Wednesday, May 21, 2008

2008 Uji Kirameki Shincha

Class: Green
Origin: Uji prefecture, Japan
Year: 2008
Vendor: O-Cha (Product page)
Price: $37.95 (110g)

From the O-Cha page:

It's's pleasure to be able to provide you with hand picked "Kirameki" shincha, from Japan's oldest teashop, Tsuen Tea. Picked by hand using only the top select leaves from the first harvest, it is harvested in a way no machine can ever hope to match... This is a limited edition green tea and will only be available for a short time in limited supplies, here is your chance to try some of the best of what Japan has to offer in Japanese green tea.

What a CV! I couldn't resist ordering it this year. It's pricey, but hand-picked teas are a rarity in Japan, so it seemed like it could be worth it.


As you can see, I decided to brew this outside today. Now that I'm back home and not in a dorm, I can actually enjoy being outdoors again. Now I just need to get a portable heat source so I can keep a kettle warm out there! Maybe I'll cobble one together this summer. Anyway, before I get too wrapped up with the possibility of getting new teawares...

Dry LeafThe dry leaf is quite lovely for a sencha. It is dark green, and the leaves are, for the most part, pretty big. This is clearly on the asamushi (light-steamed) side of the spectrum, in contrast with the 2008 Yukata Midori I wrote about the other day. The leaf's aroma is mild, but pleasant; grassy and slightly sweet.

InfusionThe tea brews to a yellow-green color (the yellowness seen here is largely due to the direct sunlight), and has much more clarity than more heavily-steamed sencha, as the leaf is generally more intact. Depending on what you want to get from this tea, you may want to brew it with a heavy hand. If brewed with a regular amount of leaf, it yields a mild, sweet cup. With more leaf comes more flavor, but less sweetness, resulting in a fairly grassy cup. This tea doesn't get very astringent or bitter, even with a lot of leaf, so go wild.

Outside notes

If you like grassy and mild, this is for you. Personally I prefer the Yukata Midori, as it is sweeter and a bit bolder, but I can definitely see that this is a very high quality tea. Is it worth the price? Well... maybe. If you love teas like O-Cha's Hatsumi, Fukamushi (supreme or regular), or Yukata Midori, or Den's Fukamushi or Maki, I would probably spend your money on something else. If you like guricha/tamaryokucha or Chinese greens though, this might be worth a taste.


Expect more outdoors-themed reviews/photos in the future. :)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

What is shincha? | Review of 2008 Yukata Midori shincha

Well folks, shincha season is in full swing. If you aren’t familiar, shincha is the very first Japanese tea sold after a new harvest, and is only sold for a few months’ time. Another term you may hear thrown around is ichiban sencha; this is a more broad term, as it includes not only shincha but also first flush tea that is cold-stored for processing and sale throughout the year.

For comparison’s sake, shincha could be likened to beaujolais nouveau in that it is a celebration of the new harvest, and that it typically does not last long after production. That’s pretty much where the similarities end, though.

Shincha is not better or worse than ichibancha, so don’t be swayed by sales pitches (not that there really are any). It generally has a slightly more intense flavor, but doesn’t necessarily taste better than regular first flush sencha. In addition, it goes stale much sooner than ichibancha (which is why it is only sold for a short time).

Shincha can be purchased from most, but not quite all, dedicated Japanese tea vendors; O-Cha, Hibiki-an, Den’s, and Zencha (among others) are all popular.

When brewing shincha, one is advised to brew a bit weaker than one normally would for sencha. Lower temperatures and/or less leaf may be needed, and shorter steep times in particular are recommended. Shincha is slightly more intense than ichibancha, so it is easier to overbrew. If I could share one more bit of advice that helped me greatly, I would suggest pouring sencha slowly from your teapot. This pearl of wisdom isn’t specific to shincha; I do it with all Japanese teas, and I find it helps keep bitterness at bay.

Class: Green
Origin: Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan
Year: 2008
Vendor: O-Cha (Product page)
Price: $24.95 (110g)

Since trying the Yukata Midori last year, I have eagerly awaited its return in 2008, and this year’s crop does not disappoint.

Dry Leaf

The leaf, as you may or may not be able to see, is fairly broken up, being a deep-steamed (fukamushi) tea. The scent of the dry leaf is sweet and rich. When brewed, this tea really shows its true color: vibrant, deep green. The color of brewed Yukata Midori is something of a legend among us internet shincha geeks.


It’s flavor this year is even better than last year’s, or at least better than I remember last year’s to be. If it had a fault last year, it was that it was a touch too mild; the 2008 version, however, is not. Being a blend, I imagine it’s producers attempt to achieve a consistent product from year to year, and I think they did a good job. It is still very smooth and sweet, without much astringency or any bitterness to speak of, and has a mild grassy flavor I don’t remember from before. Don’t worry if you’re not a fan of grassiness— I’m not either, but this was subtle enough that it’s really not an issue. It does require a light hand (yes, Hobbes, I’m stealing your line), being quite fussy with temperature. I would start low (160ºF or so) and work your way up until you find a temperature that suits your equipment and tastes.

I wholeheartedly recommend this tea, especially if you’re looking for a good introductory shincha. It will always be a favorite of mine!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Handmade Nilgiri

Dry Leaf
Class: Black
Origin: Nilgiri, India
Year: 2007
Vendor: TeaSource (Product page)
Price: $6.04 (2 oz) / $11.27 (4 oz)

I'm back! Sorry for the long hiatus; between finals, beach week, graduation, and moving out, I've had a lot on my mind lately! Anyway, this isn't time for excuses, it's time for tea. This particular tea, a handmade Nilgiri, is a gift from my good friend Dustin. I tried one or two Nilgiris years ago and was unimpressed, but this tea has shown me that Nilgiri is not simply an inferior version of Darjeeling.

Dry Leaf

That said, this tea is an awful lot like Darjeeling. If I recall correctly, the Nilgiri region is just one mountain range away, so it's really not too surprising. The leaf, nice and whole, looks just like a second flush Darjeeling, with a mix of browns, whites, and greens. It smells (and oh boy, does it ever!) like a cross between Darjeeling and Ceylon, actually; it's like a Darjeeling with a bit of the edge smoothed out, which I enjoyed.

I brewed it just as I would a Darjeeling: 4 grams of leaf, 10 oz of water (yes, I like to make things inconvenient for both metric and non-metric users), and 2 minutes of steep time.

First infusion

The first steep was a bit under-brewed, but still good. It was sweet, fruity, floral, and had nice body. It's not quite as complex as a top-notch Darjeeling, but it makes up for it with solid, powerful flavor. The second steep had more "tea" flavor ("tea" referring to typical American-brewed tea), but was still good.

Teapot and glassOverall, I would definitely recommend this tea— especially to someone exploring Nilgiri tea or to a devout Darjeeling drinker who is looking for a change of pace. Thanks again to Dustin for providing me with the sample, I enjoyed it very much (plus, I got to use an old teapot I had all but forgotten about)!