Sencha Saemidori is a Japanese tea bush cultivar that offers abundant flavor highlights of fresh tropical fruit and melon, overlaying a lovely soft, very full-bodied and smooth, base tea flavor.
The leaf is slender in appearance, and medium-large, with deep color and an even mix of particle size. (This batch of leaf, from this year’s harvest of Iizuka, is slightly smaller in profile than the Saemidori that we have had from Mr Saito in years past; and it is a fukamushi steaming, which is a slightly deeper steaming that accentuates the rich taste – see below). The color is deep forest green and the leaf has a nice matte finish. This tea is an easy steeper and an easy sipper – one does not have to wrestle with a ‘big personality’ in the cup.
For those who prefer less of a vegetal, kelpy, or grassy flavor in their Japanese green tea, this is a splendid choice – when I close my eyes and drink in the fresh aroma of the dried leaf it is reminiscent of the subtle, softly-sweet scent of a melon vendor at the farmers market in high summer. The flavor is complex because, once the tea is steeped, layered over this smooth, full-bodied, hints-of-melon base flavor is an incredibly complex melange of tropical fruit aromas and flavors. Then in the background there is a hint of the very-popular Asian flavors of camphor and mint which serve to add a layer of spark to the smooth sweet flavors in the forefront.
This is an awesome, well-crafted tea with a huge amount of style.
The leaves of Iizuka’s Sencha Saemidori, when steeped, has an aroma that reminds us of the clean, soft, soothing aroma that one smells when the breeze picks up after a heavy rain in the spring. Fresh and life-affirming, it is perfect for a delicious spring tea. The liquor is a medium-gold color.
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 have been very excited about for several years now.
This tea, a superb fukamushi-steamed Saemidori, is special for many reasons: the history of the location of the gardens, the long history of the family in this region, the depth of commitment to organic farming, and the knowledge and experience of the family regarding tea cultivation and manufacture, all of which combine to realize the over-all goodness of the leaf being produced.
Junior’s fukamushi steaming technique yields a very full-bodied tea, as one would expect with a fukamushi steaming (see below), but what is so special about his tea is the balance that Junior has achieved between the body and the flavor. Many fukamushi sencha teas become all ‘mouthfeel’ and little taste because of the deep steaming and its affect on the chemistry of the leaf. Some Japanese tea producers include a small amount of deeply-steamed leaf in their blend to provide body, but it is rare for a tea that is completely a fukamushi steaming to have such exquisite flavor and be offered as a ‘straight growth’.
Junior has taken an unusual and very special Japanese cultivar, the Saemidori sub-variety of tea bush, and given it a perfect deep steaming. The finished leaf is therefore a deep dark green, chopped to the traditional fine-ness for quick, easy steeping. The particles have the beautiful mottled coloration that deep steaming can provide when done perfectly. 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.
The steeped tea liquor is a cloudy medium green (the cloudiness is a by-product of the fukamushi steaming) and is the perfect visual for the incredibly well-flavored tea that it is.
A note on the meaning of the term ‘fukamushi’ as it applies to tea production:
On entering the tea factory, all fresh leaf in Japan that will be manufactured into green tea undergoes a short period of steaming. While there are 3 or 4 specific levels of steaming possible (depending who you ask in Japan) the steaming step (which is one of the largest influences on the taste of Japanese green teas) determines what style of sencha each batch of tea will be. The steaming step is also one of the principle reasons (among many) as to why Japanese green tea tastes different than Chinese green tea.
Fukamushi refers to the longest period of steaming – it lasts for 120-150 seconds depending on the preference of the tea maker (and this may vary throughout the season). A sencha steamed in this style has a rich and soft , buttery taste. This level of steaming tones down the fresh green vibrancy of early-plucked leaf, and creates a harmonious, delicious tea that has abundant umami.
Essentially this is sencha for tea lovers who like their tea rich, smooth and vegetal; full in the mouth; and with rounded edges and very little astringency.
This manufacture does result in a leaf that is more finely cut than most, and this is intentional. It steeps quickly and adds fullness in the mouth. You may need to adjust your measure, water temperature, and/or steep time to accommodate for this fineness of cut.
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