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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

The Darjeeling’s Annual Flavour Cycle

17 April 2017

at 22:05 by Social

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The First Darjeeling harvest is upon us! As we wait to get our first taste of its exciting and complex flavour, here is a guided tour through each of the production seasons – a small preview of what’s to come.

Spring or First Flush (March – April)

The cool, dry Himalayan Spring offers an optimal balance between the sun’s heat and rainwater which awakens the plants from their dry winter dormancy and enhances the quality of the harvest. This slow, yet progressive growth that the crops are picked, according to the region’s standard, which is from the bud out to the two first leaves.

The transformation begins with a long withering, known as a ‘hard-wither’ which removes a large quantity of moisture in the leaves (often more than 60%), this explains why the First Flush is often quite green in appearance. The subsequent oxidation on the partially dried leaves, captures the precious aromatic chemistry that is the trade mark of these Spring teas. The final leaf composition is a blend silver buds with light, dark and green leaves.

Whether lightly rolled, for sophisticated and supple new taste trends, or tightly rolled for a more classic and full-bodied flavour profile, they are renowned for their vibrant, floral and fruity liquors, embodied by that greenness best suited for that early Spring thirst for aromatics. It is also the season that truly reflects the flavour diversity of the region as each garden’s specific signature flavour is more apparent at this time. Each tea is a reflection of its terroir: the type of plant, the know-how and the pre-harvest climate which inevitably have a unique impact from one lot to another.

Summer or Second Flush (May – June)

The Summer harvest is generous and offers beautiful, bright and juicy leaves. The rolling process induces the release of its luscious juices while the oxidation benefits from the heat and humidity to transform its flavour and darken its shine.The liquor is coppery, woody and generally structured. Black teas lovers rejoice at the accents of ripe fruit, citrus and muscat, all are at their peak. Warm hints of spice and brown sugar are also typical of the Second Flush.

Monsoon (July – August)

The next growth cycle occurs in the midst of the warmest and rainiest period of the year, resulting in an abundant harvest from accelerated growth. The juices and flavours are therefore concentrated and thus naturally diluted. As such, the teas produced during the monsoon period, are often full-bodied and darker, mainly serve to feed the production blends of the “morning teas”.

Autumn (October – November)

During the Autumn harvest as dry climate and cold nights dominate, the growth of plants is greatly slowed down. This slight “climatic stress” can help produce exceptional teas, similar to the ones from the Spring season The brown, ocher and silvery leaves, offer soft and woody liquors, with caramelized and floral aromas are quite appealing.

So shine up your teapots as Kevin travels through India – he’s sure to bring us some unique teas, often referred to as “the champagne of teas”.

Gyukuro 101: Shade Teas

26 February 2017

at 21:02 by Social

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Also known as “Precious Dew”, Gyokuro is a very popular Japanese green tea produced mainly in the regions of Uji, Yame and Shizuoka. Called “shade” teas, Gyokuros have a particularly fine taste and a characteristic sweetness. It is said that they have a taste of umami, this fifth basic flavour reminiscent of a pleasant taste of broth covering the whole tongue.

How is it that this mysterious tea taste so sweet? The secret resides in the garden pratice, that differs from the majority of teas. To produce Gyokuro, or any shade tea, it is essential to deprive the tea bush of sunlight. The story goes that a producer, during a dry spell was protecting his plants from suffering too much sunshine and decided to cover his tea bushes with straw. Once the leaves were  transformed he was pleasantly surprised by the result.

This method reduces the process of photosynthesis and prevents the transformation of theanine (not to be confused with the theine) into catechin, the flavonoid responsible for the astringency of tea. To produce Gyokuro, shade must be placed over the tea bushes for 2 to 3 weeks before harvest. During a period of 7 to 10 days, 55% to 60% of the luminosity is blocked, and during the last 10 days, 95% to 98% of the luminosity is cut off. This results in a tea of great sweetness endowed with a rich aromatic complexity.

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What about the price? The lack of light slows down the growth of the tea bush so its yield is naturally reduced.  And as with most rarer teas, it is hand picked adding to the price.

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What is the best way to taste Gyukuro?

To taste the characteristic flavour of Gyokuro, it is recommended to infuse it at a lower temperature (60-70 degrees Celsius) in a small volume of water (between 100 and 150 ml) for 2 minutes. For this amount of water, use about 1 teaspoon of Gyokuro.

Enjoy!

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.

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.

A natural wonder: Yellow tea – beyond words!

29 May 2015

at 12:38 by Seb

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Every year as spring comes around, we await the first teas with excitement and our taste buds tingle at the prospect of savouring the explosive freshness of the new arrivals …

One of the very first teas we receive each year is the Meng Ding Huang Ya, the famous yellow tea from Sichuan province.

What is Yellow Tea?

While once the prerogative of emperors whose ‘official’ colour was yellow, these teas can now be enjoyed at an affordable price, especially when you consider the work that goes into their production. From a prestigious and refined plucking, consisting solely of buds, similar to the many premium white teas (up to 100,000 buds to produce 1 kilo of dry leaves), this style of tea is initially transformed as a green tea, i.e. an initial heating to deactivate the enzymes responsible for oxidation. After forming and drying, the finished leaf is then smothered in small bundles of either paper or cotton cloth while it is still warm and spends several hours wrapped in this way. During this step, which lasts for several hours, the leaves gradually change colour to become a yellow-green.  The heating and smothering is repeated 3 or 4 times over a few days of transformation … Thus producers take the time to produce this type of tea, and being rare, these small artisanal lots are swept up quickly by discerning enthusiasts.

The scarcity of yellow tea is due to the fact that there are so few examples of it and also that is also produced in such small quantities. Many producers who used to produce yellow tea now lean towards green tea, given its greater popularity in China.

In terms of flavour profile, yellow tea is somewhere in between white tea’s sweetness (due to the presence of buds), and green tea’s vegetal aspect.

Meng Ding Huang Ya: a complex and enigmatic tea

The region of Ming Shan where this refined tea comes from enjoys a mild climate so production can begin as early as March, sometimes even February. Located in the heart of the clouds, this mountainous land, perfect for tea cultivation, has been known for over 1000 years. The region inherits a long line of expertise for the production of rare teas nowadays so rare they are becoming almost inaccessible.

The visual beauty of the leaves commands a certain appreciation from the start! Aligned in a glass, their vertical dance delights the Chinese enthusiasts. Rich savoury notes of hazelnuts compliment its delicate vegetal character, tinged with a floral impetus evolve into a deep and vibrant finish! Tasting this enigmatic and complex tea, discreetly revealing its ineffable qualities, is an invitation to experience its different sensations and effects. Some teas need to be fully savoured … being mostly beyond words.

 

IN SEARCH OF THE TAI PING HOU KUI

14 October 2014

at 14:16 by Seb

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Every tea taster dreams of one day discovering a virtually inaccessible tea plantation in a remote region, where an exceptional tea is produced. The discovery of the Tai Ping Hou Kui was an experience of this order for us.

Since our very first explorations this tea had been on our list of “wanted list”. We knew of its reputation and province of its cultivation, but we continually returned empty-handed from our searches. Only having finally located these lost producers, thanks to Mr. Xie a friend from Huang Shan Mao Feng, did we understand why it had been so difficult: there are no roads leading to the gardens of Tai Ping Hou Kui!

Leaving Mr. Xie’s place in magnificent Anhui province, we had to travel for several  hours on country roads before stopping on the banks of a river. Then it dawned on us that the plantations are not accessible by car and that the rest of the journey would be by boat.

The calm waters of the river mirrored the majestic Huang Shan mountains surrounding it. Having navigated through this spectacular landscape for about an hour we arrived at the sloping fields of Taiping Hou Kui, one of the most beautiful sites we’ve had the luck to visit in all our years of exploring. The scatter of small tea gardens along the riverside gleamed in an imperial green.

Mr. Ye, the producer we met there, belongs to a long line of producers who have cultivated tea for over five generations. His ancestors planted the tea trees in his garden.  Like the other families from the village, he works in a small factory behind his house. He produces a tea that is characterized by its flattened leaves averaging about 6 cm in length. To achieve this remarkable result, Mr. Ye uses an artisanal method of transformation that completely astounded us.

DSC_0070A CRAFTED LEAF

The cultivar used for the production of this tea has large leaves each are rigorously selected and plucked. As with other grands crus, only the terminal bud and the two first delicate leaves on the stem are used. However, for the Tai Ping Huo Kui, they are allowed to mature a little longer.

Once plucked, the leaves are sorted and manually fired in a pan for about five minutes.

Rolling is the next step, where the leaves are laid on a fine metal grill one by one in such a way that they don’t touch. A second grill is placed over the leaves. The grills are then put on a wooden table, a cotton cloth laid over the frame and a hand-held roller passed over the grill in a brisk movement.

The leaves are then left in this frame for the final drying over a wood fire. The gradual drying lasts about one hour.

Due to this entirely manual transformation method and the terroir’s small cultivation area, authentic Tai Ping Hou Kui teas are rare and, even in China, hard to find. Because of its rarity and the originality of its trademark floral aromas the Chinese will often offer this tea as a gift.

Dark teas for white snow days

31 March 2014

at 21:34 by Seb

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All tea lovers eventually explore the fascinating family of aged teas. Easy to drink throughout the year, some intuitively feel a deep need to rediscover their rustic flavors during this delicious season of reflection that is winter, especially when its end still seems far!

So make the most of the warmth and quiet of a wood heated chalet, or a perhaps a  festive evening, to immerse yourself in one of these vintages carefully refined by time. Young or old, slowly ageing after having  undergone a forced fermentation, Pu Er and other dark teas offer a wealth of unexpected textures and flavors.

Developed for immediate consumption, the  shou Pu Er, with their rapid maturation, deploy round and earthy liquors, very few tannins or bitterness, nuanced by accents of leather and undergrowth. Ideal to accompany a meal with their digestive properties, they are also appreciated between meals for their sweetness. The more aged unveil their profound sophistication in the form of balance and more sustained presence in the mouth.

In order to fully understand the aesthetics of aged teas, tasting very young sheng Pu Er is an essential and very interesting experience. It then becomes clear that this tea which is produced and drunk in Yunnan, also called maocha, is a raw product fairly close green tea in its taste profile. Combining powerful tannic and mineral, with vegetal, floral and fruity notes of amazing persistence, greatly appreciated by collectors and guaranteeing an excellent bonus potential.

The intriguing transformation that occurs at the heart of these carefully compressed teas, following the passing of years, reveals increasingly supple and harmonious liquors with aromas of barks, spices and eventually lichen or roots. Old sheng Pu er, known for their refreshing and exquisite aftertaste, are also savoured for the effect of well-being they provide. A nice excuse to acquire a ‘cake’ and patiently follow its evolution over several decades.

Other teas have been able to benefit from the growing popularity of aged teas and their positive effects, and even if they do not originate in Yunnan and therefore do not have the name Pu Er, they all offer the same intoxicating and comforting taste experiences. Whether the revered small leaves of Liu An, from the province of Guangdong, with mineral and earthy flavors or those more mature Liu Bao from Guangxi famous for generating lighter, sweet and woody, liquors, each region has its expertise and its unique character making them tantalizing to discover! Some have made their mark in history, such as Fuzhuan or Baboo, respectively for the Mongolian and Tibetan markets, and cleverly integrated into their rich meat diets. Others remained the domain of ethnic minorities and concocted specially for their festivals and celebrations such as the unique and intensely acid Bulang tea!

Who knows where this voyage of terroirs and flavors will lead us once it begins, but you can be sure that each of these teas is like a force of nature to be tamed in order to appreciate in all its splendour !

Darjeeling Garden Map

10 March 2014

at 22:24 by Seb

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Locate the source of your favourite Darjeelings and follow Kevin on his upcoming journey around the gardens of this fascinating Himalayan terroir.

This map is an on-going project that was built gradually over the last 2 years by John Myers of the Camellia Sinensis Team in Montréal (in his spare time!). Much of the data and photographs come from Kevin Gascoyne’s many years of travelling to the region.

Take me to the map !

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The map will be continually updated with revised data and new photographs, so your input/corrections are more than welcome, please contact us

Please feel free to link to the map with credit to: Camellia Sinensis

 
 

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