Monday, July 2, 2018

Teamania Fukamushi Sencha (sencha that's steamed longer)

very dark green tea

I'll cite the vendor description towards the end

It'll be nice to take a break from tea types that make up frequently recurring themes here, and this Japanese green tea definitely counts as that (a higher end version of sencha, it seems).  I've emphasized that green tea is my least favorite among all the types in the past, but that's offset by better versions of different tea styles allowing aspects sets to make sense in a different way.

Oddly enough I started on Japanese green tea for loose tea.  We visited Japan and Vietnam around 8 years ago and I brought back Japanese green tea from both places.  And also tea from Laos around that time frame, but that tea was local, not made in any particular established style and not good quality.  I moved onto Thai oolongs more next, and later got into Chinese teas, partly tied to visiting China a couple of times.  Not very far along all that I just let the Japanese teas drop.

Really good and bad versions of Japanese green teas both tend to taste like seaweed, but in a bad or mediocre version that's grassy, not completely clean in effect, relatively astringent and more vegetal than sweet.  In a good version it all balances, with the umami working well with other clean flavors.

Seaweed really isn't just one thing anyway; there are lots of types that taste different ways.  It all takes getting used to but once you get past the initial "eww!" they can be interesting, not so much as something to eat by itself, but as an ingredient that works along with others.  It's hard to pin down why seaweed doesn't taste better than it does to most people.  Unfamiliarity, probably.  I had it with sushi or in other Japanese foods some back in the States but it came up a lot more often living in Hawaii (Japanese food and seaweed both, really).  One form of seaweed is the dried sheets they use to make sushi, a bit similar to the version that's found in miso soup, but different.  My wife loved poke, raw tuna mixed with a completely different form of seaweed, a chewier version that's not leafy.

People can go out in the ocean and just pick it there, if they know what they're doing.  My wife is on close terms with a local family and they would.  They had an "in" for local sea salt too, if I'm remembering that right.

That Hawaiian family sort of took her in.  Asians in general don't limit family as much to who is born of common genetics.  Of course that's not intended as any sort of claim, as saying "my wife is Hawaiian now," because she's definitely not.  It was an interesting and positive experience there, knowing them.  My wife had no intention of setting it aside after we moved back to Thailand, and naming our kids Keoni and Kalani is something of a tribute to what that means to her.

near our old apartment in Honolulu, on Kapahulu street

it wasn't very far from Diamondhead

the Alawai canal, in the other direction, the northern edge of Waikiki

he was so cute six years ago

not at all traditional Japanese teaware

I actually met this vendor in Bangkok once, Peter Pocajt, after we had talked for awhile.  He founded the Teapedia wiki site, and varies in how active he seems to be in social media, probably busy with this shop, different work, and other interests.  He gets out; I met him on the way back from a sourcing trip in China, and he was just in Japan this year.  All that travel must be helping his tea selection, which I'll say more about in reviews.

Onto tasting issues.  This would be a perfect opportunity to specify exact brewing parameters to make for a controlled, repeatable trial, since I will finally get back to reviewing a tea brewed Western style.  But I won't.  I will brew the tea using much cooler water (70 C sounds standard for sencha, unless I'm remembering that wrong), but I'll pass on the measuring weight and timing.


Wow!  That's different.  Heavy on seaweed, sure, but with interesting layers going on beyond that, which balances in with the rest.  Sweetness stands out; that's normal.  One aspect reminds me of fresh popped popcorn; that works well with the rest.  It's not too far off the toasted rice aspect that I love in Longjing.  That Chinese tea type is the only one I drink regularly, and if versions emphasize that over grassiness I like them.

Umami is pronounced.  Of course that's the basic flavor described best as "savory," one that is so hard to pin down further that it still goes by a Japanese name.  Maybe that stands out the most; this tea reminds me of other gyokuro I've tried, where that aspect was a lot stronger than in any sencha I'd ever tried.  It almost comes across as a touch of salt, but it's different.

There isn't much for vegetable aspects coming to mind to describe.  Seaweed, sure, and that trails a good bit into fresh spinach, but beyond that those other layers / aspects stand out.  The flavor is nicely balanced, sweet and clean.

Overall this works.  Someone else could place it better on a scale of other sencha.  It's finer ground than some other versions I've tried, and the umami is more pronounced, with plenty of sweetness and complexity.  The astringency is limited and the overall feel and flavor effect is very rich.  It's hard to compare it to similar teas since I can't remember the last time I tried a good version of sencha, and may or may not have ever reviewed one in this blog.  It could've been five years ago, accounting for that.

That's a little odd since I was in Japan myself around four years ago (for the second time), but I didn't put effort into finding different better green teas.  I wanted to try something else from Japan, to test out a black tea from there, and the search part worked but the version wasn't great.  So it goes trying one random tea version.

I would expect it to make a few rounds of interesting, positive tea but I'm bored with the two-page posts myself, flavor by flavor extending round after round.  Describing a second infusion will inform a bit about natural transition across those.

Second infusion

The tea did transition a good bit.  Someone more on the page of optimizing sencha brewing to their own preference would pass on a better best-case more-objective review, how this tea fits their preference and expectations of type related to quality level, but I still can communicate what I'm experiencing.

The brightness exchanged a bit for depth.  That one fresh popcorn aspect--which wasn't really a main flavor element--traded out for more vegetal range, again seaweed with some fresh spinach, but in a different presentation this round.  Mineral seems to pick up, giving it more base.  Sweetness is still pronounced, and umami level hasn't necessarily changed, but the way the aspect range all fits together is different.  It's still quite limited in astringency level and full in flavor and richness.  It's still catchy and pleasant; I like the tea.  It's pretty far from the "buy whatever you find" sencha versions I'd mostly tried in the past.

People might get the impression that changes a lot in another country, if you visit a tea producing nation, that if you buy lower quality level teas there they'd still be a lot better.  To a very limited extent that's true, but to some degree it's not.  Of course green tea from a local market or supermarket booth in China is better than grocery store gunpowder you buy in the states, but it's not necessarily better than specialty tea versions, and normally probably wouldn't be.  You can run across pleasant and interesting surprises buying tea that way, some unusually good versions, but also some bad tea.  I probably should've put more effort into it on that last visit to Japan but I was really focused on the theme of trying something other than green tea.

It's hard to describe how vegetal range ramps up in this; it gains complexity as much or more than intensity.  It might extend into grassiness, but not the "straight grass" version I and some others tend to be turned off by in some green teas, more that complex range in fresh cut hay.  For everyone who grew up outside of farm country that's not going to mean much.  When you cut hay it smells a bit like grass, but different, more complex.  Quite soon in starts to change in smell, as the tea begins a curing process, just not soon enough that it changes before you bale it and store it in a barn (which is a lot of work; helping someone do that can make for a very long day).  Aging / drying / curing hay has a cool smell, sweet and complex and vegetal, but dried hay is a totally different thing.  I'm talking about the new version here, when it's first cut.  It's not a form of grass, at least not like your lawn is, so it's not grassy in the same sense.  It's simpler to just say it's closer to kale but that's not exactly right.

The flavors still work.  Umami is still really pronounced, a bit intense.  I might've liked it better that first round but this is still pleasant.  This tea is so complex that drinking it once probably wouldn't get you to the same experience you'd have a dozen sessions later.  Maybe you'd burn out on it and give it away, or more likely come to love it even more as you gain exposure.  For someone who likes green tea more the fit would be that much more natural.  It's nothing like teas they serve in Japanese restaurants, any more than a Chinese restaurant is really going to pour you a good version of Da Hong Pao or Shui Xian.

Tasting Conclusions

There're probably plenty more to say about transitions over the next couple of rounds (it was similar, and still good), and I really didn't even start in on aspect range related to feel or aftertaste, as one might dwell on related to other tea type reviews.  I liked the tea; I'll mostly leave it at that, beyond that earlier description.  It works for an example of how better versions of teas transcend preference for a type to some extent.  I think just about anyone could appreciate this tea, with or without loving Japanese green teas first.  Unless they just couldn't handle umami as a main flavor component; then it wouldn't work at all.

I won't switch over to drinking Japanese green teas just yet but someday I probably will cycle back to those more.

Vendor input about the tea

What I've said so far didn't seem to capture it.  I'll mention a bit about Peter's input about the tea, starting with citing a blog post covering travels in Japan.  Since he's Swiss everyone from outside there (except maybe Germany) would have to hit the extra "translate this page" button.  I commented in picture posts of his travel in Facebook that those images show how beautiful and orderly Japan looks.  They even keep nature tidy and perfect looking there.  I'm from a beautiful part of the country in the US, from Pennsylvania, which means "Penn's woods," but nature there tends to go its own way a bit, beautiful but less orderly.

just beautiful, which is just normal for Japan (credit the Teamania blog)

Here is the vendor page for that tea, with the idea here being citing what he says about it:

This exceptional Fukamushi Sencha is grown in the small village of  Ujitawara . Fukamushi Sencha is characterized by a longer steaming time compared to standard Sencha. As a result, the tea is milder and the tea flow gets more into the foreground. 

For our premium Fukamushi Sencha the excellent tea variety Saemidori in Shincha quality is used by which only the young and tender shoots are used. Tea made from Saemidori tastes much sweeter than tea of ​​a Yabukita which is normally used. Since Saemidori is less frost-resistant than Yabukita, unfortunately, it can only be used in southern regions such as Kyoto or Kagoshima and is therefore also a special rarity for Japanese!

The village of Ujitawara is located in Kyoto Prefecture, not far from the tea town of Uji. Kyoto itself is known as the cradle of Japanese tea-making and many well-known teas such as Matcha and Gyokuro have their origins here.

This exceptional tea is packed in fine Washi paper. 

Harvest:  April 2017  
Taste:  Sweet and refreshing aroma with an incredible amount of umami. 
Origin:  Ujitawa, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan. 
Variety:  Saemidori 
Preparation: Per pot about 3g, water temperature 50 - 60 ° C, brewing time max. 1 min. 
Tip: Take more tea leaves and pour in for a short and several times. First infusion max. 45s and each additional 20s since the leaves are already soaked. The best is a Kyusu teapot suitable.

one more of Keo as a three year old; so cute

That's why you should always read those descriptions before brewing unfamiliar versions; it might have turned out better using slightly cooler water.  There's more to try it again.  Gyokuro brewing recommendations do sometimes suggest using 50 C water, getting way down towards bath-water temperature; so it goes with some Japanese green teas.

This would be a natural place to close but I wanted to cite just a little more about how that long steaming time works out and typical character from a really nice blog about Japanese teas, My Japanese Green Tea by Ricardo Caicedo:

Fukamushicha (深蒸し茶, deep-steamed tea) is a green tea that is initially steamed for a longer time than what it’s considered to be usual. It’s commonly produced in the prefecture of Shizuoka.

Normally, the steaming process for green tea runs for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, and the resulting tea is called futsuumushicha (普通蒸し茶, normal steamed tea).  In contrast, fukamushicha is steamed for longer than 1 or 2 minutes...

...The steaming process makes a big difference in the flavor of green tea. The main advantages of using the fukamushi process is that the astringency is suppressed, while gaining more body and sweetness.

The longer steaming time makes the leaves very soft, and during the rolling process the tips often break. This small particles make the fukamushicha look like if it was a lower-quality tea, but it really isn’t. When brewed it also has a darker color, with sediments on the bottom. One would think that it’s a very bitter tea, such as funmatsucha.

So far so good; this tea seemed like that in character.  I hadn't really thought it through but it was odd that a tea so finely ground would be that low in astringency, even given using cooler water as is common across green tea types.  Green teas vary in flavor range and astringency but the less whole a leaf is should increase the infusion of the related compounds that cause astringency.  This is quite noticeable in black teas and sheng pu'er, both of which vary a lot within those broad types, with the tendency for somewhat broken and finer chopped leaves to ramp up that aspect range more as the leaf-piece sizes decrease, as one separate factor among others.

Related to all that Ricardo mentions other factors tied to this difference:

The appearance of fukamushicha is a disadvantage, although as a bonus, the small particles means that the health benefits increase. How come? Just as  with matcha and funmatsucha, when drinking the small solid particles you’ll get more of the nutrients found in green tea (such as catechins), plus the ones that aren’t water-soluble like fiber, some vitamins, and chlorophyll.  

So there's that.  It'll add up to about half of that blog post but I'll also mention his brewing advice as well for completeness:

It’s brewed just like sencha, but with a lower steeping time.  The general guideline is: 60 to 100 ml ( 2 to 3.33 oz) per cup, 3 gr (3/4 of a teaspoon), 70 to 80°C (158°F to 176°F), 40 seconds of steeping time.

I was using that temperature, on the low side, but a higher proportion and shorter infusion times, so more like the alternative version listed in the Teamania site, but around 70 C as opposed to 50-60.

Anyway, the tea was really nice.  It was probably too good for me to fully appreciate just how good it is.  It'll be even better once I get brewing parameters dialed in a bit and slightly more re-acclimated to the general range.

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