One of the things all the interesting ones have in common is an incomplete oxydation but in a very different way as with oolongs. In most wakoucha you will note a greenishness in the brown leaves, and often you will find leaves or parts of leaves that are still green, and there is at a stage in the production a fixing treatment not unlike that of a green tea, only later in the process. It makes somehow that they retain a few characteristics of green tea, very different from classic black tea from Assam for example.
This happens most strikingly with the specific cultivars that were developed for green teas. The leaves of many of these cultivars oxydate only slowly. Yabukita is a good example and one of the most difficult to oxydate. These teas retain a striking and typical 'vivace' that is very interesting, but even the beni-cultivars developed from Assamica often keep some of these characteristics, and though the differences between the styles of Wakoucha can be big there seems to be a common denominator, that beautiful sweet touch that will hover between featherlight floral aromas and the deepness of cacao.
For the moment lots of Wakoucha producers are still in an experimental modus, and teas can differ strongly in style and character. This is one of the reasons why the teas are for the moment so exciting. I personally think this is a strength not a weakness and that this variation is fascinating. However, I think it is possible to group them in four styles.
A first group is the group of the 'breakfast-style' teas. Here the producers tries to bring in the typical astringency for a black tea, keep the price as low as possible and copy a black tea from Sri Lanka or Assam. I think that this is not a path to be followed. The high wages and lack of terrain will always keep the prices high and Japan can never compete with India or Africa or Sri Lanka on this level.
A second group is the group of teas that seem to go most of all for structure and sweetness, and in this they resemble a bit the red teas from Fujian. Benihomare and Benifuki are perfect cultivars for these teas, and when brewed strong they quite like a dash of milk, often adding a creamy layer to the taste experience, like a very complex cacao. The oxydation level is high but not 100%, and the wet leaves often remain a mix of (dark) green and brown. In the case of the 'beni'-cultivars they often vome from first-flush harvests, for other cultivars a second-flush is usual. These teas are often red in colour because of a high level of thearubigins, and the colour indicates a higher level of oxydation than for the next group.
Dry Benihomare leaves
A third group is the group of teas made from 'green' cultivars with lower or incomplete oxydation where the leaves naturally resist fermentation and oxydation. These teas combine the sweet or spicy touch of the second group with a very interesting elegance and their aroma's combine the spices and fruits of the first group with floral elements. Even when brewed stronger they dislike milk, but they should be made with shorter brewing times (2 minutes). They are to be appreciated slowly and with concentration, like good wines. There are beautiful expressions to be found here, and some cultivars like Yabukita or Koshun can deliver truly great teas. The colour of these teas often goes towards the orange and is an indicator of high levels of theaflavins, and is considered as a desired characteristic. Both theaflavins and thearubigins are reported to have a benevential effect on blood sugar levels what makes them interesting drinks for diabetici. Their natural sweetness makes them also a very good alternative drink for people with a sweet tooth.
A Benihikari from Tsukigase
A fourth group is also made from these 'green' cultivars, but adds a herbaceousness to the teas, very much like the first flush darjeelings. These teas can be very complex and very interesting as they give a two-layered taste sensation. At first they seem to deliver the typical wakoucha-sweetness of spices and flowers, but then grassy and herbal tones pop up, and I can imagine these teas becoming very popular in European regions with a fondness for these first-flush teas like Germany.
Benihikari from the Shibamoto farm with a clear first flush herbal touch