Those who enjoy Japanese sencha know that Sencha is traditionally a blended tea and that elements of terroir such as tea garden location and tea bush cultivar conspire to create the the many varied tastes of sencha. These elements are brought together in sencha manufacture by the split-second choices made by the tea blender/buyer while tasting samples of ‘aracha’ at the tea market. Local tea bush cultivars can be ‘heirloom’ varieties while others are 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 Mr Iizuka and his eldest son ‘Junior’ .
This Sencha is not a blended tea. It is made from 100% Yabukita leaf, a popular tea bush cultivar that has become the ‘standard of excellence‘ among knowledgeable tea enthusiasts in Japan for its delicious taste and fragrance.
This tea is produced by the son (Junior) of one of our premiere tea producers, Mr. Iizuka. Their tea gardens are in Fujieda-shi, a little-known but wonderful area that produces some of the finest sencha and black teas in Shizuoka Prefecture.
Junior says: “This sub-category of the Yabukita cultivar’s harvest time is early-to-mid-season. Yabukita is the principal cultivar used for Japanese sencha, and the manufacture of this sub-category of it (the “-jo”) occurs when my physical strength is still very fresh from having only worked with this earliest plucking of the Yabukita varietal. For me, Yabukita Sencha-jo is the pinnacle of the harvest and makes me feel very satisfied in my gardens.”
As evidenced here, the tea bush cultivar as well as many other elements of terroir such as soil, climate and the skill of the tea farmer come into play to make something that normally would be ordinary be….’extraordinary’. We at Tea Trekker are quite fortunate to have been offered this selection from ‘Junior’, because we think that this particularly delicious sub-category of Japan’s most-famous cultivar is an example of a tea that is unknown to many tea enthusiasts, but will be of interest to them once they have tasted it (as we have!).
The finished leaf of this “-jo” sencha is a deep dark green, chopped to the traditional small size for consistent, reliable steeping. The particles have the beautiful mottled coloration that uniform steaming will provide when done well. The flavor is well-structured and deep, representing the early-season freshness of the leaf at harvest. The taste is pure and straight-forward – fresh, deep, smooth, and sweet. The aroma is deeply vegetal with elusive notes that can be difficult to pinpoint.
The steeped tea liquor is a clear, medium-green and is an excellent representation of the well-flavored tea that it is..and another example of how liquor color may not herald the intensity of flavor of the steeped tea.
For the enthusiast as well as the beginner, this tea is easy to measure and steep, and re-steeps extremely well.
Background on our relationship with Junior and his father:
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.
For this season (2020) Mr Iizuka, one of the original ‘Four Musketeers’ of SOTFU, again wanted to show us examples of the current work of his son. Known to his friends and colleagues 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 this season and, on tasting them, accepted all without hesitation!
This tea, the “-jo” quality level of Sencha, is rarely seen outside of Japan. This designation refers to the earliest season leaf that is therefore normally the highest quality of whichever particular cultivar is being harvested and manufactured at that garden. Tea Trekker will have at least two “-jo” manufactures in our selection for 2020.
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