Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Sweet Day for Sencha

I recently made my first purchase from a tradition Japanese tea shop called Ippodo. I turned to Ippodo because they have an excellent deal on a matcha kit. I had been interested in matcha for a while before I got around to getting this kit. Unlike most teas, matcha comes as a powder made from ground leaves. The leaves used are shade-grown to help give matcha a sweeter flavor and less bitterness, this is necessary, because with matcha, you mix the ground leaves in water. This means that you are essentially consuming every portion of the tea leaf. You can imagine that consuming the entire leaf would give more health benefits, but it also gives a massive kick of caffeine. I have recently heard it rather accurately described as the espresso of green tea.

We'll wait to go in-depth on the matcha kit and matcha in general for now. If you want to read a few informative posts about matcha, then check out Tea Nerd's Matcha Madness (1 2 3).

Today is a day for Sencha
Along with the matcha kit, I also ordered a 100 gram bag of Sencha Hosen from Ippodo teas. Described as being well-balanced, with "subtle sweetness, elegant fragrance and fresh aftertaste" this tea seemed to be a good choice, and was recommended by a couple of seasoned sencha drinkers.

The dry leaf smells fresh and sweet, with a hint of tang. A deep dark green with a bit of shine.

While the wet leaves are
a bright, healthy green.

Using the testing parameters:
3.5 tsp/300mL
175° for 1.5 minutes

We get a cup that is more yellow than green:

Despite the unfavorable color, the tea permeated the air with a sweet fragrance of honey with a floral note. Perhaps a honeysuckle smell. The sweetness of Hosen is very different from the sweetness of fukamushi. While fukamushi is more of a grassy-vegetal sweet, the hosen is a floral-honey sweet.

I was at first taken aback by it's similarity to my mothers teabags. The taste is plainly sweet, with only a loose and light addition of floralness. I am reminded of sucking on a honey-straw with a light, fresh breeze in the air. At lower temperatures, the sweetness tends to take on a more fruity-honeydew quality. This honeydew sweetness is more enjoyable than the honey-sweetness as it adds a rounded fruitiness, and a floral-fruity aftertaste.
A confusing drink, at times I am reminded of honey-sticks, at times I am reminded of dead grass. I would not recommend this tea to a seasoned sencha drinker, but perhaps to a new convert who still needs to be driven into the tea-world by a sweet tea.
The 2nd steeping creates a more cloudy brew. But not the cloudiness we enjoy from fukamushi, a more yellow cloudiness that for some reason is a lot less appetizing. The smell, however, is back to the floral-honey, while the taste has lessened greatly. Still honey-sweet, but much less so. During this steeping the Hosen tastes primarily like hot water. Mixing up the tea bits from the bottom adds a bit more of the honeydew sweetness. Perhaps my honey-sweet taste buds have simply been overloaded, nonetheless, this second-steeping is not so pleasant.

In summary
, Sencha Hosen lacks complexity, donating a simple floral-honey-sweetness to the cup, which gains favor as it turns to a fruity-honeydew sweetness at a lower temperature in the first infusion. The second infusion becomes slightly cloudy, with less sweetness and even less complexion. I would give this tea as recommendation to those people who are new converts to loose green tea, and those who enjoy a simple, sweet tea. For those who enjoy a grassy, green sencha, this is definately not the tea for you.


4/10 - Good for someone who doesn't drink tea regularly, yet still enjoys something better than a teabag full of fannings.


Salsero said...

Harsh, Dude! Who recommended this to you? If it was one of our regular sencha addicts, then I can't help but think that either you missed something or the session went bad for some reason. Let us know if someday you find it in your heart to raise your opinion of this sencha.

Photiou said...

I think the review got wrong from the unfavourable color thing already. Teas I have got directly from reputable tea/webshops in Japan are consistently more yellowish-green than deep-green like fukamushi.

I think the traditional quality indicator is the green color of the leaves not the color of the brew.

I am no expert though.

bret_wiley said...

I think of Ippodo as the Starbuck's of the world of Japanese tea. Hosen is one of their budget tea's. I've had their most expensive tea's, good tea but nothing really special. I agree w/ one of the other post's. Deep green, murky tea is'nt a sign of quality. Deep steaming is a way of getting more flavor out of a lesser quality tea. I prefer the clean, clear umami flavor of traditional sencha. But to each his own.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you guys didn't notice that the guy brewed this tea completely wrong. He should have used at least 10g of tea leaf for 300ml and should have brewed the tea for no more than 1 minute. 1.5 minutes is too long and 3.5g of tea is not enough for such a large teapot. No wonder why he wasn't happy with the flavor!

chingwa said...

I've had the Housen a number of times, and while I concede it isn't a top-of-the-line tea, I find it very good for the price.

With ippodo teas I also find I have to use more tea than usual in order to get an enjoyable flavor (so in that respect maybe it is less cost-effective). So instead of my typical 2tsp, I'll do 3tsp.

...and then the most important part... I NEVER go above 160degrees on the first steeping. 175 is way too high and you'll be hard-pressed to get an enjoyable flavor profile from this temperature. This goes for most sencha in my opinion. ususally I stay between 150 - 160. I may go a bit higher for 2nd/3rd steeping.

Anonymous said...

Completely agree with this comment. If brewed properly, this tea is delicious