros - due to the various breeds of tea plant, where and how they are grown, and the way each is processed - is amazing.

Then you have to factor in your specific brewing style, which has not for the most part been the usual approach due to your wanting to avoid astringency and bitterness. It is impressive that you have persisted and found ways to brew that fit your palate. That said, my impression is that you have been trying to push the envelope a bit as you have had more experience with a sencha or two and a gyokuro. Recent experience suggests that if you drink these Japanese green teas on a regular basis you adapt or habituate to the strength of the leaf and can tolerate - or crave - a higher leaf:water ratio, so you may gradually be able to tolerate a higher ratio and a longer first infusion.

I have been thinking about this astringency and bitterness for a few days and it occurs to me that you may really like what Banko clay in a houhin or kyusu does to the taste. While I don't find any bitterness as such (unless they have been over-brewed), there is a certain mild harshness in many senchas and gyokuros that the Banko clay smooths out and integrates the flavors. That inexpensive Banko houhin at yuuki-cha.com is the best bang for the buck in my opinion. It's a size that works for both senchas and gyokuros; it's well balanced; and it pours well. It's a humble design and I have other houhins that are more attractive, but this one still feels best pouring it. I paid about $20 (plus shipping) for it and can not imagine doing better.

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The question of how many infusions with the gyokuro vs the sencha is not so much because there's anything wrong with getting fewer infusions from one vs the other, but more pondering whether the shaded gyokuro leaves are more delicate and release their contents faster than the senchas, in general, or if this might be more to do with the size of the leaf fragments in the different teas.

As for the question of what clays do to the teas brewed in them, that brings up a point to ponder: chinese yixing pots are used for oolongs and puerhs, but less often for green teas because the bitterness of an off-brewing might be absorbed and released into the next batch of tea. But these banko pots are unglazed, and being used for green tea, and prized for an ability to favorably alter the flavor profile of a tea. Why would the unglazed clay be preferred in the one circumstance but not the other? Different tea flavor profiles, brewing temperatures, clay chemical composition?

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I don't think I can answer that in any absolute sense, given the wide range within each category of green tea and differences in brewing techniques. But I'll do a little digging in my tea library and see if I turn anything up. The common brewing techniques for each categroy are sufficiently different that it seems difficult to compare. Gyokuro having double the leaf to water ratio of sencha and much lower brewing temps.

Regarding your second question, I think that people who use quality kyusus, houhins and shiboridashi teaware are simply careful not to overbrew. I have never over brewed in any of mine, but am pretty sure that if I let an infusion go for too long it would become bitter eventually and it would effect the clay and I would not enjoy doing what it would take to get the bitterness out.

Some people do brew Chinese green teas in a Yixing, and I have with good results, though I don't generally recommend it. Some Yixing clays probably do better with the flavor, but that is one more Yixing quagmire of complexity. Perhaps someone else can speak to how to match a Yixing clay to a Chinese green tea, but I have only limited experience with one Yixing and I am not even sure what the clay is - hongni, maybe. And I don't use it for that anymore. That said, I don't know of any reason not to brew a Chinese green tea in a kyusu. I just have never done it.

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Thanks for your thoughts. I will also need to go back to my tea books to review their sections on japanese teas also, but they are too basic and general to have much discussion at the level of effects of pottery on the flavors of tea. I'd like to find a good book on japanese teas but first attempts on amazon is overwhelmingly focused on the traditional tea ceremony.

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I don't think you are going to find answers to your questions about the effects of pottery on the flavors of tea in a book, at least not in a book in English. But I could be surprised, of course.

I can only say that I have done a good deal of experimenting with Yixing and Japanese pots and there is no doubt in my mind that different Yixing clays have different effects and different Japanese clays have different effects. It's not terribly subtle. Clays, shapes, both significant. But certainly behind brewing technique as far as the largest impact on the final result.

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Redoing, because apparently my browser ate my post.

It's going to be a while before I get around to my project of exploring Korean and Japanese stores here in LA for some nice teapots, but in the meantime, I decided to try a little experiment: brewed the last two grams of my sencha select sample, dividing one gram each into a porcelain gaiwan and my smallest yixing pot (which hasn't yet been used for any strong teas). I preheated the gaiwan and pot, used the same water/timing etc, but can only say that both made delightful tea, because the yixing held the the heat so much more that the flavor was noticeably influenced by the brewing temperature.

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More musing about japanese green teas: last night I was rereading that section in the Harney & Sons Book of Tea, and he says, in discussing the processing of Sencha teas:

"The sweetness is extremely faint compared with the honeyed quality of many Chinese green teas."

This and other comments discussing the desired astringencies made me wary of these teas, but in my very limited experience of 3 sencha samples, and one gyokuro, what astonishes me and draws me back and back again is that they are so stunningly sweet, when brewing conditions are just right. I have not worked with that many chinese green teas--mostly a variety of jasmines, a couple of samples of dragonwell, and probably two or three more generic teas--but have never experienced anything like the silky sweetness of these japanese teas, even when brewing the fanciest dragonwell at ridiculously low temperatures.


Edited by Wholemeal Crank (log)

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