Review – Sencha Standard, Superior and Imperial Standoff

April 9, 2014

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This months Yunomi.us Tea Club contains three Sencha samples from the Kurihara family across three different grades: standard, superior and imperial. The perfect time to write a comparison review.

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The Kurihara family are known for growing gyokuro which has been growing on their farm since 1942. Located in the small town of Yabemura the primary farmer Akio Kurihara is a four time winner in the art of Southern Japanese tea hand rolling. Alongside gyokuro the Kurihara family also grow Sencha  though they are not as renowned for it.

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Standard Sencha: “A blend of leaves from the Yabemura tea fields cultivated by younger brother Akio Kurihara steeps into a very basic tea for drinking on a daily basis with meals”. 

Steeping instructions:
Leaf – 5g
Water temperature – 90C
Water volume – 180ml
Time – 30-45 seconds

Price on Yunomi.us is currently $6 per 100g. http://yunomi.us/shop/7302/kurihara-tea-10-standard-sencha/

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Superior Sencha Hime Kaori: The most basic of Kurihara-San’s branded “Hime” series, this tea is named for the strong kaori (aroma) it brings to your teapot for its quality. The word “Hime” means princess and refers to the local goddess Yame Tsuhime (and therefore the regional tea Yame-cha) was named after”.

Steeping instructions:
Leaf – 5g
Water temperature – 80C
Water volume – 180ml
Time – 30-45 seconds

Price on Yunomi.us is currently $10 per 100g. http://yunomi.us/shop/7297/kurihara-tea-09-superior-sencha-hime-kaori/

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Imperial Sencha Hime Shizuku: “Second only to Imperial Sencha Yame Tsuhime, the Hime Shizuku has the rich umami-infused aoma that you more often associate with gyokuro tea leaves. The delicateness of the leaf makes it perfect for steeping t a low temperature to enjoy the umami as it delicately balances with the shibumi (or astringency) of sencha”. 

Steeping instructions:
Leaf – 5g
Water temperature – 60C
Water volume – 180ml
Time – 1/1.5 minutes

Price on Yunomi.us currently is $20 per 100g. http://yunomi.us/shop/7287/kurihara-tea-07-imperial-sencha-hime-shizuku/

For my comparison I’m going to sample each tea individually starting with the standard sencha. Once I have completed 3 steeps from the first sencha I will clean my pallet with some water before sampling the next sencha. I shall carry on in this fashion until all three have been tasted and after each individual review I will compare.

For those that are new to Japanese tea let me quickly explain umami. It’s known as the fifth basic taste after sweet, sour, bitter and salty. It translates to ‘pleasant savoury taste’ which is common amongst Japanese teas.

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I shall be using my Japanese Kyusu with all three teas.

Standard Sencha

 It contains a variety of leaf sizes and colours but overall has a nice glossy and dark green appeal. I can also note some stem pieces amongst the leaves.

It has a subtle yet sweet sent with notes of grass, flowers and mineral. Specifically fresh spinach and geranium.

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First Steep – 30 seconds

Colour: Yellow green
Scent: Mild thickness, sweet and floral
Flavour: Light and sweet. Reminds me of sweet grass and geranium. Some dryness in the after taste but minimal.

Second Steep – 40 seconds

Colour: Yellow green, cloudy
Scent: Medium thickness, sweet and mineral
Flavour: Increased strength has lessened the sweetness and increased it’s mineral presence. I can taste fresh spinach and kale in particular. Rather dry in the after taste and with some astringency.

Third Steep – 50 seconds 

Colour: Yellow green, cloudy
Scent: Mild thickness, sweet and mineral
Flavour: Back to mild strength. Sweet with gentle mineral (kale) after taste. Less dryness and astringency than previously though they are still present.

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Superior Sencha Hime Kaori 

The leaves are various lengths and sizes with a lovely shine to their mostly dark green colour. There are a few lighter coloured stems and leaves but not many, certainly not as many compared to the standard sencha.

They have a beautiful sweet scent like geranium or jasmine flowers. Also a little perfumed and very sweet, like honey suckle.

First Steep – 30 seconds 

Colour: Yellow cloudy
Scent: Mild thickness, sweet and floral
Flavour: Light and sweet. Umami is present but mild. The sweetness is the most dominant flavour and it’s very much like honey suckle. Very pure and floral. Also has a fresh hay flavour in the after taste.

Second steep – 40 seconds 

Colour: Yellow green cloudy
Scent: Medium thickness, sweet and floral
Flavour: Medium and sweet. Moderately umami with a sweet honey suckle after taste mixed with fresh cut grass. Stronger than the previous steep. A little astringency but it clears quickly.

Third Steep – 50 seconds

Colour: Yellow green cloudy
Scent: Mild thickness, sweet and floral
Flavour: Light and sweet. Getting strong sweet grass notes and only a gentle honey suckle after taste with minimal dryness and astringency. The umami is subtle but still present.

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Imperial Sencha Hime Shizuku 

The leaves are a variety of sizes but have a beautiful high gloss shine. Most are dark green but there are a few lighter stem pieces present. Not very many at all however.

Scent is sweet and pure. Like honey suckle and cane sugar.

First Steep – 1 minute 

Colour: Yellow cloudy
Scent: Mild thickness, sweet and floral
Flavour: Light and sweet. Medium umami tones with a cane sugar after taste. Very smooth and buttery.

Second Steep – 2 minutes 

Colour: Yellow green cloudy
Scent: Mild thickness, sweet and floral
Flavour: Medium and sweet. Still tasting medium strength umami tones but the cane sugar is softer than previously. Also getting some dryness in the after taste. Some mineral flavour is present, specifically seaweed.

Third Steep – 2 minutes 30 seconds 

Colour: Yellow green cloudy
Scent: Medium thickness, sweet and floral
Flavour: Medium and sweet. Strong umami tones with mild astringency. The after taste is increasingly dry but with a beautiful pure sugar cane flavour that gets sweeter as it lightens.

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Overall –
Strongest: Superior Sencha Hime Kaori
Most Umami: Imperial Sencha Hime Shizuku
Sweetest:  Imperial Sencha Hime Shizuku
Most floral: Superior Sencha Hime Kaori
Most Vegetal: Superior Sencha Hime Kaori
Least astringent: Imperial Sencha Hime Shizuku
Purest tasting:  Imperial Sencha Hime Shizuku
Best smelling: Imperial Sencha Hime Shizuku

My favourite: Imperial Sencha Hime Shizuku

The Standard Sencha was nice but lacked flavour and depth. I agree that it could be used as every day drinking along with meals, it’s mild strength would not overpower your dish.

The Superior Sencha Hime Kaori was sweet and full of flavour, out of the three I would say it had the most flavour overall as well as being the strongest.

The Imperial Sencha Hime Shizuku was the sweetest of the three and tasted the most natural ie purest. Though it was light it was thicker than the Standard Sencha but this one had a buttery taste and the most umami by far.

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Comparing the leaves after steeps you can see that the Standard Sencha has some discolouration on the leaves while the Superior Sencha Hime Kaori has some leaves with discolouration and the Imperial Sencha Hime Shizuku has no discolouration. They made have looked very similar at the start but now it’s easy to see the difference in quality.

In my opinion the best value for money would be the Superior Sencha Hime Kaori. Though my second favourite of the three it was a huge step up from the Standard Sencha and for only a few dollars more.

If you are interested in any of these three teas then please visit Yunomi.us for further information. Enter the code tc1403knek upon checkout to receive 20% off any of the three teas above. Valid until August 31st 2014. Available worldwide and with no minimum spend.

http://yunomi.us/

Categories: Green Tea.

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An anniversary treat at Teanamu Chaya Teahouse

March 16, 2014

With my 11th anniversary around the corner and my husband booking a week off work in celebration I gave it much thought about where to go and what to do. After a few hours of looking at various weekend and mid week getaways I had an epiphany, why not go to London? We enjoyed it a few years ago travelling around on the tube and generally sight seeing and we were due for a return, after all there were still places I had never seen before. So that was settled, we would go to London for the day, plus the coach service had tickets for ‘buy one adult get one free’ and it only cost us £25 for the both of us including returns. That gave us more money for London. While booking my tickets I thought it would be great if we could find a ‘fancy tea house’ to visit and by chance later that day I came across an article from The Telegraph that listed Ten places that could boast of ‘Best Afternoon Tea in London’. I read and gazed in awe of such beautiful (and expensive) tea rooms/houses and then one jumped out at me, ‘Best for a ceremonious experience: Teanamu Chaya Teahouse’.

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The picture was of a traditional Chinese ceremonial set and instantly I fell in love with the possibility of visiting. The Teahouse is situated in Notting Hill which also happened to be an area of London that I had yet to visit, and furthermore it’s only open on Saturdays and Sundays with food being served between three times a day at specific times. Everything fell into place so perfectly and I went ahead and booked a table for 2pm, which would leave me plenty of time in Camden that morning which my husband said he would like to visit. 

Teanamu Chaya Teahouse’ website has a little map which made finding it very easy. From the outside you would never imagine the magic that is waiting inside, infact unless you know exactly where this gem of a Teahouse is it would be very easy to miss.

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Inside we were greeted by Mr Pei Wang and shown to our table. It was simply breathtaking, we stepped from a rather busy London street into a small Chinese Teahouse and it was literally a gateway from the hustle and bustle into peace and serenity. In the background of the quiet Teahouse Chinese music filled the air beautifully and added to the authenticity of this quaint place. Sitting at our table which was one of only six or seven available I looked around with a large smile on my face, the room was filled with teapots, gaiwans and various tea related items carefully placed on shelves and cabinets.

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We were given a moment to pick from their menu of teas and lunch, as this visit was for our anniversary we went for the ‘ichi-go ichi-e afternoon tea for one’ for £25 each, all food served is purely vegetarian which for me was fantastic (I’m a long time vegetarian).

This was the menu:

pot of tea or tisane

wakame seaweed brown bread open sandwiches
:- garlic miso-pickled cream cheese with cucumber & shichimi pepper -:
:- kumquat ginger preserve and mature cheddar -:
:- chilli bamboo shoots on egg mayonnaise -:

 dim sum
:- lo mai fan lotus leaf rice parcel -:
:- vegetarian dumplings with sze chuan chilli oil -:

sweets and pàtisserie
:- mango seed cake -:
:- hua sheng su peanut sesame cookie -:
:- snow skin marzipan with guava -:
:- nutty choccy soft-set fudge -:
:- warm scone with clotted cream & rose petal jam -:

As for the teas each type had it’s own unique little card with the name and brief description which an unseasoned tea taster such as my husband found useful for help in choosing which to taste. In the end I decided to try the Gyokuro Jade Dew and my husband decided to join me in having a Japanese green and he had a Sencha (though the full name of his tea has escaped us as there was more than one Sencha on the menu).

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On our tables were the beautiful ceremonial tea sets along with a self boiling kettle that was turned on for us when we were shown to our seats. With our teas chosen and the temperature adjusted for infrequent reheating we were asked if we would like the tea brewed for us. I thought that was a wonderful touch and asked that I would love for him to make the first steep, I had never had anyone else make me tea before using the ceremonial pots and it was a wonderful novelty. I was told about the tea that I had chosen and was given the leaves to inspect and enjoy before it’s steep. Since I chose a Japanese tea in a Chinese Teahouse (which I didn’t want to do but ended up really craving a Japanese green all morning) I was told that it will be brewed in the Chinese way. Water was to be very light and soft and for helping me to create the right temperature I was given a small jug of cold water, it was recommended to even be as low as 40c and each steep for no more than a few seconds. It was a beautiful tea, very grassy and vegetal but also sweet.

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We were situated near the little open plan kitchen area and I could see the food being prepared as we were enjoying our tea. It was only a short wait until our first course came out, the open sandwiches.

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They looked and smelled divine! Just what I needed that afternoon. Picking a favourite was just too difficult, each was unique yet delicious and the bread was no exception. Each slice had pieces of seaweed which gave it an extra wow factor. My husband can be picky with food but even he yummed them down with the greatest of ease and announced how delicious they were.

After our fill we waited another short while for our next course.

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This is the ‘lo mai fan lotus leaf rice parcel’ which is noted on the website as being a customer favourite, it was also mentioned in The Telegraph’s article as being somewhat of a speciality and treat. We were served with chopsticks (which my husband managed to use rather well due to our amazement) and this ended up being my husbands favourite course of the day. The rice parcel is made up of ‘a sticky, tea-infused rice with braised mushrooms and sweet azuki’. After my first taste I could see why this was a favourite.

Again another short wait and out came the next course.

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We each received two dumplings served in these beautiful little bowls. I was eager to try these and after my first dumpling I was in heaven, I could taste the garlic and chilli fusing together in my mouth and I could not imagine anything better. This was my favourite dish and I have since dreamt about them every day since my first taste. Again it was a large hit with my husband who is admittedly not a large fan of Chinese/Asian food.

By this point in our evening we had seen other tables start to fill and many chose to sample the delightful menu. Such an intimate and small area made it all the more special. Our self boiling kettle had been topped up a few times and I reached my sixth steep at this point. I was positively buzzing from the delights. And that was when our last course arrived.

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A platter of deserts and all for me! My favourite being the scone with rose petal jam.

The whole evening was perfect and I know it’s an anniversary that we will never forget. It was homely, had a wide selection of tea, served amazing and fresh food and the service was first class, friendly and knowledgeable. I was even given a sample of tea to take away and review which I was told is a fairly new addition from a recent trip to Singapore. As promised my review for that tea will come in the next few days. Honestly I cannot speak highly enough of this wonderful Teahouse and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting London. I know that on my next visit to the capital I will be booking a table. As I rate my teas out of ten I feel that rating a Teahouse would be no different. Therefore I rate Teanamu Chaya Teahouse 10/10.

For a selection of their teas which can be purchased online or to book a reservation please visit their website.

http://www.teanamu.com/

Also as recommended by The Telegraph

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/uk/london/9124793/Londons-ten-best-afternoon-teas.html

Categories: Misc, Tea Information and Guest Posts.

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Lets take a look at High Mountain Oolong

March 1, 2014

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I’ve been buying and sampling High Mountain Oolongs now for the best part of a year and if I’m completely honest I have no idea what the real difference is between Oolongs that are high grown and those that are grown closer to the ground. After all, what difference could it make? Yet the price of High Mountain Oolong is superior to a lower grown Oolong. Well today I’ve decided to get out my notepad and do some research.

It would seem that Thailand is well known for growing High Mountain Oolong (also known as Gao Shan or Alpine tea). In order to be High Mountain the Oolong must be grown above the height of 800 metres, everything below is known as a low altitude tea. So higher than 800 metres huh, that’s almost 0.5 miles high and would take roughly 17 minutes to walk. Putting it into such perspective shows exactly how high we are talking, and that is at the lowest end of High Mountain grown tea.

A further source of information indicates a scale of Taiwanese teas and the height they are grown.

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Well that table is very useful, we can see these popular named Oolongs and the rough heights that they are cultivated and grown. It also shows the difference between Ali Shan and Li Shan which is one question I see people asking rather frequently. I touched upon how far 800 metres is, looking at the top of the pyramid I’m literally stunned by it’s height of 2500 metres plus. That’s over 1.5 miles in a vertical direction (or 8000 feet) and roughly 60 minutes of walking at a steady pace. That’s pretty darn high!

It is said that above 1000 metres the air is much clearer than that of the lower altitudes, plus there will be more humidity and natural precipitation in the air which tea plants (camellia sinensis) thrive in, also they will therefore naturally be healthier (and all around better quality). Due to being grown at such heights and with a generally cleaner environment it is also easier to keep and maintain true organic soil for the plants to grow in. Due to their fine nature High Mountain Oolongs are compared similar to that of a fine wine or even champagne.

Here’s another fact for you about Ali Shan Oolong (and others grown around 1000-1500 metres): This type of tea is lightly oxidized and is most commonly picked in winter which gives it the nick name of “Winter Tea”. Winter picked teas are towards the bottom of the scale in terms of quality and price compared to a Li Shan (for example) which is picked mostly in the summer months and due to it’s higher grown nature will be considered higher quality ie more expensive. So as well as the heights of the mountains the season that the Oolong is picked will also determine it’s condition and price along with flavours and special qualities.

Each source that I have read heeds one particular warning: BE CAREFUL OF SCAMMERS. Some small shops/markets offer low/medium grade Oolong and sell it as a high Oolong along with it’s hefty price. Whether they do so out of common mistake or down to something more untrustworthy it is just something that unfortunately happens. If you are truly interested in sampling some genuine High Mountain Oolong then please make sure it’s from a reputable tea dealer. I don’t wish to put you off of trying the beauty of High Mountain Oolongs and nor am I trying to come across as suggesting small tea sellers are scammers, I just want you to make sure you know that there are risks involved. It would be like buying a bottle of champagne to find that it’s actually just sparkling wine. Please make sure you know who you are dealing with and above all else, trust your gut instinct, if something seems wrong or is too good to be true then it probably is.

Well now I know the main differences between low altitude grown Oolong and High Mountain grown Oolong and I hope it’s also given an insight to others still in the learning process too. High Mountain Oolongs may be known as some of the best Oolongs available for purchase but I know that I will never stop drinking my favourite low altitude Oolongs, after all when it comes to tea everything is purely down to personal taste and experience.

Websites sourced for information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaoshan_tea
http://www.teavivre.com/taiwan-high-mountain-oolong-tea/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiwanese_tea#High_Mountain_.28Gao_Shan.29_Teas

Categories: Tea Information and Guest Posts.

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