Saturday, December 25, 2010

Fukamushi-cha with a Gyokuro and a Sencha

When I was at Sanko last week getting more 2010 Gyokuro I also found some (beautifully packaged) Fukamushi-cha and thought it time to go a bit deeper into the Japanese tea world and do a taste comparison.  I'm only just beginning to scratch the surface of its many variables -- types, steaming level, amount of sunshine, seasonal plucks, etc.  This is the first Fukamushi-cha I've (knowingly) tried.

What is Fukamushi-cha?  From O Cha's site:  "Fukamushi Sencha, known in Japan as Fukamushi-cha, is sencha which is steamed for a longer than normal period of time during it's processing. This green tea is often grown at lower elevations. An expert tea grower will steam his tea according to the right conditions for each individual yield, and much knowledge and experience is required in order to adjust it just right. Fukamushi-cha tends to have a thicker, cloudy consistency and the loose leaf is finer."   

Being a steamed green tea, the water temperature should be quite low and again, I found ranges of recommended temperatures from 65C to 75C.  The steaming process starts to break down the leaves which makes them fragile so they need to be treated gently with cooler water than, say, any black tea or even a Chinese green tea which is more traditionally baked than steamed.

I was not aware until recently that Japanese green teas can be lightly, medium or deeply steamed.  This would affect their ideal brewing temperature and how you steep them too.  Oy the head spins.  (I'm keeping in mind the mantra that it's all in our own taste buds though and forging ahead.)

From left, the dry leaves of Gyokuro, Fukamushi-cha
and Organic Sencha.  Click image for a closer look.

So here goes -- because I have three different types of tea I decided to compromise on the water temperature and brewing times and do all three at 75C for 1 minute.  I don't know what I was thinking, really, since it wasn't perfect for any of the teas.  But, it certainly exaggerated their flavours which wasn't a total disaster for a contrast-and-compare type tasting.  For subsequent tastings, I brewed each individually at appropriate temperatures.  

Dry Leaves
Very different look to them from colour to texture -- some beautiful rolled needles in the Gyokuro, very powdery Fukamuchi-cha and rather rough looking organic Sencha with some whole leaves evident.  Hard perhaps to see in the photo above, but, although all three are deep, rich greens the Gyokuro is bluer-green, the Fukamushi-cha more leaf green and the Sencha lighter, more a yellowy-green and with yellow stalks through it. 

Wet Leaves
The Gyokuro leaves give off rich, soft, buttery spinach and seaweed-marine aromas.  By contrast the Fukamushi-cha has a noticeably sharper aroma dominated by what I think is a nut paste, like chestnuts.  On the second brew at a cooler 65C there was an initial almost unpleasant rotting aroma and then the nut paste notes.  The organic Sencha was very different -- after a nice sharp green tang, more like sweet wet hay with a whiff of mustiness.

First hot brew of Gyokuro, Fukamushi-cha and
organic Sencha.  Notice how cloudy they all are
from the too-hot water.

As you can see in the photo, all three teas were quite cloudy as a result of the hot first brew I did, although the Sencha was the least affected.   On subsequent cooler brews none were as cloudy although the Fukamushi-cha was always quite cloudy, a result of the extra long steaming.

The Gyokuro gave me what I love and is very smooth and oily/satiny and big on the mouth (no astringency at all) with a soft buttery spinach flavour, with some of the nut paste.  By contrast the Fukimashi cha has some very nice bitterness, also quite a smooth mouthfeel, raw spinach flavour and then fishy!  Yes, like salmon.  On the second, cooler brew (65C) there's, not surprisingly, less bitterness but still a nice sharp tang which lands in the middle-back of the tongue, and after the sweet spinach comes the salmon flavours.  It has very little astringency; is still quite cloudy but not as much and a beautiful rich green.

The organic Sencha is distinctly golden in colour as compared to the bluey-jade green of the other two, and in a completely different taste spectrum.  It's bright, tangy, quite astringent, with a thinner, lighter mouth feel, and a sharp fresh tongue furring bitterness.

Mmmmm. A lovely way to spend a few hours on this Christmas afternoon before the family feast.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

GYOKURO 2010. Yum.

I hopped into Sanko yesterday and their fresh Gyokuro had arrived.  This was $10 for a 50gram bag.  I'm only telling you so you understand that this cannot be the really good stuff.  But OMG.  When I opened the bag I was knocked out by the rush of its big rich sweet aroma.  I decided that it would definitely be worth brewing this up in spring water (although I hate the plastic bottle it comes in) instead of (pretty decent) Toronto tap water.  Just to up the potential for the sheer joy in the tea, know what I mean?

Brewed in 72C water for 1 minute.

Fresh 2010 Gyokuro from Sanko -- if you click on the photo
you can really see the rolled needle shape and the delicate
tea dust covering it all.

The dry leaves show a more uniform needle shape than the batch last week, but then that was the end of the package.  The leaves are a lovely deep blue-green and are shiny and smooth.  It's also showing fewer bright green bits and those bits look more yellow than green when compared to last week's Gyokuro.

The wet leaves, wow, much more depth/nuance to the aroma.  Immediately get more of the wonderful marine scent, more of the vegetal, and great sweetness and something nutty, like ground hazelnuts or Brazil nuts. (I should know my nuts better!)

The liquor has quite a bit of colour -- jade blue-green, is lightly cloudy and has tea dust floating in it.

Gyokuro -- note the little bits of leaf dust.

The flavour is very nice.  Interestingly, while the flavours are bigger, broader, deeper than last week's Gyokuro, its mouthfeel is not quite as big and satiny smooth.  There's no astringency but I can feel a slight burr of the leaf bits.  It's quite pleasant but I wasn't expecting it.  This tea also has more of a distinct but light, and very nice, tang at the back of the tongue after it goes down. Overall this is the most flavourful Gyokuro I've every had.  A real treat, and yes, a joy.

I think I'm coming to the opinion that fresh tea is really the only way tea should be drunk.  (Except for Pu-er, of course.)  Definitely current year's production, and best not over six months old.  Sadly, I probably won't be able to find this tea most of the time.  And my overstuffed tea drawer(s) mean I'm guilty of over-aging the tea too.

I will keep brewing this tea over the next few days, and add some notes.  It's possible that in my rush I may not have let the water cool enough.   Which means, oh darn -- I have to taste more Gyokuro.

CUT TO: Two days later.
Ok, this tea improves with a cooler steep -- and it was already bringing me joy.  Yup, when those in the know say 'steep this at 60C to 65C' gosh darn it they know of what they speak.

Yesterday I steeped it for 1 minute at 64C and noticed it had a rounder, smoother feel in the mouth. And today I've done it at 62C and it's definitely rounder, smoother in the mouth and sweeter overall because it's lost pretty much all but a little note of its bitter tang.  I didn't mind the bitter tang with all the sweetness but it was, in hindsight, brought out by the hotter water.

The liquor is, naturally, a paler jade green, still abit cloudy but not as much.  The wet leaves give more of the wonderful ground nut aroma and a slight toastyness.

Oh Yum.

It's tulip time at the corner grocery stores again in Toronto and I've a bouquet in the middle room that, every time I stride by, overwhelms with its wonderful sweet green-peppery aroma.  I love, love the smell of fresh tulips, don't you?
OK, nothing to do with tea but oh my do these tulips smell good!