Origin: Kagoshima, Japan
Year: 2006 (?)
Vendor: Received courtesy of T Ching
Price: [Edit: Tenbu- $35.00 (50g); Tenbu Fuka- $39.00 (50g) WOW! I'm glad I got the free samples!]
Verdict: Tenbu- 9.5/10; Tenbu Fuka- 8.5/10
First, some background. T Ching has started to hold online tea tastings, where they send samples of select teas to a number of registered tasters who agree to taste the teas and post their notes online. This time, the category is shaded sencha. 6 gram samples of two shaded senchas (Tenbu and Tenbu Fuka) were sent out, and tasting notes are beginning to accumulate here.
I have already posted my notes over at T Ching, but I figured that I'd post them here too. (Why not?) The only differences are that I've added links and images, I've bumped up the grade for the Tenbu Fuka, and I've changed some of the formatting to make it more like the rest of my reviews. The brewing parameters were identical for both teas: Unglazed Kyûsu (roughly 8oz volume); Brita-filtered tap water; 3 grams tea / 7oz water; 145°F for all infusions; 60s, 15s, 15s, 15s, 30s, 40s, 50s.
Let's start with the dry leaves. They had a nice dark green color, with a fair amount of fannings (though this is not necessarily a bad thing in sencha). Also of note was the deep, grassy aroma. There were some marine notes too, but not much compared to some other senchas (like the fukamushi sencha I reviewed a long time ago). There is no hay smell at all, which is a good indicator of freshness.
The liquor was consistently a gorgeous, vibrant green. The first infusion was more peridot, followed by emerald, then lime in subsequent infusions. I tried to take a picture of the various infusions, but the color was not represented well at all. See Steven Dodd's review for a photo of the liquor color-- he was more successful than I was.
Now, on to the most important part: the taste. I thought this was an absolutely stunning tea. The liquor was wonderfully sweet, even candy-like. The first two infusions also had surprisingly thick mouth-feel, which I liked very much. There is little astringency, and I detected just a hint of grassiness in the first few infusions.
I thought it was truly spectacular that this sencha made it through 7 infusions. To be fair, the 7th infusion was weak and a bit insipid, but it was still tea (and good tea, I might add). When I first read that we would be preparing 5 infusions of a sencha, I thought someone was marginally insane, but needless to say I was proven quite wrong. Overall, I think this is a wonderful tea, and I would certainly purchase more if the option were available. For its excellent taste and utter lack of flaws according to my palate, the Organic Tenbu Shaded Sencha gets a 9.5/10.
The dry leaf here is slightly more robust looking than the Tenbu, with fewer fannings. The leaf has a dark green color, similar to the Tenbu. Also, there are a few very long, wiry leaves. The aroma is more grassy and vegetal than the Tenbu, but overall I thought they smelled relatively similar.
The color of the Tenbu Fuka was almost as excellent as the Tenbu, but it wasn't quite as vibrant in every infusion. The third infusion was a beautiful lime color that surpassed the Tenbu at a similar stage, but I found the other infusions to be duller looking than the Tenbu. Still, compared to most other senchas, I thought the Tenbu Fuka displayed excellent color.
I think the Tenbu Fuka has the potential to be much more complex than the Tenbu, but unfortunately I do not think 3g is enough leaf. I found the same candy-like sweetness (perhaps the slightest touch of green apple candy), but I noticed a stronger grassy note and slightly more astringency as well. I also experienced a tingly, almost-perspiring body sensation (I know there is a word for this, but it is eluding me at the moment) at times, which I did not get from the Tenbu. Unfortunately, the way I brewed it, all of the infusions were slightly weak.
I was not quite as impressed with the Tenbu Fuka as I was with the Tenbu, though this may simply be due to not using enough leaf, as I was limited to the steeping conditions given by T Ching. I think that because there are fewer particles in the Tenbu Fuka, it may require slightly more leaf than the Tenbu to provide the same amount of surface area. Though the Tenbu Fuka seems to have a lot of potential, I still walked away feeling a bit underwhelmed. So, the Organic Tenbu Fuka gets an 8.5/10.
Overall, I liked the Tenbu more than the Tenbu Fuka. This surprised me because I figured, "Tenbu Fuka has a longer name, so it must be better." It is worth noting that others have liked the Tenbu Fuka slightly more, but I think it is safe to say that both of these teas were spectacular specimens, and depending on how they are brewed, the title of victor could go either way. Also, one point I have not yet touched on is the fact that these are both organic teas. Japanese organic teas do not have a great reputation at the moment in terms of flavor, so it was quite nice to find something organic and high quality. Now I just need to find a way to get a hold of more...