This is the first post about the four black teas (two from Japan, and two from Fuding in Fujian province of China) that I recently purchased over at House of Tea.
As you’ve probably already guessed, this is one of the Japanese pair.
House of Tea’s notes tell us that this is a high quality, hand plucked first flush tea from Kagoshima prefecture, which is located on the island of Kyushu. They go on to say that production is small scale, and in common with a lot of other Japanese black teas most of the tea produced is destined for the domestic market, with comparatively little making it to the West.
The raw material is of the Benifuki cultivar, which is described as an Assam hybrid used in the production of Japanese black teas and Oolongs.
The description of this cultivar intrigued me, so I did a spot of Googling, and found some interesting information at teacraft.com.au.
Apparently the Benifuki cultivar is the result of crossing the MukuraCd86 plant from Darjeeling (genus Camellia Sinensis) with the Benihomare cultivar (genus Camellia Assamica). This results in a leaf that produces teas with both Darjeeling and Oolong like characteristics, as well as “…the highest EGCG levels amongst teas…”
Seeing as this is a Japanese tea with an Indian heritage I decided to play it straight by House of Tea’s brewing guidelines, i.e. use a broadly Western approach. Because I’ve never really liked Darjeelings steeped with boiling water, I decided to drop the water temperature down to what felt like a more reasonable 95°C.
The dry leaf had an interesting aroma with a Darjeeling like floral quality, but it also felt as though there was something, well, heavier, meatier even, about it.
|Water Used:||Filtered tap water|
|Weight of dry leaf:||3 grams|
|Steeping vessel:||200 ml ceramic teapot|
|No. & duration:||3 infusions of 1, 1½, and 2 minutes duration|
The warm, wet leaf gained a kind of smoky, roasty, Oolongesque character.
The first infusion had an intriguing mix of things going on in the cup. There was a Darjeeling like sweet floral note, and a burnt sugar, milky bordering on buttery, Oolong mineral thing, as well as an Assam-y beefiness that seemed as though it was sort of holding everything together, like a stout framework the other tastes were built out from, if that makes sense.
During the second and third rounds the Assam note got more assertive as the other characteristics fell back, relatively speaking. The third infusion definitely fell into the “worth doing but let’s end here” category.
I think this tea can be thought of as a “…does what it says on the tin…” job. Various parts of its backstory point at different characteristics from certain classes of tea, such as Darjeelings and Oolongs, and I think certain traits from those teas do indeed end in your cup when you brew this tea.
Having said that, this doesn’t feel like a badly organised jumble of disparate parts, rather a coming together of things that work in harmony, a real “…the whole is greater than the sum of its parts…” feeling, if you see what I mean.
It’s been very interesting getting to know this tea, and I’m certainly looking forward to many more enjoyable sessions in the future. I just get the feeling that this is going to be one of those teas that will reward a little time invested in experimentation, such as a bit of gong-fu TLC, with even more complexity.
I haven’t tried any Japanese black teas or Benifuku teas and I’m so intrigued by them!
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So far it doesn’t feel as though it’s as big a difference as between Chinese and Japanese green teas…there’s still a difference, but it kind of feels very subtle and hard to put your finger on…
I enjoyed the Benifuki gong fu style, but I haven’t tried it Western yet.
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It’s going to be interesting to compare and contrast the results the two techniques give.
I can’t help wondering if gong-fu-ing it will bring out the Oolong notes more…let’s see…!
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