The secret to different teas lies in the cultivation and further processing. Sencha is made from green tea leaves that are cultivated in direct sunlight and are harvested in the first or second flush. The leaves of the upper shoots (which are younger) are used because they are of higher quality than those of the lower shoots. Once the tea leaves have been picked, they are steamed to prevent oxidation. This process lasts less than a minute, but is the most important step and is the main difference between Japanese and Chinese green tea (which is pan-fried instead of steamed). Next, the leaves are dried and rolled. When rolled, the leaves attain the familiar needle shape and, as a bonus, the juices inside the leaves are released by this action, so that the taste is intensified.
The processing of Fukamushi-Cha is the same as that for Sencha, except that for Fukamushi-Cha the leaves are steamed two or three times longer. As a result, the leaves become withered and the colour is also darker. This process helps to determine what type of tea it becomes but which cultivar the tea is picked from also determines the taste.
A cultivar is a race or variety of a plant that has been created or selected intentionally and maintained through cultivation. Essentially, cultivars are plants that have been selected for cultivation. Botanists will take plants with specific qualities that they like and breed them in order to find an offspring with characteristics that are useful but different. They then take cuttings over several generations of breeding, so that no unsavoury characteristics manifest, before they propagate the plant asexually so that each clone maintains the required features. On the occasion that a particular group of plants can maintain the desired characteristics without cloning, then a sexually propagated cultivar can exist. However, due to tea plants having the tendency to produce a wide variety of different plants when seeds are used, the latter is considerably less common than the former.
During December, I participated in a tea tasting event at which three different cultivars of Fukamushi-Cha grown in Kakegawa were being showcased. The Sasaki Green Tea Company supplied the three different teas for the event; they also sent me a box of goodies, including a further 70g sample of these teas, which has allowed me to give a much greater depth to my review. Below I will cover the cultivar, the appearance and aroma from the dry and wet leaves, as well as the appearance, aroma and taste of the tea liquor.
Saemidori from Kakegawa provided by the Sasaki Green Tea Company
Dry leaves: The dry leaves were very fine, almost like Matcha, with the occasional thin, long spindle. Each grain of tea was a dark forest pine green. The aroma was very similar to forage, baled cut grass.
Wet Leaves: Once hydrated, the colour of the leaves lightened leaving an attractive olive green; it also had a paste-like texture, with bigger leaves becoming more apparent. As for the aroma, it was very similar to when the leaves were dry only less pungent.
Tea liquor/infusion: The appearance of the tea is much like the leaf in that, whilst slightly paler with a cloudy quality, it is still a very vivid moss green. Unlike the previous aromas, I was pleasantly surprised to find numerous slightly sweeter fruity tones mixed in with its already pungent leafy fragrance. I believe this tea has a wonderful fresh grassy vegetal quality with slightly bitter after tones; the taste was hugely pungent with plenty of depth.
Tsuyuhikari from Kakegawa provided by the Sasaki Green Tea Company
Dry leaves: The appearance of the dry tea leaves is fascinating in that it is a mixture of a yellow the colour of a tea stain, and asparagus green. The fresh summery aroma was sweet with the vegetal bleeding through.
Wet leaves: Like the previous tea, the leaves became paste-like when hydrated; the mixed coloured leaves blended together creating a bright limey green. The aroma was practically identical, other than the fact it was slightly diluted in strength.
Tea liquor/infusion: The tea liquor is a nice, bright apple green, with a fresh aroma much like in previous comments; however, the vegetal traits did not bleed through as much, leaving a sweeter scent. As far as taste is concerned, it had a pure vegetal quality, but an ever so slight sweet astringency.
Yabukita from Kakegawa provided by the Sasaki Green Tea Company
Dry leaves: The pungency of the dry leaves was stronger than the other two; it was also incredibly complex with an aroma similar to sugar cane. The dry leaves contained more long spindly leaves than crushed pieces; the colour was almost uniformly light seaweed green.
Wet leaves: Just like the other Fukamushi-Cha, the aroma calms slightly when the leaves are hydrated but in contrast these wet leaves gain a vegetal attribute. The leaves gained an asparagus colour in the expanded leaves, and became paste-like, as did the other teas.
Tea liquor/infusion: Chartreuse, green-yellow, is the best colour to describe its appearance, whilst the aroma is a mix of sugar cane and bitter vegetal aspects. The tea is a surprising balance of sweet and bitter, that seems to work really well; also you can taste a rich umami giving it lots of depth.
Which one did I prefer? They are all very similar, but with unique undertones and bouquets. Each tea is singularly incredible to taste. Nevertheless, if I had to pick a favourite it would be the Yabukita, simply because of the incredible balance between bitter and sweet, giving it a lot of character.