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Tea Tasting & Discussion: Three Japanese Teas


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eGullet Society member Greg Glancy at norbutea.com is contributing free 10 gram samples of each of three interesting Japanese teas for this Tea Tasting & Discussion (TT&D). Sets of the samples will go to up to three eG members active in the forums: if you have at least 50 posts anywhere in the eG Forums in the past 12 months, or if you have at least 10 posts in the Coffee & Tea Forum, and are interested in receiving the free samples and participating in this TT&D, please read on (this post and the three following soon) and then PM me.

The first Japanese tea is a Sunpu Boucha - 2010 1st Harvest Hon Yama Kuki-Hojicha.

SunpuBoucha_Dry.jpg

Text and image used with permission by norbutea.com.

Sunpu Boucha is the name given to this excellent Kuki-Hojicha, or roasted stem tea. Shizuoka was known as the Sunpu Domain until 1869, and Boucha literally means "twig tea." This particular tea is comprised of stems, twigs and leaf material from the Hon Yama growing region taken during the first Spring harvest of 2010. Hon Yama is a bit of a confusing appellation, since it denotes tea grown on the hilly/low mountain slopes along the banks of the Abe and Warashina (a tributary of the Abe) rivers in Shizuoka instead of a specific county or prefecture. Hon Yama is one of the oldest tea cultivating regions in Japan, and its foggy, mountainous terrain is reputed to produce some of the highest quality & sweetest tea in Japan.

Stem teas are not very widely known or appreciated outside of Japan, but they are well loved in Japanese tea circles for their nutty & sweet flavor and their reputation of having a lower caffeine content than all-leaf tea.

This is a lightly roasted Kuki-Hojicha that has a good amount of green leaf material blended in with the stems. The production of this tea is done in phases, combining several different roasts into the final product. Basically, they roast small batches of stems and leaves at different temperatures and for different lengths of time and then blend them together to create more complexity of flavor in the final product.

To my taste, this tea delivers a very complete drinking experience that balances sweet & roasted flavors with some of the elements of a greener tea. When tasting this tea, I get a warm, toasted, sweet and slightly "creamy" flavor on the front end from the roasted stems, followed by a refreshing "green" astringency on the back end from the leaf material. The infused liquor is a light copper color with a lovely & penetrating toasted aroma. It's not an easy tea to describe for me, but I was completely hooked from the first time I tried it.

Because some of the leaf material is still quite green, we do not recommend steeping this tea above about 160°F in order to avoid extracting any bitterness from the green leaves that might throw off the balance in the steeped liquor.

The next two posts will describe the second and third Japanese teas for this TT&D, and the fourth one one will provide additional important information on how to request the three free teas. Stay tuned!

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The second of the three teas in this TT&D is the Ichiban Hojicha - 2010 Dark Roast Shizuoka Hojicha.

IchibanHojicha_Wet.jpg

Text and image used with permission by norbutea.com.

Our Ichiban Hojicha is produced from the first Bancha harvest of the year. This harvest occurs between the first, early Spring Sencha harvest and the second, later Spring Sencha harvest. "Bancha" can refer to a tea made from leaves that are large, coarse, etc. and/or come from a later harvest. The purpose of this in-between Bancha harvest is to encourage the plants to put out a higher volume of the smaller, more tender new growth leaves that are preferred for the production of Sencha. Ichiban is a term that means "first" or "number one" and usually implies high quality, and Hojicha simply means "roasted tea." So, our Ichiban Hojicha is a first (Bancha) harvest, high quality roasted tea.

The roast on this tea is what we refer to as dark or a moderately high. It is by no means lifeless, "smoky" or on the verge of burned; rather, it is roasted to a point where it is dark in color but there is still a significant amount of character left in the leaves. The resulting infused liquor is a crystal clear amber color with a warm & toasty aroma. The flavor is a nice balance of roasted, toasted grain type flavors with brisk, lively & slightly astringent elements in the background. The mouthfeel of the liquor is rich and satisfying with a moderately lingering bittersweet aftertaste. We highly recommend this tea for a satisfying fall or winter morning wake up cup of tea, or it is a perfect choice to serve after an evening meal. We have experimented with some success with cold brewing this hojicha, too. We are huge Hojicha fans around here, and, in addition to being a great value, this one represents everything that we look for in this style of tea.

One more tea to come....

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The third Japanese tea from Norbu Tea in this TT&D is the San Nen Bancha - 3 Year Aged Bancha - Medium Roast.

SanNenBancha_Wet.jpg

Text and image used with permission by norbutea.com.

San Nen Bancha means "3 year" Bancha. "Bancha" can refer to a tea made from leaves that are large, coarse, etc. and/or come from a late or end of season harvest. This tea is harvested at various times throughout the year, mainly in March, June and October, and it is comprised of tea from the producer's Kyoto area farm, but, more recently, this particular producer has had to bring in more comparable old leaf material from Mie and Nara because demand for his tea is far greater than what he can produce on his Kyoto farm.

The source materials for this tea come from 2-3 year old leaves along with the accompanying stem and twig material cut during the mechanized harvesting process. Note: the vast majority of tea in Japan is harvested by machine. Machine harvesting is not an indication of poor quality. After harvest, the tea is steamed, etc to be made into a type of Aracha. At this point, the leaves are sorted to remove any unwanted material and given a thorough drying before they are packed away for storage. The tea is then aged at room temperature for approximately 3 years to smooth and mellow its flavor. After the leaves have matured/aged to the appropriate level, this producer gives this tea what I would term a medium intensity but thorough roast to before packaging and sending it to market.

The flavor of this tea is exceptionally soft, roasty, sweet and smooth with very little to no astringency at all. As strange as this may sound, the only adjectives that I can seem to come up with to convey the feeling of this tea are "warm, soft and comfortable." It is a great evening tea in my opinion because of it's low caffeine content. It is very easy on the stomach, and it is common in Japan for this tea to be served to very elderly people as well as babies as young as one month old!

If you have read this far and want to know how to request the free teas, please refer to the next post.

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The three Japanese tea samples (10g each) will go to each of up to three eGullet Society members who will begin brewing, tasting, posting and discussing the teas within one week of receiving the samples.

These teas may be brewed 1) "western style" using a small teapot or infuser cup, or better yet 2) in a glazed Japanese kyusu. Please, avoid tea balls like the plague.

Brewing suggestions are in the links to each of the three teas above and in the Tea Steeping Guide at norbutea.com.

Preference will be given to eGullet Society members who have never received tea samples and participated in a Tea Tasting & Discussion, and who have at least 50 posts anywhere in the eG Forums in the past year. This preference will last one week, until midnight March 10, 2011. If that sounds like you, please PM me ASAP. Others who have at least 10 posts in the Coffee & Tea forum, may PM me their interest at any time.

If you have any questions at all, please feel free to PM me.

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Three sets of the three free Japanese teas from norbutea.com are available for members. Three members. Priority given to those who have not received free teas for a Tea Tasting & Discussion in the past.

For all the details please read the above 4 posts and then PM me.

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Three sets of the three free Japanese teas from norbutea.com are available for members. Three members. Priority given to those who have not received free teas for a Tea Tasting & Discussion in the past.

For all the details please read the above 4 posts and then PM me.

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Just want to add an unsolicited plug for this tasting: I ordered one of these teas (the San Nen Bancha) and got a free sample with my order of the Sunpu Boucha, and have quite enjoyed both of them. They are not so finicky as the average sencha, that wants very precise time and temps to give its best. So, if you're sitting on the fence, nervous about your tea brewing skills, go ahead and give these a try.

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One set of the samples of the three Japanese teas provided by Society member Greg Glancy at Norbu.com - GONE.

Two sets of three free samples still available. If you are interested in receiving a set - and have either 50 posts anywhere in the eG Forums or 10 posts in the Coffee and Tea forum - please review the above posts and then PM me.

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The three sets of samples go to *drum roll*

AllanSantos

Genkinaonna

Chris Amirault

You should receive them sometime next week.

If you wanted to participate, but were not fast enough with your PM, stay tuned for the upcoming TT&Ds in April and throughout the year.

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  • 4 weeks later...

As I have mentioned before, I have known Greg Glancy at Norbu Tea for several years -- a presentation he gave several years ago about a trip through the tea markets and farms of China and Tibet fed my growing interest in learning more about fine teas. Since then he has become a tea friend and we drink tea together and trade teas and tea stories from time to time, as well as indulging in Chinese, Korean or Vietnamese food occasionally. Greg has been a long time supporter of these Tea Tasting & Discussions. He and I spent a couple of tea drinking sessions selecting the Japanese teas for this TT&D.

The tea tasting and tea drinking for this TT&D gets underway this week. Stay tuned.

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I'm very excited to be part of thus TT&D. Just a little about me first to know where I'm coming from. I started exploring loose leaf tea this fall and have gravitated towards oolongs. Lately as I get a little better at brewing, Ive been enjoying Dragonwell or Sencha as my morning brew. Mostly I enjoy stronger tasting things....big red wines, hoppy beers, peaty scotches. I found it odd that I gravitated toward the floral or fruity oolongs, but I think it was simply because when I started drinking loose leaf tea I could brew them and mess up pretty good but still have something that tasted OK. I also felt like in could relate to the flavor profile of oolongs but didn't understand or really know what I was tasting when I brewed greens. I've also gravitated toward teas that have a roasted or toasted quality since it gives me something familiar, something I can hang on to while trying to sort out what else I'm tasting. I have been looking forward to trying these Japanese teas and they arrived yesterday. I started off with the Hojicha.

The dry leaf has a great aroma to it lots of roasted, charcoaly quality to it. The dry leaf is super dry and brittle. I brewed the leaf using the Norbu brewing recommendations of 1g/oz.

First infusion 180 for 2 minutes. The wet leaf has a really nice burnt aroma. Behind that is a rich sweet scent that I can't quite put into words but The things that came to mind were the sweet quality black licorice has. Dark chocolate cake with raspberry filling too. The color of the liquor is really pleasing.

I love the taste of this, the aroma is what I get in the taste as well. Nice roasted quality with a sweetness that balances it out. I usually try to see if I can pick out 3 notes when tasting, but that's all I could manage here.

2nd infusion 30seconds at 180.

Wet leaf aroma: the roasted note has subsided a little and is more like wet or damp wood now.

Taste is a little more relaxed both in the burnt/roasted/toasted quality but also in the sweetness. The color of the liquor was much more pale than the first infusion. When I poured, I wondered if I should let brew more.

3rd infusion: 3 minutes at 190

Even less of the roast quality but the sweetness is still there. Liquor color us darker than the 2nd but not as dark as the 1st. While it's not terrible to drink, I don't find the 2nd and 3rd infusions all that interesting as the roasted quality drops off. In the first infusion, I like the roasted quality providing the structure and the sweetness hanging off of that.

Maybe my next try at this will be western style brewing.

Look forward to hearing the rest of the tasters experience!

Peace,

Allan

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Thanks for the detailed notes, Allan. I don't often brew this type of tea using "Western" (lower tea:water ratio), so I'll be interested in how that works out for you.

Using the 1g/1ou ratio, how much tea did you use, and what type of brewing device did you use?

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Hi Richard,

I used one of those professional cupping sets that is 5oz. I like using this over a gaiwan when there is a chance that when pouring, tea leaf fragments may pour into the actual tasting cup.

What is the typical brewing vessel for these teas anyway?

Allan

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The tasting cup should be okay, Allan, though I have not used one this way. This is a simple, forgiving tea and a cup with infuser or ceramic teapot will work, too. In Japan a glazed kyusu is likely the standard brewing tool; an unglazed kyusu would be unusable for green teas if you brewed a heavily roasted tea in it. A glazed one is a good first kyusu, because even if you get an unglazed one later, you still have a use for the glazed one.

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Sure, that will work. The glass inserts are not as good for brewing as they are attractive to the eye. You can use the ss filter in the pre-heated pot, or better yet, brew the leaves without the filter so they have full freedom to infuse, and then pour the tea liquor through the ss filter into your pre-heated cup (or another pre-heated tea pot).

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I finally had some no distractions time to try the San Nen Bancha.

Dry leaf has shades of chocolate to dark chocolate in the stem and twig portions with a more olive drab color to the little but of leaf. Overall a nice toasty aroma to the dry leaf and I wondered if the flavor profile would be similar to the Hojicha.

For the infusion I used the Norbu suggestions of 1g/oz

1st infusion 188 for 2 minutes using a 5oz tea cupping tasting set. Wet leaf aroma has a roast quality note that reminds me of dark roast coffee beans. The liquor is a crystal clear dark honey/copper color. The first tastes of this are really nice. The mouthfeel is very clean and smooth....a very 'wet' mouth feel to it. I get that nice toasted quality like the Hojicha had, but this is more mellow and round.

2nd infusion 180 for 30seconds. Wet leaf aroma still has that roast coffee bean note but a little sweetness comes through behind that. Liquor takes on a more yellow/orange/copper tint. The taste reveals so

sweetness and I pick up a light caramel candy note from time to time.

I decide I want to push the leaf a little and see what happens. 3rd infusion is just off boil for 3 minutes. Wet leaf aroma begins to take on a steamed quality. Liquor is around the same color as the 2nd infusion but it seems more clear. The taste rounds out even a little more. The roast quality is mellowing into a more toasted rice note.

I do a 4th infusion at just off boil again for 5 minutes and the tastes gains a more charcoal quality to it which surprises me. The sweetness is still there and it is still a very smooth mouthfeel.

Overall I am not really sure what to think. I enjoyed all the infusions but can't quite decide how to brew next time I give this tea the go around. It gives a few pleasing things over the infusions. Maybe I'll just try a slightly high tea/water ratio and use roughly the same

time/temps and see where that takes it.

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Richard wanted me to let everyone know that he's having some computer screen issues and will be back here as soon as they're resolved.

So, full disclosure: the Ichiban Hojicha - 2010 Dark Roast Shizuoka Hojicha from Norbu is one of my two or three favorite teas, so I know what I've got to say about that one! Given that experience, I thought I'd start with the Sunpu Boucha - 2010 1st Harvest Hon Yama Kuki-Hojicha.

I did my usual set up: ~5g to 500 ml of water just below the boil for 5 minutes. I intentionally didn't read Greg's description or recommended amounts, temps, and times just to see how it reacted to my less finicky approach to brewing them. As Wholemeal Crank points out, I've found these teas to respond well to my oafish technique, and the Shizuoka Hojicha came through as well.

I just love this tea. The aromas I picked up were not just roasted nuts but E & A Gispert, the old, wood-encased nut shop in Barcelona, a combination of roasty shells and nut meats. Because of the heady, malty steam, it also reminded me of the wood planks in the uber-hot saunas at the Russian baths in Brooklyn. as you can see, the sense memories around this stuff are very rich for me.

It has a fuller mouthfeel than my usual Ichiban Hojicha, sweeter and more robust. I wasn't sure what the finishing flavors were all about until I read Greg's description; sure enough, there are green tea notes sneaking out to dominate the complex tail.

I think that Greg nailed it when he said,

To my taste, this tea delivers a very complete drinking experience that balances sweet & roasted flavors with some of the elements of a greener tea. When tasting this tea, I get a warm, toasted, sweet and slightly "creamy" flavor on the front end from the roasted stems, followed by a refreshing "green" astringency on the back end from the leaf material. The infused liquor is a light copper color with a lovely & penetrating toasted aroma. It's not an easy tea to describe for me, but I was completely hooked from the first time I tried it.

Clearly, it's not an easy tea for me to describe, either, since I'm stealing his description! However, the shift from sweet to dry might be familiar to fans of classic Manhattans (2 oz rye, 1 oz sweet vermouth -- a fresh bottle of Martini & Rossi will do just fine -- 2-3 dashes Angostura bitters; stir, strain), a cocktail that gives you a lot of spice and sweetness up front but finishes with a complex, dry flavor that makes you want another sip.

Speaking of Greg's post:

Because some of the leaf material is still quite green, we do not recommend steeping this tea above about 160°F in order to avoid extracting any bitterness from the green leaves that might throw off the balance in the steeped liquor.

I probably was around 180F or so, and I didn't detect any excessive bitterness -- but, then again, bitter and I are good friends.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Next up is the San Nen Bancha - 3 Year Aged Bancha - Medium Roast. As Greg said, it's a warm embrace of a tea: no astringency, very soft in the mouth. The aroma, for me, is more earthy -- think slightly wet, brown oak leaves on warm late fall day -- than roasty. Another winner, though I think I like the Sunpu Boucha better, personally.

I brewed this at quite a bit lower temperature than yesterday's Sunpu, btw, letting the kettle sit for a full couple of minutes before pouring the water over the leaves and stems.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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So far I've just tried the San Nen Bancha, steeped at 180 for 3 minutes. I definitely got a roasty aroma, as well as some more green aromas, like cut lawn and (I know it sounds weird) raw pumpkin/squash. After reading Chris' description I think wet fall leaves really fits as well, which is logical, of course, since it was, in fact, wet leaves...

The flavor was definitely mild, I couldn't detect any bitterness at all. I'm used to drinking pretty strong black tea, so this was a departure for me and I hope that I'll pick up on more nuances as my palate continues to develop. And I could probably use some better adjectives, clearly :biggrin: .

I'm planning on trying the Sanpu Bucha tonight.

If you ate pasta and antipasto, would you still be hungry? ~Author Unknown

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  • 3 weeks later...

Apologies for my total absence. Just got my laptop out of the shop yesterday. Grrr.

Genkinaonna - you mentioned a need for more adjectives. On one hand a tea taste like whatever it tastes to you and just seeing what associations you have to a tea will take you far. On the other hand, one book I recommend to people is The Story of Tea by Mary Lou and Robert J. Heiss. The have a helpful chart of various classes of teas and descriptors for aroma and taste. It's worth a look. Very good book anyway.

Have you all been brewing since the last post? If so, what else have you found in these teas?

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I brewed the Ichiban Hojicha tonight. It was my favorite of the three. I used about .75 grams tea per oz of water, temp of about 185 degrees for 2 minutes. It was roasty, but with some of the same notes I pick up in green tea, like the grassiness. It made me instantly think of being in a Japanese restaurant, in a good way. I think it would be a great tea to pair with food, versus just sipping on it's own. There was just the smallest amount of astringency, and it had a really nice mouth-filling quality to it. I can't wait to see what comes from successive brewings. I'm thinking I may order some to keep in the house.

The Sunpu Boucha was unsuccessful for me. I'm pretty sure it was user error, but it was really unappealingly bitter, I can't decide if it steeped too long or the water was too hot. Either way, I'm going to retry it and hope for a different outcome.

Richard, thanks for the book recommendation, I'll have to check that out.

If you ate pasta and antipasto, would you still be hungry? ~Author Unknown

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I can second the recommendation for the Story of Tea.

When I tried the Sunpu Boucha, I brewed it very cool--about 150 degrees--and started very short infusions--30 seconds, then 15, 30, 45, 45 seconds. In those infusions, I had no bitterness.

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