Those who enjoy Japanese sencha understand that Sencha is traditionally a blended tea, and that the elements of terroir including tea garden location and tea bush cultivar conspire positively to create the many varied tastes of each particular sencha. Traditionally, the goal in sencha manufacture is consistency, because the historical sense of sencha is that a particular ‘brand’ should taste the same from batch-to-batch, day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year, as is the case regarding soy sauce, miso, fish sauce, sake, and most Japanese foodstuffs. The elements that are necessary to be brought together to yield this consistency in sencha manufacture are selected in the split-second choices made by the tea blender/buyers while tasting samples of ‘aracha’ (‘half-made tea’) at the early morning tea markets that are held daily (during the tea season) in the major tea-producing regions of Japan. While the focus of the buyers at these markets is primarily on this branding consistency, there are also sidebar tastings occurring as well. These sometimes include informational tasting of local tea bush cultivars that might be ‘heirloom’ varieties; while others may be new cultivars that have been developed by one of the Japanese government’s tea research institutes, or by educated and experienced tea farmers such as our colleagues Mr Saito, Mr. Iwasaki and his son, and others from the SOTFU group.
Tea Trekker’s Sencha from 100-year-old Trees is manufactured by the Iwasaki family garden with Yabukita leaf (the most widely grown tea bush cultivar in Japan) plucked from tea trees that are known to be among the oldest working tea trees on the archipelago . Most tea plantings in Japan are the lovely, rolling rows of ‘pluck-high’ modern tea bushes that are tended and groomed (sculpted, really) and replaced periodically for the utmost fresh, vibrant flavor and optimal (but not necessarily maximum) yield, But as evidenced here, many other elements of terroir such as soil, climate and the skill of the tea farmer come into play to make something that could be ordinary be….’extraordinary’. This Sencha is manufactured from leaf harvested from bushes that are 100+ years old, which is quite different than the normal Japanese way of tea production. The stands of these tea plantings are also groomed and well-maintained in the East Asian tradition; however, not as formally as the modern and temple gardens. They are kept only in gardens that have been in a family for many generations or have similar, long-term, established provenance.
Being manufactured to a different end purpose, this is a carefully-made sencha that has a clear, fresh flavor that is ever-so-pleasantly ‘green’. It shows a hint of the seashore taste characteristic of some Japanese senchas. This tea is a soothing, dark green color – almost greenish-black in some light. Very large leaf particles point to expert handling and Iwasaki ‘s efforts to keep the leaf intact despite the fact that this is sheared leaf.
The tea liquor is pale yellow and for those in the know, shows a high proportion of amino acid content. The fragrance is deep and rich, which signals the full body and super smooth overall flavor.
This is likely the Japanese green tea for those who are not yet sure whether or not they like Japanese green tea. Or for those who have not discovered the joys of Japanese green tea. Or for anyone who want an excellent example of a classic Shizuoka sencha.
For the enthusiast as well as the beginner, this tea is easy to steep and is utterly delicious.
Tea Trekker’s Sencha from 100-year-old Trees is the taste of traditional Japanese green tea. Having been blended from leaf that has a more mature, ‘bigger’ flavor profile, it shows similar qualities of maturity that one finds in olive oil or coffee or such that is harvested from old-growth plantings.
Background on our relationship with SOTFU, Iwasaki, and his family:
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 Shinobu Iwasaki. He has been an organic tea farmer for many years and his son is now following in his footsteps.
For the past two seasons (2019 & 2020) Mr Iwasaki, one of the original ‘Four Musketeers’ of SOTFU, wanted to show us examples of the current work of his son, who has in this decade really become a masterful tea farmer. Known to his friends and colleagues as “Junior”, he is following in his father’s footsteps and will soon be in charge of the tea garden.
The family gardens are in a region known as ‘Ryougouchi’ which is of historical importance regarding tea manufacture in Japan. This region was traditionally one of the premier locations for tea gardens, but at one point fell into disrepair. Because of the efforts of tea farmers such as the Iwasaki family this area has reclaimed its reputation as a first-class tea-growing region in Shizuoka Prefecture. This region supports many of the old-growth plantings that are so revered and produce delicious, unique tea.
We were offered four teas from the Iwasaki family’s tea gardens this season and, on tasting them, accepted all of them without hesitation!
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