This namesake tea is produced by our dear tea producer Mr. Saito. This particular offering, 100% from the most classic of Japanese tea plantings, the Yabukita cultivar, was grown in his tea gardens in Honyama, which many believe to be the area that produces the finest senchas in Shizuoka Prefecture. Saito’s tea fields are located in the mountains near the Warashina River. The environment of these tea fields is pristine and filled with natural beauty, healthy plants, birds, insects and all the good components of a thriving tea garden. This offering of 100% Yabukita was grown at some of the highest altitudes of his tea gardens in the mountains, which is how it earns the designation “-jo” (highest quality).
Yabukita, the tea bush cultivar that was used for this Sencha, is what 70% of the tea bushes planted in Japan are. This cultivar is not only the work-horse of the Japanese tea industry, but also the one that has proven itself over time to be best-suited to the climate and over-all production methods for fine Japanese tea.
Yabukita tea plants are to Japanese tea production what china bush plants are to China and assamica tea bushes are to northeast India and most of Africa. It is the same theory as to why Burgundy grows pinot noir grapes and why the sauvignon blanc grape thrives in New Zealand: there are places in which certain cultivars grow best and produce better examples of a food production than that plant will produce in another location. The food world is replete with examples of this phenomenon, but for tea, it is often of paramount importance. While most varieties of tea plant can be grown ‘anywhere’, in most of those locations they will simply survive, while for high quality, special tea, we want the plants to thrive, so finding the place(s) that mesh with the specific nutritional needs of each cultivar is critical! And that is what Honyama is to the Yabukita tea plant, and in specific, the cultivar of the Yabukita tea plant family that Saito plants in his fabulous gardens there. This tea is some of his highest grade, the “-jo” tea.
Tea farmers such as Mr. Saito spend a lot of time assessing how to make better and better tea while maintaining their commitment to organic production. We think you will agree that his hard work has reaped rewards with this tea, which delivers a rich and full flavor with a smooth, buttery, matcha-like depth of flavor. Truly an exquisite example of Japanese tea-making art, this is a perfect representation of the most classic of the Japanese green tea flavor profiles.
In keeping with the mountain origins of this garden and to celebrate the history of tea-making in this region, Saito continues to practice what is known locally as ‘shallow steaming’. This is a variation on Asamushi steaming, which is generally the lightest of the Japanese aracha steaming levels.
This tea has a slender leaf that is a perfect ‘vegetal’ green in color. (Think celery, avocado, and peapods) The dry leaf has the booming aroma of a hearty tea, and is that perfect, evenly-sized mix that steeps very easily.The booming aroma continues onto both the wet leaf and into the teapot, and ultimately from the steeped liquid in the cup as well.
The flavor is over-all in the stronger style, as it should be for this cultivar and place. The style is exquisite with a rich and full, smooth flavor that offers a buttery, matcha-like depth of flavor. Saito Honyama tea has a very full body and is rich with umami.
The tea liquor is a deep golden straw color, unusual, but beautiful and confidence-inspiring as we watch it steep. Do not wait for the color to deepen as it may not depending on your water’s chemistry.
Fans of Mr. Saito may recall that he suffered the loss of most of his tea in the spring of 2015 when he had a fire in his warehouse. We received a small first order that year and then nothing else until the following year. We are pleased to report that his garden has suffered no serious permanent damage from the warehouse and living quarters fire of three years ago, and he is back to full production. Saito’s tea gardens are thriving, and his tea is as tasty as, or even better than when Mary Lou first met him in the autumn of 2012.
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