Sunday 31 May 2020

Native & Wild. Wakocha Tea Tasting N°33: Tokuya's Native Wild Wakocha 2017, The Tea Crane

Tokuya Yamazaki was born in 1983 on the Kamo Shizen Noen farm in Kyoto, in a small town called Kamo, on the border with Nara. When he was a young man he developed stomachaches and trembling in hand and feet, and doctors did not only seem to be capable of helping him but could not source the symptoms and find a reason why he had them. They peaked every summer (when the use of pesticides is at its highest) and when he took over the farm they increased, with backaches and temporary loss of sight. When he started his own research it struck him that he was not the only one in the area and that the symptoms were those that came with Dioxin poisoning, a substance that was part of the herbicides he used. He stopped the use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides in his gardens and picked up sports to rebuild his body, but soon found out that his tea gardens had become too dependent on the use of them and almost died when he took the chemicals away. He went at it in a slower rythm, starting with the fertilizers, and by today all his tea gardens have revived and are 100% organic.

One of Tokuya Yamazaki's tea gardens (picture The Tea Crane)

Working this way, a farmer needs to be closer to his tea gardens and see them as living creatures. Some of them are very young and active, some of them are old and have to be treated with patience and respect. This one has a surface of 10a and is called Higashiyama Shozai. It is north facing, at a height of 140m above sea level and the tea bushes are very old (nobody remembers exactly how old). As a consequence this is not a plantation of a single cultivar, but the DNA of each tea bush will be slightly different. The leaf is large and coarse, an advantage for wakocha.

Tokuya's Native Wild Wakocha 2017, The Tea Crane:

12.68 euro for 30 gram (42 for 100). Released in 2019 but harvested on 25 July 2017. Aged Tea. The oldest tea bushes are not harvested every year as they need time to recover. The solitary plot is surrounded by mountain forests and sunlight arrivΓ©s only later in the morning. Withered for four days followed by strong kneading to induce oxydation.
23 august 2019, 3 gram, 2 mins, 150ml, 98°C, in a kyusu. The dry leaves look like hojicha, or like very dry woodcuttings, they have a peppery smell and are quite sharp. The wet leaves smell timid but fruity, also a bit sharp, and there is a trace of forest and a bit of mushroom. The infusion is light brown with hints of orange and dust particles. High fruity tone for the infusion. The taste is soft, fresh and with a very clear and nice fruit tone that developes after a few seconds with a nice acidity and fruit-sugar elements. Nice vibrant aftertaste. No mushroom, but something creamy. Delicious tea but a bit unusual.  

It is a great joy to discover teas like this, but they are not easy to find in normal teastores, and production is very limited. Hunting for them is an absolute pleasure, but you need partners in this, teamerchants who are able to source these teas and know what they are doing. Tyas Sosen is one of these and his website is full of teas with a history and lots of character. This particular tea is sold out, but others from the same farmer are still available, and as we expect international flights to pick up again in the near future they can be reordered again. You can follow Tyas on his Facebook, The Tea Crane. This is the adress of his website (full of nice tea stories):

Thursday 27 February 2020

Miyazaki's Minamisayaka. Wakoucha Tasting Tea N°32: Minamisayaka Wakocha 2018, 2nd flush, The Tea Crane

When a producers masters the technique of making wakoucha he can start to experiment with different cultivars. He can use the beni-cultivars, easily adapting to black tea as they were once created for it, but there is also the whole range of cultivars for green tea. Some of these deliver quite surprising results.

Mr Miyazaki used the Minamisayaka 'South Freshness' cultivar in this case. It is a crossbreed between Miya A-6 and NN27. Miya A-6 comes from seedlings that were a crossbreed between Takachiho and an assamica parent, F1-9-4-48, and one of the parents of this one is Caucasian ! It is harvested a few days later than Yabukita, delivers a strong yield and is cold-resistant, but the flavor is very different than that of Yabukita.

Miyazaki Minamisayaka Wakocha 2nd flush 2018, The Tea Crane:

About 42 euro for 100 gram (import taxes excluded). Harvested 10 july 2018 from 15 year old bushes in the Kengo-hirohata teagarden on the Miyazaki Sabou farm in Gokase. Orientation north, volcanic ash and soil layers from the Paleozoic era. Surrounded by mountains, 580m above sea level, with strong variation between day and night temperatures. Organic since 1985. This is a second flush, and I suppose that the first flush was used for green tea. Sun-dried, which is quite unusual for a Wakoucha, used to increase aroma's.

21st of August 2019, in the evening: 3 gram, 98°C, 150ml, 2 min. Wet leaves: a quite unusual aroma, fresh and floral, not sweet, and a high percentage of green leaves (uncompleted oxydation). The infusion is a clear and bright orange. The aroma is quite complex and very specific, with no fruit or honey at all, but very floral. When tasted it has a strong character, quite astringent, with grass and flowers but no sweetness at all. At first it seemed to be quite short, but then a very interesting aftertaste showed up. Interesting but not I did not fall for it, so I tried it again the day after with a slightly higher dosage, 4 grams, but with the same parameters. Still a very intriguing smell for the wet leaves, very complex, and this time with some sweetness but also with black tea bitterness. The infusion was still very nice and very complex, but very different from classic wakoucha with aroma's of flowers and hazelnut. In the mouth a very rigid start, not so friendly, but later some sweetness and complexity develops. Quite long, with some spiciness in the aftertaste. When the tea cools down it gets more interesting and the aftertaste becomes really fascinating, soft and round with a sweetness like that of freshly dried hay. A very peculiar black tea.


The vendor, Tyas Sosen from The Tea Crane calls the tea 'balance in chaos' and that is a very good description. The tea is still available on his website:

Monday 3 February 2020

A London Experiment. Wakoucha Tasting tea N°52: Black Sun, 2018, Postcard Teas

The character of a tea is defined by its terroir, the cultivar and by the production process. But sometimes the production process doesn't stop when the tea leaves the factory of the producer. We all know that you can blend at home, but did you know you can also roast ? Making old green tea into Hojicha is a simple example, worth trying with your leftovers, but early in 2016 Timothy d'Offay of Postcard teas in London started roasting some of his teas in his home oven. One of the most convincing ones was this, and after 6 months of trying it was commercialised under the name Black Sun.

According to Tim it was the slightly green character of the Wakoucha that worked best with his roasting technique. A majority of Japanese blacks are made from cultivars that were originally destined for green tea and they tend to resist complete oxidation, and it is this that gives the original tea Hijiri its unique flowery and light character. Apparently it also makes it very well fit to undergo an additional roast. It is as far as I know still a unique tea, a London Roast Wakoucha !

Black Sun, 2018, Postcard Teas:

39 euro for 100 gram but bought in a 30 gram tin. The tea is based on another of their teas, the Hijiri Black of the Obayashi family, but was roasted according to the London Roast technique perfected by Timothy d'Offay himself. The Hijiri is a blend of old tree Yabukita and zairai. You can read the tasting note for the original tea here.

22 november 2019: 3 min, 3 gram, 150ml, 98°C. Very exciting and special aroma for the dry leaves, like the shavings of a very good high-cacao % black chocolate. The wet leaves have an intriguing smell of hojicha and grapes. Dark coloured red-brown infusion. In the nose cacao, sesame paste and hojicha. In the mouth soft but with a nice touch of bitter, fine structured but mouthfilling. It is quite an overwhelming experience at first, but when it cools down it gets a very nice and sweet touch of roast that is very intriguing. Nice finish.

23 november, as a breakfast tea, 5 min, 3 gram, 95°C, 250ml. Quite dark infusion. In the strong aroma's a clear tone of roasting, but the tea also keeps the more sweet and fresh Wakoucha-tonality. I tried it with milk, and this created a quite fascinating drink, like an extremely complex cacao drink for adults with elements that reminded of burned wood. Quite a drinking experience and a fascinating experiment with exciting culinary possibilities !


Still available at Postcard Teas:

Saturday 25 January 2020

A Most Holy Black Field Blend. Wakoucha Tasting Tea N°31: Master Obayashi's Hijiri Black, Postcard Teas

I had an interesting discussion with a tea-friend about complexity in teas, and where it comes from, and one of the points we agreed upon was that a tea made from seed-grown cultivars is more complex than one from cultivars propagated by cuttings and that a Yamacha (or zairai) is even more complex because of the higher variation in genetic material. This one is a good example.

Hijiri is a blend of a Yamacha field-blend and seed-grown Yabukita, both adding to the complexity. It comes from the farm of Mr Obayashi in Okumikawa in Aichi. The family works organic since the beginning of the 80ies. Both teas were hand-picked which is rare in Japan.

Mr Obayashi has about 40 years of experience and won a lot of prizes for his teas, and they were several times chosen for the emperor. The 4ha big teafarm is situated on one of the sides of a holy mountain, hence the name Hijiri, which means holy. The Obayashi tea factory is also used by local villagers to make Yamacha from old tea bushes in their garden or close to their house.

Pictures from the Postcard Teas website.

Master Obayashi's Hijiri Black, Postcard teas:

12.95 euro per 50 gram (caddy). Harvested spring 2018, 700m above sealevel.

21 august 2019: small broken leaf and stems, lots of tip, dark, no greens. The wet leaves smell delicious, sweet, a beautiful mix of flowers and spices, typically wakoucha. The infusion is copper coloured. Sweet and spicy smell with honey and fruit. Delicious. The mouth is full and complex, sweet but with structure. When cooling down it gets even more complex with a simpy stunning finish and aftertaste. The second brew was a bit less complex but still delightful.


This tea is still available at Postcard Teas, and normally they have every year a new harvest coming in.

Thursday 16 January 2020

Koshun my love: a five star wakoucha. Wakoucha Tasting, Tea N°27: Koshun Wakoucha, Suzuki, Iwata, 2nd flush, 2018

I still remember the taste of my first Wakoucha. It was quite a surprise because I never had heard of Japanese black tea. But I loved it very much, and so I started to look out for them. And as these things go, I thought I already mastered the subject well after tasting five or six of them. This is, of course, an illusion, and when my ITMA teacher gave me one he brought from Japan (this one) and told me the cultivar was Koshun, I had never heard of it. But when I tasted it, I was hooked, and even today, after tasting about 80 different Japanese black teas, I still open every packet containing Koshun Wakoucha with high hopes !

The one from Masui Etsuro was my first Koshun, but the tea that convinced me completely that this cultivar was something really special for Wakoucha was this one.

Black Tea Koshun, Suzuki Teafarm, Iwata, 2nd flush 2018, Yutaka Tee:

Harvested june 2018, 2nd flush. Teagarden at 150m above sea level. Mr Suzuki specialises in black tea, but I could find little info about him on the net (try googling Suzuki and Iwata…). According to the Yutaka website he travels every year to Taiwan and China to study black tea, and he has won several awards. 6 euro for 30 gram (which is a bargain).

Picture from the Yutaka website

Tasted 18th of August 2019, it just stopped raining, a leaf day. 98°C, 3 gram, 150ml, 2 mins. Dark and well oxydated leaf, some tip and some stems. No aroma. The wet leaves however smell very floral, and some of them are very large. Most are brown-coloured but some are still a bit greenish, after all Koshun is and stays a 'green' cultivar. Redbrown infusion. Very striking and unusual aroma, like a complete flower arrangement and a delicious warm berry cake, ready to eat. Very nice, really beautiful. More of the same in the taste, incredible flavour profile for the attaque, pure, clear and incredibly yummy. One of the best Wakoucha tasted until then. Very long, and a nice little touch of astringency. I almost cried because of the beauty of this tea. The aftertaste of berries kept popping up.
Second brew: smelled like roast chicken !soft and complex, the berries were gone, very nice but had a hard time defining a name for the aroma (complex?). Definitely worth the effort.

I tried an ambient brew (1 hour, 250ml, 3 gram, room temperature) on the 13th of october. The tea delivered a very woody smell and first taste impression, but it excelled in the very nice and broad aftertaste.

This tea is still available at the Yutaka website

Wednesday 8 January 2020

Toshifumi Shibamoto, a new generation in the Makinohara hills. Wakoucha Tasting Tea N°25, Benihikari, Shibamoto, first flush 2018

Toshifumi Shibamoto was born in 1986 as the third generation of a farming family in the foothills of Makinohara in Shizuaoka. It was written in the stars that he would continue the work of his father and grandfather, but he was also driven by an incredible thirst for knowledge and curiosity about tea, and after is his Agricultural studies he went to the Nishiusuki school to study kamairicha, as the first person from the Shizuoka region. For two and a half year he studied there and he returns every year to gain additional insights. Driven by his insatiable curiosity he also trained with Miyazaki Sabou, one of the pioneers of Japanese oolong and wakoucha, and twice a year he returns to Gokase to practice. Today he keeps on experimenting and learning, and he makes interesting and excellent oolong teas and wakoucha.

Picture take from the company's website:

The Shibamoto fertilizers !

Benihikari Wakoucha, Shibamoto, 1st flush, Shizuoka

Manually harvested in May 2018 at 200m above sea level. Organic. Hand-rolled. 31 euro for 100 gram. 98°C, kyusu, 150ml, 2 mins, 3 gram.

Remarkable big leaves, very intact. The wet leaves delivered a remarkably complex smell of spices and herbs (and fish?), like a complete kitchen. They were very big, complete and with their stem, and the colour varied from lightbrown to green, a quite light oxydation. The colour of the infusion was remarkable for a red tea: dark yellow, like a golden honey, with tinges of green and brown. The smell was very complex and hard to describe, but things like freshly baked bread, nuts, hay and dried fruits came to mind. The taste was rich and mellow, with a sweet touch of honey, but it also reminded me a lot of a first flush Darjeeling, and here too the bread came back. Long finish.
Second brew, same parameters: nice and mellow, very drinkable with a thick mouthfeel. Long finish.

There are quite a lot kamairicha-producers who experiment with red teas and oolongs. This was one of the first for me whose profile went into the direction of first flush Darjeeling, and it made this a very interesting and drinkable tea. It is still available on the Yutaka website:

Wednesday 1 January 2020

A very rare cultivar. Wakoucha Tasting Tea N°23: Kimura Wakoucha Benitsukuba, Kimura Teafarm, First Flush 2017, Yutaka Tee

Very typical for the Wakoucha culture in Japan is that it is still very much experimenting and looking for its different voices. The experiments try out different methods and terroirs, but they also try out different cultivars, and some of these are very rare. The Benitsukuba cultivar was registered in 1958 in Ibaraki, from undefined parents, and is only found in the immediate area. One of the few producers who use it is Mr Kimura from the Kimura teafarm in Sashami, Ibaraki, to the north of Tokyo. He only makes a very small quantity of it every year but has been doing it for a while now.

Kimura Black tea Benitsukuba, Kimura Teafarm, Ibaraki, First Flush 2017, Yutaka Tee:

Harvested May 2017, first flush, at 50m above sea level. 20 euro for 100 gram. Very limited production.

17th of August 2019, 3 grams, 150ml, 2 mins, 98°C, in a kyusu. The dry leaves smell strongly like chocolate with some eucalyptus in the background. Dark, highly oxidated leaf (this is after all a 'beni' or 'black' cultivar, very complete, very nice looking. The wet leaves smell like chocolate with a touch of mustiness reminding me a bit op Pu'er. Coppery red infusion, with a yellowish-green hue. The aroma of the infusion has hints of chocolate and a hovering sweetness that never breaks really through, and again these tones of fermentation. A quite peculiar tea because when freshly infused it shows almost nothing of the typical Wakoucha sweetness. It does however bring a clear Assamica touch. When cooling down the Assamica 'yunnan' character seems to disappear and is replaced by the chocolaty tones of a Wakoucha, and also in the taste this comes up, first mostly in the finish and as the tea cools down more upfront. I did not particularly like the first nips of this tea, it needed some time to grow on me, and it excelled in the finish, which is definitely very cocoa and very nice. A very interesting tea as it kept developing in the cup, becoming more and more complex.


The tea was in January 2020 still available on the Yutaka website:

Native & Wild. Wakocha Tea Tasting N°33: Tokuya's Native Wild Wakocha 2017, The Tea Crane

Tokuya Yamazaki was born in 1983 on the Kamo Shizen Noen farm in Kyoto, in a small town called Kamo, on the border with Nara. When he was a...