– This is a new offering for 2021 –
This tea is a superb example of a little-known, semi-finished tea preparation known as ‘tencha’. Tencha is in some ways similar to ‘aracha’ in the world of oolong, in that it is not a traditional ‘finished’ tea, but rather a reference to leaf that still requires manufacture prior to going to market. In both cases, enthusiasts and locals have experimented with drinking these two unfinished teas, and found them interesting and different, and worthy of drinking in their own right.
In the case of ‘tencha’, this is the leaf that would normally be ground in a stone mill to make ‘matcha’, the tea used for whisking in a chawan. There is no particular history of people drinking tea at this stage, unless occasionally a tea worker has run out of everything else in the cabinet! But we are certain that more than one curious tea drinker has tried it over the years, to varying responses. What would be expected would be that the cost was likely prohibitive until recently.
Tencha is leaf that has been grown under a ‘tana‘ or other partial or full covering to shade it from the sun during the final period of plant growth. It is then harvested, and in a unique preparation, the stem and veins of the leaf are removed, so that what is milled into matcha has no excess fiber or ‘waste‘ included in the powdered tea. The leaf is not rolled, as most Japanese steamed leaf is, as that would just make it more difficult to dry and mill. One of the major labor costs that drives its price up is the removal of the veining and stem matter. Which is why, along with the fact that the taste is not what Japanese tea drinkers are accustomed to, that this leaf has not become a part of the tea trade until very recently.
However, for the past few years there has been enthusiasm for this cultivar (Gyokuro), grown traditionally under partial cover, de-veined, and simply dried into more of a Chinese-style leaf prior to steeping. Who knows whether or not this taste will endure, but for now we are interested, as we find it to be a unique manufacture and quite tasty, if completely without historical reason. It ends up being a wonderful ‘bridge’ between the dried and steamed tea manufactures; and has also been used in food preparation, added to various hot dishes (grilled fish, soup, hot cereal) and even some cold: salads, wraps, rice (as a sprinkle). Principally, though, it is of minimal value without a stone mill, in which it is ground into a powder.
The flavor is classically pure and straight-forward – fresh, deep, smooth, and sweet. The aroma is solid and balances nicely with the flavor and color. The aroma is also fresh, and bright – and teases the palate to expect the flavor that follows.
So as a tea enthusiast, give it a try and if you like it, then enjoy it now while it is available. We think it is quite fun!!
Background on our relationship with SOTFU:
In 2012 Mary Lou was asked to visit Japan with an international group of tea experts, on a trip to meet with a variety of tea farmers and evaluate the tea market and explore new export potentials for premium tea farmers. In Shizuoka Prefecture she met with a group of farmers who were united in their desire to grow premium tea organically and to attempt to continue to grow some of the more unusual cultivars that many farmers have ceased to maintain. Mary Lou affectionately gave these farmers the moniker of the “Four Musketeers’ of Shizuoka premium organic tea. We have developed a strong relationship with this group in the years since, and their tea has been amazing. One of the farmers in this group was Minoru.Iizuka. He has been an organic tea farmer for more than 40 years now, and his eldest son, Iizuka Jr was just starting to follow in his father’s footsteps when Mary Lou visited with them.
Again this season (2021) Mr Iizuka, one of the original ‘Four Musketeers’ of SOTFU, is excited about the current work of his son. Known to his friends and colleagues simply as “Junior”, he has really come into his own as a tea farmer and manufacturer in the last decade. The family gardens are in a region known as ‘Fujieda-shi’ which is of historical importance regarding both green and black tea manufacture in Japan (for those who follow Japanese tea gardening and manufacture).
We were offered four teas from the Iizuka family’s tea gardens again this season and, on tasting them, accepted all without hesitation! One of them is the surprise repeat of their very special black tea which we are very excited about having on offer again.
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