Sencha Ashikubo was sent to me as a sample from Davids Tea. DavidsTea caught my eye with an awesome website (even though it's pink now...), and their Sencha Ashikubo caught my interest with its "traditional wood-fire drying" description. But just where is Ashikubo Valley? I had to do some research to find out. There wasn't an official Ashikubo Valley on the maps I was looking at, so I had to look into less official sources. Ashikubo is said to be a valley area in the outskirts of Shizuoka City, in Shizuoka Prefecture. Further, Ashikubo is supposedly where the first tea plants took root in Shizuoka, grown from seed by a monk in 1244, which began the transformation of Shizuoka into the leading sencha producer of Japan. One would think this kind of history would earn you a place on the map.
Sencha Ashikubo could be blocked under the category of Hika Sencha. Hika is a Japanese word used to describe a roasted aroma, and can be used as a descriptive term for all sencha. Houjicha would be said to have a very strong hika, while most sencha and gyokuro are said to have very little to no hika.
Enough research into a tea will leave a man dying to try some, so I'll dive right in.
The aroma from the dry leaf is especially strong, a pervasive hika that reminds one of roasted barley and grains, but there's also a sweetness to the smell that draws one in closer. The leaf doesn't look any different than your regular asamushi sencha, so I'll use the asamushi time recommendation of 1.5 minutes, with my general sencha parameters of 2tsp/200ml/176°f.
The liquor is a light green-yellow, a pleasant reminder of asamushicha. A strong hika and some light, placid vegetal character make the aroma up into a foody concoction that beckons a rumbling stomach. The mouthfeel is very light, like watery tea-air, and easily slips over the tongue and down the throat. This lightness is reflected in the taste left behind. The overall crisp flavor is made up of flavors of barley-grain, fresh wood (no charcoal), and a stimulating, slightly astringent vegetal-grassiness. A sweet honey after-aroma lingers and adds a nice dimension to the tea.
I expected a sencha that was composed entirely of a barley flavor and left little else to explore. Sencha Ashikubo provided more. The expected barley had a fresh wood quality to it which surprised the senses. To help wash itself down, the tea provided a vegetal quality that wasn't run off by the firing. I noted some astringency, but shaving some time off the steep, and keeping it under 1:20 would have staved it off. But the astringency gave the tea its own palate-cleaning quality which isn't common. I think this sencha would make an excellent after-meal tea, and could be a more pure replacement for the genmaicha cravings. It stands on its own quite well.