September 23, 2013

Green Tea From Japan: Acquired!

It's about 3:00 PM as I write this on a Monday afternoon. I usually drink one or two cups of coffee early in the morning, and Japanese green tea in the afternoon. I'm actually drinking a cup of sencha right now.

I recently received a nice little package from the Japanese tea company known as Hibiki-An. I bought a can of their matcha premium and a bag of their sencha fukamushi premium (shown below).

I've always liked Japanese tea, but never really paid too much attention to it. A few years ago, however, my attitude shifted in the following manner. First, I grew tired of the "fake" green tea bags that you find in variety packs of Tazo, Bigelow, Stash, and other brands of tea. This led me to check out the tea section in my local Japanese market. Wow, so many brands and types to choose from; I eventually decided to try some "real" green tea bags. I somewhat randomly decided to pick up a box of Den's Tea genmaicha tea bags.

Long story short, those tea bags were great. This led me to the Den's Tea website, which in turn introduced me to the deep dark world of Japanese green tea, the different types, the different tea-growing regions, how the tea is grown, harvested, and processed, blah blah blah. Moreover, I learned that it's important to brew Japanese green tea properly, i.e., with the right amount of tea, the appropriate volume of water (at the correct temperature), etc. Of course, this led to the acquisition of tea-brewing items . . .

I keep all of this gear (I prefer to call it "gear" or "equipment" rather than "teaware") in my office and at the ready for my afternoon green tea sessions. Going clockwise and starting at the 12:00 position: an awesome handmade tea cup by the Japanese artist Yamane Seigan; digital scale by Jennings; tea scoop; Tokoname kyusu (i.e., teapot); tea canister. Not shown are my electric water kettle (with digital temperature readout, thank you very much) and my digital timer device, which I don't really use anymore - I use the very cool online Timer instead. I freely acknowledge that in the real world most of this stuff is optional. That said, it's super important to control the water temperature and tea-to-water ratio, so I consider the scale and kettle to be key components here. I also consider the kyusu to be mandatory for the sake of tradition and to allow easy pouring and straining; it has a built-in ceramic strainer. I guess the canister is important, too. It's best to keep the tea in an airtight container to prevent oxidation. The teacup is totally optional, but it sure looks awesome.

Back to my recent haul . . . "fukamushi" means that the tea is steamed for a longer period of time, relative to standard sencha. This results in smaller pieces of tea, which in turn results in a different flavor profile (a little bolder and stronger, and usually less bitter than regular sencha). Here are two pictures for comparison. On the left is some standard sencha (from the Ippodo tea company). My new Hibiki-An Sencha Fukamushi Premium is on the right.

The differences in color, texture, and particle size are easy to see in these closeup pictures. I still have a little bit of the regular sencha in one of my airtight hermetically sealed canisters, but I'll be breaking out the fukamushi next.

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