Saturday, 14 September 2019

Wakoucha Tasting, Tea N°3: Iwata Koshun, 2nd Flush, 2018, ThΓ©s du Japon

This tea was harvested on my birthday, the 27th of June 2018 ! But that's not why I liked it so much...

Iwata is the birthplace of the Yamaha Motor Corporation and is situated in the southwest of Shizuoka. Shizuoka is where 40% of all Japanese tea is produced, but we have no further information available about the teagarden, except that it is organic.

We do know the cultivar, Koshun, and we know that this tea is a Second Flush. It is not uncommon to see Wakoucha made from a second flush (harvested later than the first one in early spring). As an economic model this makes sense, it gives the farmer two occasions to harvest and sell at a good price from the same garden. The first harvest is used for green tea and the second, that will never deliver the freshness and umami of the first one for green tea, is used for black tea. The leaves are bigger now and are treated different, with a process of withering, rolling and drying.

Koshun, the cultivar used here, likes this. It is a cultivar that is often used for kamairicha where the tea is roasted and not steamed, and it is a very good choice for oolong and wakoucha. It is a crossing between Kanayamidor and Kurasawa, sometimes quite astringent as a green tea, with floral aroma's.

Iwata Koshun, 2nd Flush, ThΓ©s du Japon:

25 euro for 100 gram. No pesticides. Bought in a 50gr package, good until 20 april 2025.

29 juli, evening of a beautiful summer day, a flower day. 150ml, 3 gram, 8 minutes, 98°C, in a kyusu. The dry leaves have almost no smell but look quite beautiful, quite big and complete, and with a nice amount of tip and some stems. Quite an enchanting smell for the wet leaves, sweet honey, frangipane and cooked fruits, and they are quite big and complete and look fantastic. The infusion colours beautifully, bright with a hint of orange, and has a spectacular smell that wafts from the cup. I put some tea in an INAO winetasting glass and then poured it out again, and the resulting smell was magical and beautiful. The infusion smelled complex and elegant like a dish with warm fruit and spices, never over the top, exactly as it should be. The taste is elegant and light and friendly and has a very interesting complexity. The changes in taste are spectacular, but always soft and friendly. The finish is beautiful. This is a beautiful tea that does not yell but caresses. Addictive. What a tea. A second infusion still was spectacular in the nose, but less complex in the mouth. But it was still extremely yummy with a very pleasant soft character. 😊😊😊😊

Friday, 13 September 2019

Wakoucha Tasting, Tea N°2: Nearai Karabeni, 2017, ThΓ©s du Japon

During the final quarter of the 19th century the Japanese government sent Todo Motokichi to China and India to study the production process of black tea so export from Japan to the USA could be boosted; in a later article we will talk about his trips. One of the problems for Japan was that their cultivars, ideal for green tea, had difficulties in oxydizing in the right way and it proved almost impossible to make the black teas the export market wanted with them. Mr Motokichi came back with seeds from Assam and Darjeeling but also from China and planted these in the regions deemed fit. In the 20th century Research Centres developed these into new cultivars fit for black tea, and most of them have 'beni' in their name, 'beni' standing for black.

This tea is made with Karabeni, a cultivar developed out of seeds from Hubei in China. Is it a coincidence that Hubei is the only place in China where tea is steamed, like in Japan ? As I don't know when the Chinese started doing this in this region I can't tell you, but I guess there is a link. Karabeni was not used a lot, by the time it was approved for planting and production the market had collapsed, but there is still some around. It is reported to be very different from most other wakocha-cultivars.

Nearai Karabeni 2017, ThΓ©s du Japon:

11,43 euro for 100 gram. Good until april 2024. Tea garden in het forested part of Kita-ku Ward, where the Miyakoda river enters the Hamana Lake. It is a part of Hamamatsu, the biggest town in Shizuoka, in the west of the prefecture. Subtropical climate. Organic agriculture.

28 july 2019, a root day. 150ml, 98°C, 2minutes, 3 grams of tea, in a kyusu. Quite a special smell for the dry leaves, with a sharp almost acidic twang. Very fragmented material, some stems and a little bit of tip. The aroma of the wet leaves is a bit strange but with a faint whiff of berry-jam. The infusion is bright red. Very subdued aroma with some honey in the background, changing into old musty beeswax. The taste was light and sweet, then a small astringency developed. The finish was creamy with a touch of that berry jam. A very quiet tea. 😊😊😊

We don't know a lot about this tea, not even the harvest date (second flush ?), but the fragmented material and some of the characteristics gave the impression that it tried to copy an Indian black tea. There are two reasons why Japan should not do this. First, even if 11.43 euro is cheap for a good Wakoucha it is way more expensive than Indian teas, and second, as a wakoucha the quality fails. Luckily an exception in the ThΓ©s du Japon range...

Friday, 6 September 2019

Wakoucha Tasting, Tea N°1: Kanaya Midori, Mankichi Midori Watanabe, Koucha, Le Cha-HΓ»-ThΓ©

This is the first of a series of tastings for my ITMA paper about Wakoucha, Japanese black tea. It is my feeling that Japanese black tea is so complex and interesting that it could be developed into the Pinot Noir of the teaworld: complex, sometimes fickle and difficult, but capable of incredible complexity and with enormous variation. Terroir, the decisions of the winemaker but also the cultivar used have an enormous impact on what you taste. On this blog I will publish also small articles about Wakoucha, and the whole series is in English as I want importers, farmers and specialists from over the world to read with me.

Kanaya Midori Mankichi Midori Watanabe, Black tea, Le Cha-HΓ»-ThΓ©

17 euro's for 100gram, bought at Le Cha-HΓ»-ThΓ©, an excellent teashop in Waterloo, Belgium. Drink before june 2020. This tea comes from a very isolated organic tea garden on the volcanic Island of Yakushima, one of the Osimi islands off the South coast of Kyushu, and part of the Kagoshima prefecture. Large parts of the island are UNESCO World Heritage and famour for the cedar forest that contains some of Japan's oldest trees, the yakusugi. It is said that the oldest of these is about 2300 years old. The environment is subtropical and humid, and locals say it rains 35 days a month ! It is offically Japan's wettest place. There are not so many tea gardens on the Island as the only fertile land consists of small tracts of land between the mountains and the see.

Yakushima Island is the little red dot to the South

Mr Watanabe works organic since the 90ies. His tea garden is surrounded by forest and nature and he has no farmer-neighbours, and so there is no possibility of chemical contamination. Of the 6 cultivars in his garden only Kanayamidori is used for black tea. The tea is made in a small building at a 5 minutes drive of the garden. There is a nice video about that here: . The tea is made with a blend from first, second and third flus, and it is stocked two years before it is sold. 

Mankichi Watanabe

Kanayamidori is a cultivar that was first registered as N°30 in 1970, but it was created in the immediate post-war years, in 1949. It is a crossing of Yabukita and Shizuoka Zairai N°6. Yabukita is Japan's most widely planted cultivar, very productive and delivering a early harvest, ideal for green tea. A Zairai is a seed-grown 'wild' tea plant. In a later blog I will say more about the difference. Kanayamidori's leaves are smaller than those of Yabukita and it handles the cold better. It is harvested 4 days after Yabukita and it is more productive. 

Tasted 28 july 2019, a root day, it just stopped raining. 150ml, 3 gram, 2 minutes, 90°C, in a kyusu. The dry leaves are broken and fragmented, dark brown and good looking with some tip and a few stems. They smell very nice, fresh and complex with hints of caramel, sented wood and spices. The wet leaves also smell very spicy, like cinnamon, and they have a nice touch of freshness. When drinking the first thing one notices is the immediate attaque, with very clear notes of cigar box (cedar) but also of spices, and the tea is full and round without being heavy. There is a nice freshness in the finish. The taste is also very consistent and keeps well up. There is no astringency but there is certainly sweetness, and it is well structured, not cloying. A second brew was still ok but less complex, and with a strange tone not unlike the fermentation tones of a good pu'erh. Excellent and interesting tea with a nice story.  

All images (and a big part of the story) come from this website The pictures of the tea are home-made. 

Friday, 30 August 2019

Wakoucha: a blog

Hi Wakoucha-lover,

welcome to this new blog, all about Japanese black tea !

Before we start I want to explain why this blog is created, and what I expect from it.

In the winter of 2018-2019 I started my training as an ITMA tea sommelier. After two exciting days in London under the auspices of ITMA Tea Master Stijn Van Schoonlandt, the follow-up programm started, involving tastings together with Laura, my fellow student, a very nice lady with excellent tastebuds, and a series of assessments. One of them was to write a paper.

As a beginning lea lover it's not so easy to find a topic. So much seems to be already written, so many people wrote about tea with a lot more background and experience, travelled to and visited tea-making areas, and I felt a bit unsure (this is an understatement). But more or less by accident, a curiosity-induced order of some Benifuki from Hotsoup in Holland and an order from O-Cha in Japan, I discovered a tea about which not a lot seemed to be written. So little in fact that most encyclopedia or books about tea don't even talk about it. Yet it exists. And I loved it. So there was my topic.

I am now a half year further and have tasted many Wakoucha's, and I am still bedazzled by what I learned and continu to learn. I am sometimes disappointed, sometimes bewildered, but very often extremely happen because of what I taste.

So here we go. I will share tasting notes and my ideas about Wakoucha and how its future might look. Because this is a tea-story that is not yet fully written and of which nobody knows the end. And I have the audacity to think that i might help this baby develop a bit more.

And for those who do not know where the name comes from: Wa means Japan, kou means red and cha means tea.

I am looking forward to meeting you, and I hope that from time to time you will drink a cup from this wonderful tea and be happy.

Kou Cha, or Red Tea

Wakoucha Tasting, Tea N°3: Iwata Koshun, 2nd Flush, 2018, ThΓ©s du Japon

This tea was harvested on my birthday, the 27th of June 2018 ! But that's not why I liked it so much... Iwata is the birthplace of the...