Sencha Kakegawa - a tea evaluation
A vital part of my tea sommelier course is the Tea Evaluation component. I need to study and sample 18 teas at home (plus one more which will be a complete blind taste!)
The first tea evaluation is perhaps the trickiest - just knowing what to write, how much to write, how much detail to put in - what to leave out.
This is what I submitted for my Sencha Kakagawa.......
Description of Tea:
Sencha is Japan’s most popular drink accounting for 80% of its annual tea production.
Sencha Kakagawa originates from the Kagoshima Prefecture of Japan on the southern tip of the island of Kyushu. The area is known for its subtropical climate, hot springs, volcanoes and national parks and the tea plantations are approximately 200 – 1,000 feet above sea level.
Sakurajima is an active volcano surrounded by old lava flows and hot springs across the bay from the prefecture's capital, also named Kagoshima.
The Kakegawa area is totally devoted to tea production. The hills surrounding Kakegawa are completely covered with endless rows of perfectly trimmed tea bushes. Tea production in Kakegawa is one of the most sophisticated in the world due to the fact there are giant fans outfitted on the hills overlooking the tea fields to protect the leaves from frost (the fans prevent cold air from settling on the lower part of the tea plant and to protect new shoots.)
Sencha is the first spring tea to be harvested – following the shincha pre-harvest pluck. It marks the beginning of the main spring flush season. A first flush Sencha has all the sugars and compounds stored up over the winter and contains all the rich, satisfying sweet goodness you’d expect from a first flush green tea.
Sencha Kakagawa are pan dried green leaves, resembling blades of grass.
The tea is not fermented, but undergoes the traditional method associated with Japanese Green Tea – steaming, drying then polishing. The infusion is a pale yellow-green luxury organic green tea.
For green tea’s I am enjoying them at far cooler temperatures than I have previously experimented with. The cooler the water (relatively) and the longer the brew in the case of this Sencha, the more delicious the flavour.
The experience has left me to consider pushing the temperatures of future green tea evaluation lower, for longer brews.
Personal Experience of the Tea:
The sight of the green tea leaves reminded me of dried, cut grass after the grass has been mown and the grass cuttings left to dry in the sunshine. The colour of these tea leaves differs from that description though as they are a wonderful deep green.
The aroma of the tea evokes memories of childhood summers playing on the grass after it had been cut (and getting my clothes covered in the cuttings). It was grassy and haylike – but the warmth of flavour potentially stems from the origin of the tea, in the foothills of the Sakurijima volcano.
The taste of the tea in the first infusion was completely delightful and delicate. A sweet toasty hay flavour was experienced leaving not a single hint of bitterness.
The second infusion was by far the most successful though.
The success I encountered in the second infusion was an accident. I meant to brew it for 1 minute 30 seconds only – but having been distracted by children I continued to brew for a total of 2 minutes 30 seconds. I gingerly poured the tea out of the Gaiwan wondering if the delay would ruin the development of the flavour. The colour remained a lovely pale yellow green infusion – and the taste, as described above, was utterly delicious. It was so fresh and lacking any hint of bitterness. The sweet, hay like flavour apparent in the first infusion oozed out. It left a wonderful aroma memory long after the Gaiwan was empty.
The third infusion was far more disappointing as I didn’t allow it to brew for a long enough time. However, having tried this tea on two occasions and both times the third infusion lacked a depth of flavour enjoyed in the first two infusions I would recommend preparing to enjoy this for 2 infusions only with water at 70°C, preparing a third infusion as a cold brew over a long time to truly extract the last sweet ounce of this pleasant toasty tea.
A tea like Sencha, is best enjoyed to cleanse the palate with fried food. I enjoyed some ready salted crisps with the last drops of the 2nd brew. The tea cut through the saltiness, the crisps helped cool the toastiness. Delicious.
Promotional / Marketing Description of the Tea (by me !):
A refreshing and toasty Sencha originating from the Kagoshima Prefecture in Southern Japan. It is best enjoyed with savoury snacks and friends.
Having livened the tea leaves up during a first infusion you will delight in the second infusion - so take your time over it. Try cold brewing your third infusion to truly delight in the sweet and toasty aroma of summer meadows and hay.