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The Nomenclature of Japanese Teas

11 June 2017

at 23:17 by Social

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In Japan, the concept of terroir is much less prominent than in China. The names given to teas relate more to the production and transformation methods of leaves. Discover the eight main types of Japanese tea: Sencha, Bancha, Hojicha, Genmaicha, Tamaryokucha, Gyokuro, Kabusecha and Matcha.

SENCHA

By definition, Sencha means “infused tea”. It is the most common of Japanese teas as it accounts for about 80% of the country’s total production. The quality of the Sencha teas varies as some are intended for everyday consumption, while others are much more high- end, rare, complex and subtle.

Consult our Sencha teas

BANCHA

Bancha is usually made from leaves and stems from late summer or autumn harvests. However, the best quality of Bancha is produced from June harvests.

Consult our Bancha teas

HOJICHA

The Hojicha is a Bancha whose leaves have been roasted for a few minutes at a temperature of about 200 ºC. While this method may remove many of their properties, it does gives them a honey taste with hazelnut notes.

Consult our Hojicha tea

GENMAICHA

Made with a green tea base mixed with grilled brown rice grains and puffed rice, Genmaicha are ideal for an everyday tea. There is however, a higher quality of Genmaicha, depending on the tea base used. You can also find a third variety to which Matcha has been added.

Consult our Genmaicha teas

TAMARYOKUCHA

There are two types of Tamaryokucha. The first, the Mushi Sei Tamaryokucha (or Guricha) undergoes a steam desiccation. Produced in the country as a whole, but mainly in Shizuoka, this tea tries to duplicate the appearance and taste of various Chinese green leaf teas. The other type of Tamaryokucha is called Kamairi Sei Tamaryokucha (or Kamairicha). Its desiccation is made in vats and its production is concentrated on the Kyushu Island. Although most of the production is now automated, there are still a few factories that produce hand-made batches.

Consult our Tamaryokucha

GYOKURO

By definition, Gyokuro means “precious dew” and is known to be the highest grade of tea in Japan. Its production is limited to a single harvest per year, towards the end of May or the beginning of June. The aim of the Gyokuro culture is to develop the rich flavour of this tea, which is one of the tastiest in the world.

Read our article on Gyokuro
Consult our Gyokuro teas

KABUSECHA

In order to obtain a Kabusecha, a covered crop is also required albeit of a shorter duration. While some growers hang synthetic blankets over the tea plants, others place it directly on the plants for about 12 days.

Consult our Kabusecha

MATCHA

Introduced by Buddhist monks at the end of the first millennium, Matcha is the first type of tea to have been drunk in Japan. Originally, the dried leaves were cut into small pieces and crushed using a stone mill. Today, the plants are often covered to produce the best Matcha.

Read our tips on matcha preservation
Consult our matcha and its accessories

Tea: should it always be organic? Our opinion on the subject.

20 February 2017

at 7:40 by Social

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The virtues of tea have long been recognized; it contributes to our longevity by stimulating the functions of the heart, strengthening the immune system and preventing cell mutations. In recent years, however, the issue of pesticides has been raised in discussions around this beverage. Here is the position of Camellia Sinensis on the subject.

At Camellia Sinensis, our main criterion for choosing to import a product is its overall quality; a tea with exceptional taste, cultivated with respect in a healthy garden, by people we know personally. Since our first voyages to producing countries in 2003, we have been working directly in the field to guarantee not only the high quality, but also, the wholesomeness of the teas we import.

Tea is an agricultural product in the same way as vegetables or wine; it is quite usual for cultivation to  require fertilizer and / or biological or chemical repellents to guard against insects and fungal infestations. When possible, and as a rule for tea produced in large quantities, we always select a certified organic tea. But it is important to know that international organic certification is expensive and that for many family artisan producers it is a huge sum. Since we travel deep into the countryside, the producers we meet are more focused on their local market than on the international market. This is the case for many Chinese and Japanese producers who sell the majority (if not almost all) of their products locally. What we buy from them is rarely enough to make international organic certification profitable.

It is also important to know that non-certified production does not amount to poor quality production. Many farmers care about the health of their gardens. And rightly so, because it directly affects the quality and safety of products placed on the market. Conversely, certified organic production does not guarantee the quality of the tea: many commercial products have no other value than their organic certification. That is why it is first and foremost important for us to favour considerate agriculture and the local purchase of high-quality products from artisans. By visiting them on a regular basis, we make sure not only to create beneficial bonds of trust in our procedures, but also to verify the state of health of a garden in the short and long term.

What about biological certifications at Camellia Sinensis? Our company is in fact certified organic by Ecocert since 2004 – our shops, the warehouse, the commercial resale and all the selection of organic teas that we offer. We have also taken steps for the tea gardens of Mr. He, in China, where we obtained Ecocert organic certification in 2008. However, in order to continue offering the teas at the same price, we took the decision to drop the certification, knowing that its gardens pass the most stringent standards at the organic level.

Since 2007 we have also been testing several teas per year for chemicals. First of all at the Centre d’expertise en analyse environnementale du Québec (CEAEQ) and now with the SGS laboratories, directly in the producing countries, to ensure the safety of our teas before export. All tests are carried out according to the European Union standards, i.e. the strictest in the field.

As we also are big drinkers of our teas, it is quite natural to undertake this type of approach to ensure that the liters we drink every day are healthy.

To learn more about our approach: here.

Resolutions 2017: an invitation to explore

30 January 2017

at 7:40 by Social

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The beginning of a new year makes for an ideal opportunity to live new experiences and broaden your horizons. Why not take a moment to taste new teas or try a different infusion method? Whether you are a connoisseur or a new tea enthusiast, there is always something unknown to try.

1. Diversify your infusion methods

Do you usually prepare your favourite infusion in a teapot? Take a look at our videos to learn more about each of the various ways to prepare tea.

Gaiwan

The Gaiwan is a Chinese technique that is perfectly suited for the tasting of delicate teas such as the white, Chinese greens or wulong teas. A simple and affordable tool, it enables the exploration of the wide spectrum of flavors of a tea.

Discover our Gaiwans and watch the infusion method.

Gong Fu Cha

“The time of tea” is one of the interpretations of Gong Fu Cha. It refers to the time needed and the focus that must be invested in order to master this art. This technique, ideal for the preparation of wulong and Pu Er, allows multiple infusions of the same leaves and each time exposes their distinctive character. We suggest the use of an aroma cup and taste cup to enhance your experience.

Discover our Gong Fu Cha and watch the infusion method.

Senchado

The senchado technique is used for the great Japanese teas which are infused in a small capacity kyusu teapot. Comfortable to handle, it carefully filters small leaf Japanese teas.

Discover our Senchado and watch the infusion method.

2. Try new teas

  • Green tea enthusiast? Try matcha, a very fine green tea powder that promises an exquisite tasting experience. Invigorating and versatile, matcha is also useful in the kitchen. Watch our video to learn more about its traditional preparation.
  • Looking for a delicate and fragrant herbal tea? La Rose Pourpre is a mixture of raspberry, purple basil and wild rose buds. Deep purple, this herbal tea offers support to both the digestive and nervous systems. Additionally, this mixture supports the female reproductive system and can help to regulate the hormonal cycle.

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3. Fine-tune your knowledge

Whether to learn about a tea family or a producing region, or to be surprised by unusual pairings, Camellia Sinensis offers dozens of workshops (only in French).

Check out our Summer School Program of courses given in English!

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A Time Tested Method!

2 January 2017

at 9:49 by Social

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Since its early days, the tea industry experienced many phases of development that progressively required new machinery, tools and techniques. The rapid and impressive deployment of the plantations in India under the supervision of the British in the mid 19th century imposed, from the outset, a method of rapid, on-site analysis and quality control. A daily taste test, both rigorous and systematic, to compare each days transformed leaf, was an essential exercise for correcting and re-calibrating each step of manufacture. Comparative tasting was also used to rate each lot before their sale at auction. Buyers today still have the opportunity to visit a tasting room and taste the teas before buying. This technique has spread internationally and this equipment can now also be found in the research centres of China, Taiwan and Japan.

Though there are some subtle variations in manipulation the principal objective is to quickly analyze a large number of teas by regulating a series of controlled infusion parameters. Here is a basic summary of the method:

1. Place the teas in the order you wish to taste them and measure equal amounts of leaf for each sample into their respective cups (between 2g and 4 g depending on the style of tea) add a sample of each tea on the respective dish for visual analysis.

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2. Add water at the desired temperature, moving methodically from one cup to another in sequence, taking care to replace the lids on the cups.  Then start the timer.

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3. After the desired infusion time, ( 3-5 minutes as specified), turn and angle each cup on top of its bowl to completely drain the liquor off the leaf and into the bowl.

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4. Present the hot infused leaves of the inverted lid and place the cup holding the lid behind the bowl – for a 3 stage olfactory and visual analysis of the dry leaf, infusion (wet leaf) and liquor.

Voilà! Careful preparation allows us to observe the size, shape, uniformity and color of dry leaves, the fragrances and the color of the infusion. Then the third essential phase, allows us to inhale vapours of the liquor, to appreciate its texture, strength and aroma before we taste.

With this method the liquors are often intense due to the 3 fold water/leaf ratio, that’s three times the usual dose. This must be taken into account when tasting in order not be put off by their strength or bitterness. This approach has the advantage of extracting everything from the leaves of the teas tasted, giving us access to both the qualities and faults.

A discerning palate knowing this can therefore benefit from the technique and taste hundreds of teas daily.  This is fairly standard in the tea industry.

On a more humble and accessible tasting table 4-10 teas is a good start. This tasting method gives us access to subtle variations and nuances of similar teas, of neighboring terroirs or of completely different regions.

Enjoy!

Aged Teas, in the Cellar : Changing with Time

8 February 2016

at 10:00 by Seb

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Since we set up our cellar in 2007 with our early Pu Er teas, I am always fascinated to taste the effect of time on the teas. Some teas in the cellar are available in the catalogue, while others have been removed to allow them a few years to improve.

It’s time to release a few of these teas for you to enjoy. The Xiangming 2006, a purchase made during my first trip to Yiwu, the 2007 Lincang which was our first galette from this prefecture of Yunnan and the Mengsong 2009, among the first cakes pressed ourselves with tea we selected as Maocha in the villages.

There are also some teas that we sold quickly back in 2007. We had put certain quantities on reserve to offer them to be released a few years later…… So longterm clients will be excited to hear that limited quantities of Pu Er 1997-A and Pu Er 1987 Fu Zi Zhuan will be available once again!

DSC_0037It is a pleasure to open cellar door and offer you five teas that have improved with age. Just in time for the Chinese New Year – Year of the Monkey.

Though producers in Yunnan usually sell their entire annual production, the Cantonese merchants will conserve their teas for decades in order to sell them later. As the teas improve with each passing year, prices increase, traditionally the prices change at Chinese New Year.

We also follow this tradition, and while in the Chinese market certain rare teas, and those in demand, sometimes rise by more than 50% in a year, we envision an increase around 15-20%. Clients interested in taking advantage of the 2015 price for your favorite Pu er have a week longer than our Chinese friends.  Camellia Sinensis apply their increased prices on February 15.  So pass by a store or order on the web before the 2016 prices come into force.

Happy Year of the Monkey!

Jasmin

Trends come and go but are never quite the same!

27 January 2016

at 9:40 by Seb

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Since its appearance in Japan in the middle of the 18 century, the Sencha style quickly established itself.  At first it developed as an export product then was gradually adopted domestically in several phases of increasing popularity. Some current techniques and processing methods retain aspects of these original traditions. Other modern methods developed to supply constantly evolving tea markets and then reacting to the competitive arrival of other drinks such as coffee and cola.

Senchas remain popular and now represent over two-thirds of Japan’s tea production. In their various adaptions around a central theme, they are now offered in bulk or packaged in attractive vacuum bags or pouches to attract the largest number of varied interests and tastes. To appreciate this diversity, it is good to have indicators to decipher the origin of taste styles offered. Thus, in addition to the types of cultivars, terroir and harvest seasons, both processing steps such as the vapour drying and the final drying (hiire) jointly produce distinct teas according to time changes and the intensity of their parameters.

Following are three senchas to explore that will lead you from one from one ‘sub-style’ to another refining your palate to the subtleties of these delicious green teas.

DSC_7334 - copie copieSencha Tsukigase Icho-ka: Asamushi without hiire

In the tradition of the style, this hand-crafted lightly steamed (Asamushi) sencha did not undergo intense heat to finish the drying. Its large heterogeneous leaves, indicative of a light sorting, offer a bright and clear liquor, displaying the character of fresh herbs and spring flowers. Perhaps the closest we get to the taste of tea as it grows in the field!

Sencha Ashikubo: Asamushi with high hiire

This other Asamushi tea, i.e. made with a short steaming, releases the typical liveliness of the original style, accentuated with a fine tangy zest while retaining its herbal character. The final drying, which is increasingly popular in the current industry, gives it a surprising aromatic complexity. While valued for its effect on the conservation of tea as well as its ability to standardize mixtures of different lots, here we appreciate the intense hiire primarily for its taste impact, most delightfully enhancing the liquor and its fruity gourmet nuances. Expertise on the lookout for a modern aesthetic!

Sencha Fukamushi Tsuyu HikariFukamushi without hiire

The longer steaming known as ‘fukamushi’ usually generates teas with smaller leaves, with many broken under the repeated effect of rolling. Created in this way, true to the modern style it offers a sweet, rich and textured, dark green and opaque liquor, marked by classical accents of green vegetables and herbs, indicating a transformation with a final drying at lower heat. The rapid infusion releases generous tannins that give it body, perfect for the current use in bags and other forms of express consumption. A custom creation for the needs of today’s world!

For the more epicurean among you it remains worthwhile to vary your tastings from one style to another- encouraging artisanal producers with unique teas and sometimes discovering products from less common cultivars such as Koshun or Saemidori …

Yixing: The Hallmark of the Fire Dragon

27 November 2015

at 16:27 by Seb

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Produced for over five hundred years with clays from the Yixing mines of Jiangsu, these teapots were shaped according to distinct styles, and an impressive variety of forms, some evoking nature, others more classic and faithful to the ideals of harmony. Winning over the enthusiasts of the Ming and Qing dynasties, for their aesthetic and poetic refinement as well as the quality of the liquors they produced.

Teaware collectors and enthusiasts of recent decades have rediscovered an appreciation for them, reviving and revitalizing their modern use.

With this renewed popularity, some potters have taken the opportunity to experiment with new creative techniques.  Ms Shen is a great example, she makes our Duan Ni teapots in clay she has fired six times!

The intensity and duration of kiln firing have a direct effect on the final result. Whilst a regular double firing of  Duan Ni clay produces a pale yellow result, optimum firing gives it a more rich yellow.  Additional firings bring the colour towards a deep orange and the same clay if reduction fired will even display shades of grey.

The clay’s character is defined by its composition, varied proportions of  constituents such as silica, quartz, kaolin, mica, iron etc. The iron content is one mineral that will effect the final colour.  Low concentrations of 4-7% will produce yellow shades  At 10% more grey will appear, 13% darker brown, and deeper red at 14- 18%.

15488311135_06acaa153bAfter 5 gas firings and a final wood firing Ms. Sheng’s pieces develop a dark orange appearance, with small specks bordering on brown/grey, These are the typical indications of iron micro-clusters.  Astonishingly these teapots actually respond to magnetic force!

By digging a little into history we realize that until quite recently firings were performed in the multiple chambers of the Dragon Kilns, installed in hillsides, and operating long duration high temperature firing over several days (and nights). The results naturally varied according to conditions within the kilns. With modernization and the use of gas and electric ovens,  two shorter firings became possible and enabled the correction of  certain defects that appeared after the first firing.

Recently these multiple firings are sometimes referred to as Duan Ni or “high temperature” in connection with the use of “ancient dragon kilns”. Artisans are inspired to reproduce these original methods and conditions. While the majority of yixing are now fired with gas, final wood firing is a respectful nod to the traditional technique.

Aside from the more technical aspects enthusiasts focus on the aesthetics and flavour qualities these pots have to offer, seduction of both eye and palate. These porous teapots improve with age and repeated use. A clear  invitation to check out some of these unique pieces in one of our stores.

STEAM AND FIRE

29 April 2015

at 12:59 by Seb

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Here’s a text from our new book ’Green Tea: The Quest for Fresh Leaf and Timeless Craft freshly translated into English and now on sale.

For a Japanese green tea enthusiast the world of Senchas is fascinating. More than 70% of Japanese tea production is reserved for Sencha. This tea comes in all quality levels and presents a vast wide range of sub-styles and aromatic profiles. Understanding the subtle variations in transformation techniques used for Sencha, and the tasting parameters they create, can help us to better select and enjoy them.

Steam (for fixing) and fire (for the roasting) are two essential elements for Sencha transformation. The flavour and aromatic value of a tea are to a large extent a result of these 2 processes.

Fixing the natural enzymes in the leaves with heat is essential to keeping a green tea green. Without it, the leaves would oxidize and quickly become useless for green tea. In Japan, this fixing is usually carried out with steam, but producers will subtly vary their technique. In exposing the leaves to different steam conditions, they have effectively created three principal styles of Sencha with distinct nuances. 

THE ASAMUSHI STYLE

Produced with just a brief steaming (20 to 40 seconds) the asamushi style Sencha can be recognized by their complete and unbroken leaves. Often light and low in tannins, their taste is reminiscent of green vegetables and fresh grass.

THE FUKAMUSHI STYLE

The fukamushi style of Sencha is obtained with a longer steaming (80 to 200 seconds).  Since the leaves are exposed for a longer time to the steam, they become more brittle and will break more easily. This leads to more intense flavour and a brisk, darker infusion.

THE CHUMUSHI STYLE

An intermediary zone separates the two main styles of Sencha described above. Leaves that undergo a 40 to 80 second steaming belong to the chumushi style. These teas, which have a more characteristic flavour, are most common on the Japanese market.

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The final roasting, hiire in Japanese, is a relatively important process in green tea transformation. During this stage, the leaves are put in gas-heated cylinders, where they are dried at variable intensities. Because this process takes place at the very end of the transformation process, it greatly influences the flavour of the tea. The principle is simple: the less you roast the leaves, the more you conserve vegetal, marine and floral notes. Inversely, the longer the roasting process, the more the vegetal notes wane and make way for a roasty “nutty” flavour, often compared to chicken broth. Just a few decades ago neither intensive roasting nor the fukamushi style were appreciated. The Japanese green teas of that time conserved the traditional vegetal characteristic. The producers from the traditionalist Uji region remain the guardians of this style.

Today, in Japan as in the rest of the world, there is a growing interest among tea enthusiasts for the taste of roasted green teas. In addition to their tolerance of hotter and harder water, their leaves give off more distinctly fruity aromas. 

Glass Infusion: A Key to Exploring Chinese Green Teas

17 April 2015

at 9:32 by Seb

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Consumed by the millions of tons annually, green tea has reigned in China for several centuries. Infused and drunk by all, at any hour of the day or night, green tea remains the  favourite everyday beverage of the Chinese population. While preparation with a teapot or the use of a Gaiwan might enable  a more refined service, another method, adapted to the lifestyle of the population, has established itself progressively over the years by its simplicity and aesthetic appeal!

IMG_1657For each choice of tea it is enough to put a just a pinch of leaf in a glass or a tea bottle, then add the hot water. The leaves opening from the effect of the heat captivate the eye even before satisfying the taste buds and the thirst! This visual assessment of the quality of the leaves is of crucial importance in China, often more so than the taste aspect, and has resulted in a fashion of ‘beautiful tea’

Jasmin verreThe liquor is then sipped from the the same glass and filtered using the lips. The trick is not to over infuse the tea but simply top up with a little more water, as and when required. Taste a quarter or a third of the glass, then top up again … and so on, until the leaves are used, maybe add some fresh leaves to prolong the experience! This method, in addition to being visually interesting and easy to perform, can extract the richness of tea flavours, fully and progressively, in order to further our understanding without diminishing our appreciation.

This method works so well for the Chinese green teas but why not rediscover some of your other favourite teas this way be they white, semi oxidized or black!

Precious Drops: Tea the Price of Gold

22 January 2014

at 15:27 by Seb

FINAL (?) - Illustration - temomicha couleur

For the last three years it has been our pleasure to offer the fruits of a small scale Japanese tea production technique, Temomicha. Produced entirely by hand by a remaining hundred or so producers who strive to preserve this tradition.  This exceptionally rare tea is generally intended for annual competitions (in order to acquire a reputation for excellence). Thus it is a great privilege to invite you to savour the intensity of a few drops of the nectar generated by Mr.Miyano’s carefully formed tea.

The infusion method that we suggest is as original as the tea itself. It allows us to appreciate the full potential of a Temomicha and to explore all its subtleties!

Using a Shiboridashi or small flattened shaped porcelain vessel place 4 to 5 grams of the long tea leaves lengthways to create a long pyramid.

DSC_2762The infusions will be made with very little water at a surprisingly low temperature poured both sides of the leaves allowing the infusion to take place from underneath.

Here are the recommendations of Mr. Miyano:

First infusion: 2 minutes with 25 ml of water at 50 ° C

2nd infusion: 1 minute with 25 ml of water at 60 ° C

3rd infusion: 45 sec. with 50 ml of water at 70 ° C

4th infusion and following: 2 minutes and with 100 ml of water at 75 ° C

For each infusion, it is important to transfer every single drop of the liquid so as to not affect the following infusion.

Then prepare yourself to experience a few precious drops of a dense liquor with vegetable and floral aromas of remarkably long persistence. Despite the small amount of liquid that the technique provides us for tasting, the effect on the palate is powerful and can even be accompanied by a euphoric flush. A recommended experience for all seekers of the sensational!

 
 

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