Green tea workshop for experts: influences of the geographic location and the production style on the taste characteristics of tea bush varieties

Since the Marimo Tea Seminars, which in the last few years always took place in July, grew every year, we decided for this year to hold a series of smaller workshops with a smaller number of participants, in order to ensure good surroundings for the transfer of deeper knowledge. Though, this does not mean that we stopped to organize bigger events. This year (2016) on October 2nd a bigger event will take place, together with Shutaro and Kenji Hayashi from our Kirishima Tea Garden. In today’s workshop we once again discussed the topic of tea bush varieties, but with a bit different nuance than in the last years. Some details of our discussion and tastings are briefly summarized below.

This time, we discussed the influence on the taste characteristics of different tea bush varieties (same meaning as tea bush cultivars), which are caused by the place where the tea bush is growing. In our first comparison we tasted two teas, which only contained leaves from the tea bush variety Yabukita. Both were from the first flush, harvested in the end of April 2016, and both were not shaded. One Yabukita Sencha stemmed from the tea garden of Shutaro Hayashi in the Kirishima region ( Kirishima Tea Garden ) and one Yabukita Sencha came from the tea garden of the Morimoto family in Miyazaki ( Morimoto Tea Garden ).

Already with this first comparison we understood, that it is very difficult to detect the taste difference, which stems from the geographic difference between Kirishima in Kagoshima Prefecture and the tea from Miyazaki Prefecture. The reason for this difficulty is, that the influence of the production style of both tea producers is so huge, that the difference caused by the place where the tea bushes grow, is only to be seen in the background. On the one hand, the Morimoto family produced a Sencha, which shows a strong freshness, nearly a bit of a raw taste, as the Morimotos tend to make a very light final heating ( hi-ire ), which also gives the tea a very light and fine umami. Shutaro Hayashi’s production style on the other hand leans towards a stronger final heating ( hi-ire ), which gives his teas a flowery sweetness, and taste notes of nuts. The “special high quality sencha” sorts ( Tokujou Sencha ) of both families contain the not shaded Yabukita of each garden, which is why both teas, the Morimoto Tokujou Sencha as well as the Kirishima Tokujou Sencha, can be used to taste this production style difference, even if they do not only contain the Yabukita. Therefore, for our tasting during the workshop, we did not used these blends, but the single Yabukita to make the comparison even clearer.

Kirishima Tokujou Sencha versus Morimoto Tokujou Sencha

For the next tea bush variety comparison we prepared another set of leaves, for which the influence of the productions style of the different tea producers does not play any role. By doing so, we want to get a clear view on the question, if the influence of the geographic location as well as of the condition of the earth, where the tea bushes grow, really plays a role, and in which way it plays a role. In order to get rid of the factor of the influence of the different production styles on the taste, it is naturally necessary to use leaves produced by the same tea producer. If we would not select leaves of only one producer, we would always mainly taste the difference caused by the different production styles of the producers of these leaves, and not the taste differences caused by the geographic differences or differences of the soil.

We were very happy to have the opportunity to get a clearer view, thanks to the fact that in the tea garden of Morimoto family, several tea bush varieties are not only grown in one tea garden parcel, but in different tea garden parcels, which are not very far away from each other. Needless to say, that all of the leaves of these tea bush varieties and of these tea garden parcels are produced by Shigeru Morimoto. But, do these teas then really taste differently, if the geographic difference of the location, where the tea bushes grow, is only so small?

For our second comparison we only used steamed, shaded leaves from the tea bush variety Yabukita from first flush ( shortly termed: Tokujou Kabuse Yabukita Sencha ) of Morimoto’s tea garden parcel number 6 as well as Tokujou Kabuse Yabukita Sencha from tea garden parcel number 9. Already the colour of the infusions showed us easily that both teas are very different, even when the colour and shade of the dried leaves were looking quite similar. When we tasted the infusions of these both sorts of Tokujou Kabuse Yabukita leaves from the two tea garden parcels of Morimotos, none of the participants of the workshop said that they were be similar. On the question, whether the altitude of the both tea garden parcels was different, we suggested, that the influence of the different altitude of the both tea gardens on the taste is much smaller than the influence of the different qualities of earth, which characterize the two Yabukita tea garden parcels of the Morimoto family.

In the next tasting we made comparisons of further tea bush variety pairs. In the next step, we had a closer look at the Fukamushi Sencha, which for the first time in this year ( 2016 ) was produced 100% shaded ( full kabuse ). This had in turn also a huge effect on the steaming. Caused by the quite long shading of all leaves used for the Morimoto’s Fukamushi Sencha, the leaves grew slower and were therefore smaller, thinner and softer. One can easily imagine, how the steam during the steaming process, which is the first and most important step of Sencha production, can get much easier inside the leaves and break the leaf structure in a much more intensive way. Therefore, the colour of the infusion of this year’s Morimoto Fukamushi Sencha is much more intensive compared to the last year’s Morimoto Fukamushi Sencha. In the tasting we could hardly detect the usual characteristics of the tea bush variety Oku Yutaka, which is purely used for the Morimoto Fukamushi Sencha, and usually tends to have a quite yellow infusion. Though, thanks to the strong kabuse and therefore deep steam, even if the steaming time had not been so long, the infusion is absolutely freshly green. We also remembered the fact, that the deeper the steam, the less the differences between the characteristics of the different tea bush varieties can be found. Even so, we go on and make the comparison with the Tennen Gyokuro Oku Yutaka from Kirishima, produced by Shutaro Hayashi, which also has been steamed quite deeply, and which also was fully shaded ( kabuse ).

Tennen Gyokuro Oku Yutaka versus Morimoto Fukamushi Sencha
Tennen Gyokuro Oku Yutaka versus Morimoto Fukamushi Sencha