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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 …

Hugo’s Pick’s for 2015

25 September 2015

at 16:49 by Seb

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As a taster I specialize in two countries so I get to indulge in a double selection of my highlights, one trio for Taiwan another for Japan!

TAIWAN

Jin Shuan

A much appreciated Taiwanese cultivar.  This ‘everyday’ tea is very generous and appealing to any fan of teas with full floral bouquets.

Bai Hao Mr. Xu – Limited Edition

I sometimes wonder which is my single favourite tea? Too difficult to choose just one, but Bai Hao is definitely in my top 5! I especially like the balance on the palate and pleasant stimulating effect the body without the cardio excitement. It is increasingly difficult to buy with so many Chinese enthusiasts in the market for it.  Fortunately our relationship of over 10 years with Mr. Xu gives us access to this small exceptional lot.

Dong Ding from the Luku competition

Our access to these teas is unique in North America. An unmissable opportunity!  A little prior knowledge of the world of Competition Wulongs helps us appreciate the depths of the ‘Dong Ding # 9 Special Mention’ and the ‘Dong Ding 1st Class’. Both offer excellent examples of ‘completeness’, harmony and enrich the body with an enveloping glow.

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JAPAN

Sencha Koshun Organic

The Koshun cultivar is currently very popular in Japan on infusion it offers a floral finish of cherry blossoms. This tea is from our friends at the Isagawa cooperative, providing us, for the first time in several years, with a very commendable Sencha Koshun!

Kukicha

Undoubtedly of great value for ‘throat refreshment’. A “thirst quenching” tea, which, in its 2015 version, offers a generous liquor. Often less known than sencha, kukicha is never to be underestimate.

Gyokuro Okabe

Most gyokuros from the Shizuoka plantations have a profile that tends towards sencha … For the simple reason that they use the Yabukita cultivar and its shade is not always that thorough. But not this time! This gyokuro – Okabe – is a pure delight, 100% Saemidori cultivar, well shaded and treated with care.

Hugo

Black Tea: From Historical Necessity to Daily Pleasure.

21 February 2014

at 8:51 by Seb

Dégustation thés noirs

Thanks to the wide ranging popularity that this family of tea has experienced over the last three centuries there are few people who have never tasted black tea. Imported from China in the early 17th century, the British soon introduced the beverage into their diet for its virtues and obvious daily benefits. The late afternoon break when tea was served with milk, sugar and a snack enabled the population to withstand the harsh working conditions required by the industrial revolution.

From one revolution to another, the one we make around the sun, brings, each year, a season where the weather encourages us to seek rich and invigorating beverages. While some terroirs are well known, others, more discreet, offer black teas that will also enhance your mornings or your return from winter outings. Here are some tantalizing ideas!

oxydation

The long smothered oxidation method, used on the carefully selected, fine leaves and buds of Chinese Black teas creates rich and sweet liquors, with surprising velvety textures. Their aromas of resinous wood, cocoa or peanut mingle with more delicate fragrances of rose or blackcurrant. While some are sweet and refined, others have more rustic notes of wood fire or leather. Follow the development and diversification of these teas which are increasingly popular in China.

Though the modern mechanization of tea from British know-how has flooded the market with blends and classic brands, why not indulge in the experience of a single garden tea. From Assam to Nilgiri, Sri Lanka, Kenya, discover the malty and woody flavors of these full bodied teas with accents of spices or dried fruits. Accessible and versatile, with or without milk, they will rekindle your sparkle in this icy season!

With its different harvests, the Darjeeling region provides balanced and complex liquors with a wide range of flavors, from nuances of springtime, vegetal and floral, to the comforting character of the summer and autumn productions with notes of hard wood tree bark and caramel. Sophisticated and tasty, these liquors have vanquished the world under the name of champagnes of black teas!

The more adventurous will be delighted with the full and sweet liquor of Nadeshiko, a recent innovation from Japan. Taiwan can also impress us with its famous Sun Moon Lake with vegetal and minty notes, or, from the east coast, Hualien Fengmi with intense floral and honeyed fragrances.

Let yourself be charmed by the rich diversity of black teas and accompany all your friendly gatherings with the simple pleasures of the communal teapot!

Shino: Abstract Elegance

19 July 2013

at 9:37 by Seb

shino T.K

This year, during our trip to Japan, one of our goals was to find out about the Shino style of ceramic, an ancient technique that dates from the 16th century. We focused our research in the Mino region and it was in the small town of Mizunami that we went to meet Mr. Kawaguchi in his workshop.

M. KawaguchiAn artisan potter for over 30 years, he makes his own clay with local raw material that comes from Toki. In fact the dense refractory clay of the region is of exceptional quality and highly appreciated by potters. He turns each of his bowls on a potter’s wheel. The forms are usually large, cylindrical and asymmetrical, in keeping with the tradition of Shino. Once the  pieces are dry and glazed, it is the turn of the fire do its work.

The potter invited us to visit his Anagama  wood oven which he built himself. It is impressive to see with its imposing bulk and high chimney. When firing, which usually lasts a week, the oven temperature can rise up to 1300 C. Once the firing is finished, cooling of the pieces can take several days depending on the season.

So, it is at the completion of the process that

Mr. Kawaguchi finds the Shino pieces with the right characteristics. A thick glaze that reveals itself differently on each bowl, going from milky white to charcoal grey and towards vivid red-orange. You can also see small holes on the surface of the pieces, a quality that favoured by tea grand masters of the period and which they named yuzuhada or “lemon skin.”

Shino pieces are the result of a long process and our meeting with the master potter has enabled us to understand the complexity of these works and appreciate their value. Imperfect forms, a trace of flame, a deposit of ash, slightly crackled glaze in which the tea tannins will settle over time …

These pieces of unique firing have recently arrived in our stores, pass by and check them out!

Catherine-Emma

The Japanese tea Nadeshiko – riding the border between a Black Tea and a Pu Er

18 December 2012

at 12:23 by Manuel Legault-Roy

The leaves

We discovered a tea in Nadeshiko back in 2012 in its experimental phase. Passing through the “airlock” between the tea processing room and the fungus inoculation chamber, we knew that we had found another great project!

What is this tea? Basically a black tea with a controlled. microbiological fermentation. The leaves are from a garden on Haruno Mountain in Shizuoka Prefecture. Gardens, which do not use pesticides or herbicides. The tea follows an unusual series of transformation techniques… withering, rolling, kneading and sterilization.

Then, in a controlled chamber, a single spore of Aspergillus awamori is introduced. The leaves are then stabilized by drying and sorted. The result: a tea with a very distinct flavour profile, closer to a black tea than a Pu Er.

Developed as a healthy tea here in Japan, the leaves contains more citric and gallic acid, and catechins, than most green teas. The transformation process also creates large amounts of polyphenols called Teadenol A and Teadenol B. Current research at the Universities of Shizuoka and Saga seeks to do more research into the properties of Nadeshiko Tea and this new process.

While we wait to learn about these benefits , let’s just loose ourselves in this fascinating flavour profile!

Serious work

The ephemeral tea of Japan

7 July 2012

at 15:09 by Manuel Legault-Roy

Our producer of Shincha

Japan is a country struck by a way of life where excitement prevails most of the time. One of the most striking symptoms of this is of course the effect of fashion. Though generally associated with industries that depend almost exclusively on this phenomenon, we may be surprised that other industries, such as tea, also move to the rhythm of novelty at all costs. In the land of the rising sun, this translates into the concept of Shincha, not to be confused with sencha.

Shincha are the first available harvests of tea on its awakening after the dormant period. This plucking is done before the official start of the harvest season and will yield only a very small amount of tea. Obviously, that means scarcity which also means high prices. All well and good, but then there is the effect of fashion. For a tea shop in Japan, being the first to offer Shincha gives it a certain advantage, unfortunately, this haste often results in a carelessness on the side of manufacture, so much so that this practice does not appeal to the tea producer who sometimes find this harvest bland compared to that produced during the regular season. Obviously, despite this controversial status, it would be incorrect to claim that Shincha is an uninteresting product, some gems require special attention. If you fancy discovering the freshness contained in these first Japanese tea leaves, Sencha Shincha Mine will provide you some answers.

The Tea Master and the Samurai – Part One

1 March 2012

at 15:12 by Manuel Legault-Roy

winner

The history of tea in Japan is greatly indebted to the many tea masters who established various rules and principles of the art of tea which make the ceremony we know today as Cha no yu. These highly colourful characters, noblemen and commoners, are figures in many fables and stories of the Japanese imagination. These representations of the four principles governing the tea ceremony (respect, harmony, purity and serenity), bring forward the deeply human side of Cha no yu. Without further ado, here is an example:

The Tea Master and the Samurai

During a trip to Edo to accompany his lord to visit the Shogun, a tea master asked for a half day off to visit this beautiful city whose wonders he had never previously explored. Unfortunately, finding no samurai guard of his daimyo to accompany him, the streets of the city being known to be of somewhat ill repute, the man of tea was greatly embarrassed. It should be noted that at that time, if a samurai felt offended in any way whatsoever by a man of a lower class than his, the warrior had power of life and death over him. The impasse was resolved by an odd idea from one of the advisers of the Lord: why not disguise the man of tea as a samurai?

Dressed in the armour of the Daimyo Tosa, no one would think to pick a quarrel with a man representing so powerful a clan. The idea was adopted, and the frail man was decked out with the armour and weapons of his Lord.

Strolling through the city, the man of tea was enjoying the fear in the eyes of commoners and the respect in those of the warriors, never before having had such regard. Yet, of course, the danger was not far away. For some time now, a ronin, a masterless samurai, was watching this strange warrior who seemed to be floating in his armour The treacherous warrior therefore decided to try his luck, telling himself that if he challenged this samurai, who did not seem to be real, and dishonoured this frail warrior, he could get hired in his place or receive a handsome sum for keeping quiet about the matter. Taking advantage of the inattentiveness of the man of tea, whose eyes were lost in the displays of the stalls, the ronin crossed his path, causing the tea master to collide with him. The masterless warrior took offence at the bold manner in which the disguised man of tea had jostled him and demanded to settle the dispute by blood and sword.

Devastated at the thought of having to unsheathe a sword that he could in no way handle, but aware that he could not shirk the challenge without bringing disgrace to his lord, the man of tea asked his opponent for a postponement, claiming that he was on a mission for his master and that dying without completing his duty would be too great a dishonour to suffer. This delay permitted, the man of tea rushed into the nearest sword school and explained his situation to the master of arms. To the dismay of the man of tea, the latter laughed and told him that he had the mentality that was missing in all his disciples who were taking lessons in the hope of acquiring more power, while that he had the determination to die with honour. The tea master’s long years of practice of Cha no yu had imprinted a deep serenity in him that left him humble even in the face of his approaching end.

To be continued ……

Raku: Legacy of the Way of Tea

12 October 2011

at 21:36 by François Alexis Roy

Red and Black Raku

- Raku is more than just a technique, it is a philosophy. Knowing the techniques is essential, but understanding the essence of raku allows the potter to perfect this extremely simple, yet subtle and complex art.

Hal Riegger, « Raku : art et technique »

Raku (楽 焼, raku-yaki, “fired by the Raku family”) is a quick firing pottery technique originally from Korea and developed in Japan during the sixteenth century. Made by hand – not turned, Raku pieces are made of a refractory clay capable of withstanding large thermal shocks. With a rustic and natural look, they are porous, light and fragile. This technique allows the creation of unique objects with random results as unique as the natural landscape.

Raku was born from the creation of chawan (茶碗) bowls for Chanoyu (茶の湯) the traditional tea ceremony in Japan, during the time the foundations of the Way of Tea we know today were reformed and defined.
In the sixteenth century Zen Buddhism became the dominant religion in Japan. The tea master Sen Rikyu (1521-1591) sought to create a tea bowl in accordance with the philosophical aspirations of the tea ceremony, known as ‘wabi’. He engaged the collaboration of Chojiro (1516-1592) – apparently a manufacturer of bricks – whom he asked to create a modest, simple earthenware bowl, that evoked nature and its imperfections, and replaced the more ‘perfect’ imported items, such as the luxurious and brilliant celadon or tenmoku. This pottery felt utilitarian and absorbed less heat from the tea permitting a more comfortable grip.

By 1582, Chojiro formalized the style of Raku. He and his descendants receive a seal from the Shogun, Taiko-Sama (Toyotomi Hideyoshi), with the word Raku – the character evoking joy, pleasure and spiritual enjoyment – with which he is permitted to mark his work. Thus the Raku dynasty began.

Bon thé!

Photographie: François Alexis Roy

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Tokoname: Queen City of Kyusu

14 September 2011

at 14:14 by François Alexis Roy

kyusu teapots (decorated with algae before firing)

Located on the west coast of the Chita Peninsula in Japan, the city of Tokoname is the hideout of an amazing number of renowned potters, and has been for more than ten centuries. Though considered some of the oldest artisanal kilns, the origins of artisanal ceramics in this city are quite different to the current practice of creating these delicate and unique Kyusu teapots. In fact, for many centuries, Tokoname specialized in the manufacture of tiles and vases. Despite these early days barely related to the production of fine tea ware, the potters of the region, taking great care in the manufacture of their clay and their products, gradually redefined their style (and the size) of their pieces until around the Edo period (1603-1867). It was then that various efforts were made to produce ceramics for the presentation of flowers, for use with sake and, of course, for the appreciation of tea. Thanks to the friendship between a potter and a fan of Chinese Yixing teapots – the two men who brought to light the curious similarity of mineral components of the clay of Yixing and that of Tokoname. This discovery delighted tea lovers, and even more so, potters, who flocked to the region to utilise the virtues of this natural treasure which they had previously ignored.

Having become a haven for many artisans, a host of more and more impressive techniques appeared. One of them in particular, the ‘Mogake’ technique is impressive for its reddish motifs forming a spider web over the teapots. Shortly after the drying of the freshly molded piece, the potter attaches strips of algae to the walls of the teapot which will react with minerals in the clay during firing, leaving very unusual patterns. Other technical achievements, such as the ‘Yohen’ method, (which involves placing the piece on a bed of ashes in the kiln, giving the piece a particular look due to the random movement of the ash during firing), that continues to delight the eyes of lovers of both art and of tea.

These teapots are also distinguished by a double colouration which contrasts charcoal black and red-orange Tokoname clays. For centuries innumerable styles and shapes of teapots have come from these Tokoname kilns. Even today, the potters use their ingenuity competitively to provide a multitude of functional objects that have, above all, a unique and aesthetic design. If you would just like to cast an eye over some of these treasured works of art, they can be admired in our stores.

Manuel Legault Roy

Photography: François Alexis Roy
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Temomicha: handmade! – Spring Teas 2011 (Japan)

2 June 2011

at 11:02 by François Alexis Roy

Temomicha

Our first Japanese adventure in 2011 begins with learning temomicha, a traditional artisanal technique. It is a process kneading and rolling the tea leaves by hand. Hugo and I were both fortunate and privileged to be guests of Mr. Miyano for a crash course in this technique, which he has practised for 12 years. It is interesting to note that this tradition is only practiced by a small minority of producers in an effort to preserve it. Temomicha not even known among the Japanese population.

We arrived at Mr. Miyano’s, after brief greetings with the family, a cup of tea and presto! … We suddenly have a handful of leaf. This unusual technique all happens on a wooden table, gas heated, on which was placed an oiled paper. We rolled the leaves by hand on this table for several hours. The leaves we used were picked in early May, steamed for about 30 seconds and immediately frozen for future use. Using a series of movements, the rolling starts smoothly and becomes more vigorous to finally produce very long thin needles. This rolling by hand on a heated table has the effect of enhancing the aromas and the umami taste typical in this kind of tea. The transformation ends simply with a light drying. It is a taxing process – a closed room where the heat of the table and the constant rolling movements speedily increase body temperature! All this at a steady pace for 6 hours!

The competition level temomichas can reach exorbitant prices. The winning tea last year reached $ 12 000 a kilo! Mr. Miyano was kind enough to sell us his tea before sending it to the competition. You will have the chance to taste it at a more reasonable price. As for the batch of tea, that Hugo and I made … well, we were pretty happy with the result. The tea needles did not reach the 8 centimeters of those of M. Miyano, but they are still very tasty. Mission accomplished!

Nicolas Fontaine,
Japon
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