This is a classic, super- long-leaf Sencha that a Japanese tea enthusiast would choose to drink if they wanted their Sencha to be in the old-fashioned, traditional style of large, full, well-folded leaf, showing a smooth, deep and soft flavor. This is one of the most exciting sencha teas that we have tasted in quite some time (years). Our friend and tea mentor Mr. Saito has possibly outdone himself with this new varietal that he is introducing this year.
Tsuyuhikari is much ‘easier’ to steep than most senchas due to several factors: A) it has a larger, dense leaf structure that causes a subsequent slowing of rehydration; B) the particles are much more even in size to each other and there is little if any of the ‘shrapnel’ of broken leaf, so there is less variation in weight from measure to measure; and C) whether the steeping is 2 mins or 5 mins, the leaf never ‘bolts’, and will offer varying taste, but at any length of steeping time this sencha will astound with its smooth body and pure flavor.
The rich forest-green color of the dry leaf previews its cool, refreshing aroma of clear, cold water in a forest stream. While the steeped tea has a minimum of aroma (it saves itself for more flavor in the steeped liquid), the dry leaf has an abundance of aroma that encourages taking a moment to really savor the depth of nuance that this tea offers.
One interesting aspect of enthusiasm for Japanese green tea is that there is so much variety in the size of the leaf, which directly affects the steeping. Some prefer a fine, thin, and small leaf particle that will steep in seconds and not yield more than 2 or 3 re-steepings before the goodness in the leaf has been ‘spent’ yielding an intense, highly-saturated liquid tea; while others prefer to use leaf that is larger and less reactive to steeping time and temperature, so that there is more control over the release of the flavor components (and one can normally obtain many more re-steepings from this type of leaf).
Our 2021 Tsuyuhikari sencha is on the extreme end of this scale – huge leaf that allows for complete control and ‘steady-as-you-go‘ steepability. It rarely is possible that it will ‘go astringent‘, the way so many Sencha manufactures will if you don’t catch them at just the ‘right‘ moment.
Those who enjoy Japanese sencha understand that Sencha is traditionally a blended tea, and that the elements of terroir (including tea garden location, weather, and tea bush cultivar) collaborate to create the the many varied tastes of each particular sencha. However, these elements are brought together in sencha manufacture by the split-second choices made by the tea blender/buyers while tasting samples of ‘aracha’ (unfinished leaf) 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. Saito (as this Tsuyuhikari is).
This is a carefully-made sencha with a clear, fresh flavor that is ever-so-pleasantly ‘lush green’. This leaf is a soothing, medium-dark green color. Very large leaf particles point to expert handling and successful efforts to keep the leaf intact despite the fact that this is sheared leaf.
The tea liquor is clear lime-yellow and for those in the know, shows a high proportion of amino acid content (which means a full body, lots of umami, and perhaps a reduced stimulant content). The leaf’s fragrance is deep and rich, also telegraphing the full body and super smooth overall flavor.
For the enthusiast as well as the beginner, this tea is easy to steep and is utterly delicious.
– Special Note –
A unique aspect of this cultivar and how it was manufactured is that it responds well to a ‘rest’ in between manufacture and steeping. Not a long time, as is necessary for ‘aging’, but several months to a year and a half or two years. (and this tea can be stored for longer!) It is what is known as a ‘Vintage’ tea. We are right at the beginning of that period now and our Tsuyuhikari is drinking exactly as predicted! We look forward to tasting it over the next year to year-and-a-half (if we can wait that long!) to see how it develops.
This is another of the Japanese green teas 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 the Japanese tea enthusiast who wants to try many cultivars and varietals, Or for anyone who wants an excellent example of an old-fashioned, hand-made, cultivar-specific Shizuoka Sencha.
This tea is offered to us by our dear friend and tea farmer Mr. Saito. His tea gardens are in Honyama, which many believe to be the area that produces the finest senchas in Shizuoka Prefecture. Because we are able to offer several stunning teas from particular gardens within Shizuoka Prefecture, we tend to think that he is correct in a ‘big-picture’ way, although our delicious offerings from several other famous regions within Shizuoka Prefecture, compel us to temper our agreement with a few caveats! 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, sustainable tea garden. Indeed it is a magical place for tea gardens and families who strive to farm sublime Japanese Sencha, Gyokuro, and the other cultivars that call this region ‘home’.
We are indeed honored to be among the few select tea vendors to whom Mr Saito offers his tea (which sells out every year) and we eagerly look forward to the arrival of his samples every year. This season’s tea, 2021, is exquisite..
Tsuyuhikari Sencha is made with leaf from a classic tea bush cultivar that has been tweaked by Saito over the years (approx 30 years) to produce his vision of what this cultivar should exhibit. Because he prefers organic growing methodology, he has at the same time been constantly experimenting with new organic fertilizers that allow the soil to encourage the development of rich amino acids in the tea, which results in lots of tasty and desireable ‘umami’ in the cup.
For those unfamiliar with umami, this term combines the Japanese character for ‘delicious’ with the one for ‘taste’. Umami is the name for the fifth basic sensation of taste, along with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. It is an otherwise difficult-to-describe kind of savoriness associated with many food items such as seared meats, miso soup, aged cheese, mushrooms, tomatoes, soy sauce and green tea. A high percentage of certain naturally occurring amino acids in these foods is responsible for the chewy mouth-feel of umami-rich foods.
The amino acids in tea are also responsible for explaining the phenomenon that occurs when a human consumes tea and doesn’t get the ‘caffeine jolt’ that they often do otherwise from a beverage that is similar in every sense except the amino acid level. It cannot be said that these amino acids reduce the amount of caffeine in the steeped tea, but scientific evidence does point to the fact that the amino acids do act independently to relax and calm the body, which offsets some of the caffeine otherwise being consumed in the beverage.
Tea farmers such as Mr. Saito spend a lot of time figuring out how to make better and better tea without resorting to artificial fertilizers and pesticides. We think that you will agree that his hard work has paid off with this tea, which delivers a hearty, very mildly-astringent cup of tea that flirts with the tongue and is quite satisfying. There is none of the often-found sencha ‘kelpy-ness’ in the taste, nor is there an excess of sweetness – but the overall taste and aroma is clean and vegetal with a suspicion of sweet grass in the background. A truly exceptional Sencha.
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.
Fans of Mr. Saito’s tea 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 damage from the warehouse and living quarters fire of several years ago, and he is back to full production. Saito’s tea gardens are thriving, and his tea is now even better than when Mary Lou first met him in the autumn of 2012.
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