Japanese Green Teas [April 2014 Tea Drinking Report]

This month’s tea genre was Japanese greens, composing of Sencha and Gyokuro. This means I drink that genre of tea in some form at least once a day. This could mean gong-fu, grandpa, or even a cold-brew. I’ll still consume other teas, but the primary focus is understanding and building a palate for a specific type/genre/region of tea through repetition. This the most personal blogging type style of post for TeaDB, and the goal is to stretch my palate as well as give recommendations to interested parties.

Primary vendors ordered from:

Also featuring:

Approximate Brewing Parameters

Brewing parameters are very important for Japanese Green Teas. My experiences this month have only confirmed this further. I flirted around with the brewing parameters for each of these teas, but for the sake of comparing teas more directly, I settled on some relatively similar brewing parameters for each tea type.

  • Sencha: 0.8-1.2:1 g/oz.
    • 160F/90 seconds.
    • 160F/10 seconds.
    • 165-170/35 seconds.
  • Gyokuro: 2.0-2.2:1 g/oz.
    • 130F/90 seconds.
    • 130F/5 seconds.
    • 140F/35 seconds.
Japanese Green Tea

Japanese Greens. Feat. Ippodo, O-Cha, Den’s Tea.


O-Cha

Super tenured vendor with a great reputation. I’d placed a large order (including a couple different Senchas and Gyokuros) in September, and the teas had been sitting in my tea fridge. I’d previously drank my way through O-Cha’s Yutaka Midori and Chiran Sencha, having had largely positive experiences with both. My only real (minor) complaint is the larger purchasing size (100g) which for a Chinese tea drinker like myself leads to major green tea anxiety!

Kagoshima Sencha Sae Midori

Probably my favorite sencha of the whole batch. Rich and grassy with a full body. Brewed with slightly more tea leaf it can border on astringency in a very pleasant way. I will say that my cups did get a bit worse as the bag remained open, despite fairly diligent storage (an unfortunate side effect shared by every tea here).

Yame Gyokuro

Likely due to my own brewing ineptitude, I’ve only really had negative experiences brewing gyokuro. Not to be deterred, I purchased a thermometer which I have since realized is a necessity for anyone starting in Gyokuro. I lowered the temperature from low (62C) to very, very low (55C)! The results were a very nice, umami-rich cup of tea and easily my best experiences brewing the mellow dew. Similar to the Sae Midori, I preferred the second infusion. This could also easily brew out 4-5 times.

Yame Gyokuro

O-Cha’s Yame Gyokuro.


Ippodo

And you thought O-Cha has been around! I went to New York and stopped by their local Ippodo, picking up a bag of their Kaboku Sencha and Rimpo Gyokuro from this 300-year old tea shop.

Kaboku Sencha

Nice tea. When upping the leaf to water ratio, this one probably performed the best. At higher leaf to water ratios it teased at bitterness as well as a whole array of flavors! This is nicely different to the Kagoshima-grown Sae Midori. Not as rich, but still full-bodied and pleasant.

Rimpo Gyokuro

Didn’t quite care for this as much as the Yame Gyokuro. Rich and salty (?) and not nearly as sweet. High in umami.

Kaboku

Ippodo’s Kaboku Sencha.


Den’s Tea

I’ve had good experiences with Den’s, especially their Sencha Zuiko, and happened to have some Organic Sencha sitting in the tea fridge!

Organic Sencha

A bit disappointing, although not a bad tea. The Organic Sencha (Uji grown) has paler leaves and a different, fruitier smell and taste that is not as richly grassy as the other senchas. A change of pace compared to the other, more grassy and sweet senchas featured in this post.

Yunomi

My first sampling of a popular vendor with an enormous selection. Got their higher-grade Fukumidori to review on the show.

Sayamacha Fukumidori

Not quite as rich or as striking as the senchas from Ippodo and O-Cha. Still a nice tea, with a basic sencha sweetness. More mineraly and slightly fruity compared with the Sae Midori.

Recommmended Teas:

  • Yame Gyokuro (O-Cha)
  • Kaboku Sencha (Ippodo)
  • Kagoshima Sencha Sae Midori (O-Cha)

What I learned?

It is much harder to create consistent experiences with Japanese Green Tea than Chinese teas, specifically oolong and pu’erh! I found my opinions often varying wildly, session to session. Brewing parameters (temperature, time) are extremely important, and being even slightly lackadaisical can result in a ruined sencha/gyokuro session. This makes it very difficult to do comparisons as different teas will respond better to variations in brewing parameters (one size does not fit all).

One, unrelated thing I did learn was that the Shincha Teapot (great for the price) from Den’s Tea is actually quite significantly better than the smaller, more expensive sakura teapot (also from Den’s).

It become clear to me that a month is not nearly enough time to be able to remotely touch the world of Japanese greens. Including Gyokuro into this month was fun, but undoubtedly far too ambitious!

Tea Vendor $ Quantity Cost/Oz Rating
Rimpo Gyokuro (Uji) Ippodo $15.00 1.76 $8.52 Alright.
Kaboku Sencha (Uji) Ippodo $12.50 1.76 $7.10 Excellent.
Kagoshima Sencha Sae-Midori (Kagoshima) O-Cha $22.00 3.53 $6.23 Excellent.
Yame Gyokuro (Kagoshima) O-Cha $26.00 3.53 $7.37 Excellent.
Organic Sencha (Uji) Den’s Tea $10.25 2 $5.13 OK.
Sayamacha Fukumidori (Saitama) Yunomi $17.50 1.76 $9.94 Nice enough.
Tea Timer and Tea Fridge

Important tools. Tea TImer and Tea Fridge!

Next up for May: Yiwu Pu’erh (and four months of Pu’erh!).

This entry was posted in Article, Drinking Report, Green Tea, Japanese Green Tea, Long-form Article and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Japanese Green Teas [April 2014 Tea Drinking Report]

  1. Peter says:

    Nice summary! Yes, paramaters are important, but so is the type of sencha used, viz. asa, chhu, or fuka. One’s taste experiences will vary with the type of sencha involved. One could also argue that single garden vs. blend will also affect the taste. Organic versus non-organic may be another consideration. And other considerations abound (e.g., storage conditions, harvest, cultivar, etc.). Having said that, they much easier to learn than are puers and yanchas!

    There is lots to consider when brewing these puppies, for sure, but the rewards are eminently worthwhile.

    • James says:

      Agreed! Japanese Greens are a complicated group of teas that a month certainly does not do justice to.

      Cheers!
      -James

  2. Peter says:

    I would be interested to know why you chose O-Cha & Ippodo as primary vendors?

    Thanks.

    • James says:

      Hi Peter, I’ll be the first to admit that I have not sampled expansively from Japanese green tea vendors. I chose from O-Cha primarily because i had purchased their Shincha last year and had positive experiences with their tea, especially the Yutaka Midori. Ippoodo has always been high on my list of to-try vendors and I had an opportunity to stop by their shop in NYC and pick up one sencha and one gyokuro.

      Den’s Tea is another vendor I have bought from and enjoy, but due to already having plenty of tea I was only able to include what I had lying around.

      Hope that clarifies. Cheers!
      -James

  3. Dennis says:

    James you should try steeping your Gyokuro even richer. 3 grams of tea for 15 ml of water at 40C. I shared your previous experience with Gyokuro, not being too impressed. But after trying this technique… it’s truly mind-boggling how good it is! Savor every drop!

    • James says:

      Hi Dennis,

      Thanks for the comment. I definitely agree. There is a ton of room for experimentation with brewing these Japanese tea, one aspect in which it is more complex than oolong or pu’erh. I didn’t mention it in this article, but I did try dropping the temperature and upping the leaf ratio a couple times.. The results were very mixed. In the end I decided to go with a less ambitious ratio in an attempt to recreate results and compare teas.

      Will have to try those ratios next time.

      Cheers!
      -James

  4. Peter says:

    Thanks for the replies, James.

    Next up: 4 months of puer? OMG!

  5. Cwyn says:

    This past Saturday, I served Sencha Ashikubo from Camellia Sinensis at the tea ceremony I did for my son’s graduation party. My son and his professor were given the first and second steeping from the gaiwan, others got subsequent steepings. A single steeping was sufficient for our Western European friends, and we easterners went far longer. I steeped it out at about 8 steepings and by then I was the only one left still drinking.

    We discussed Japanese cuisine. My son’s professor is Parisian and spent 6 weeks in Japan where he ate a mostly fish and vegetable diet along with Sencha. Said he lost 10 pounds of weight. Our family gave him a Wild Monk sheng cake as a gift, and he has not had puerh before. We talked about how the lighter Japanese teas probably go well with fish, vegetable and soy diets, but puerh is great for digesting beef, duck, pork and dark sauces.

    I drank mostly Japanese greens in my younger days, and kukicha twig tea. The lightness supported my vegetarian diet. I now eat meat again, and find that I need the fermentation of puerh for my slower digestion.

    • James says:

      Thanks for sharing that story! That sounds like a very cool experience for all those involved.

      Cheers!
      -James

  6. Payton Swick says:

    Nice! I think you’ve hit on the Gyokuro technique. I was taught 55C for ~2min when I was trained, and it seems to be a good formula (tweaked as necessary for the tea and pot, of course). If I’m not using a thermometer (which I often don’t these days), it’s really hard to tell what that feels like, but my rule of thumb is that if I think it’s cool enough, give it another few minutes to cool before brewing.

    Thank you for the great article as always.

    • James says:

      Hi Payton,

      Thanks for the kind words! Glad to hear that I’ve settled on some reasonable brewing parameters :). As witnessed in the latest episode with O-Cha’s Yame Gyokuro, getting it to the proper temperature is an exercise in patience.

      Cheers!
      -James

  7. Cwyn says:

    I commented about umami taste before on another post, and its similarity to glutamate on another page, but I can’t find it now. Umami is sometimes described as a marine or beany taste. It is L-theanine, an amino acid. The Sencha Ashikubo I mentioned above is an example of a strong theanine tea. This tea has a remarkable effect on me, relaxing, visual and mental clarity. Theanine can also have a blood pressure lowering effect, and by this I mean an actual effect, not a pseudo-scientific claim. I mention this because it is good to know if a tea has any additional physical or medical effect, if a person has particular medical concerns.

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