Saturday, April 11, 2009

REVIEW: Green Hill Tea, Sencha

Green Hill Tea

Green Hill Tea (Thank you, George) sent me a packet of Sencha to review. Their Web site provides the following information:

This is a traditional Japanese-style green tea with tightly rolled, needle-shaped leaves. It’s steamed and contains high antioxidants. It was picked in early spring. The liquor is bright in color, with a clean finish. This is the everyday green tea in Japan.

Brew hint: Place one tea spoon into a cup; brew with 175-195ºF water for 3-7 minute.

4 teaspoons of tea, in 4 cups water that was taken to the boil and then pulled back to 80C, and steeped about 3:15 in Japanese tetsubin, a cast-iron pot with enamel interior. Yes, I know it's not a proper Japanese tea set, but I try to make do.

These leaves are very strongly fragrant. They're a forest green, and very tightly furled into needle shapes (just as advertised on the Web site). There is a grassy lemon smell. It's amazing how distinct the different teas can smell. Human ingenuity is so impressive to me. One reason I love tea, in particular, is that it is the culmination of thousands of years of human endeavor and creativity, and a drive to excellence and beauty. And these leavs are a prime example of that. How do they come to smell so sharp and lemony, with that green grass scent? I am so glad for my sense of smell! How lucky of the Japanese to be able to have this as their everyday drink.

The leaves completely unfurled, revealing broken pieces, most maybe an eighth to half an inch, of a very even olive green complexion, with some stem that I didn't notice when the dry leaves were in these tight needle shapes. They have a faint (not overpowering) seaside smell, like seaweed, and salt water, and faint hints of that wonderfully complex smell of decomposition you get when walking on a beach. And with all of this, a touch of lemon or citrus. (Did I mention, I think smelling the leaves is a wonderful way to start to get to know a tea, even before tasting it.)

Green and transparent, but just a touch of cloudiness to it. The scent of the tea is very unlike that of the leaves, dry or spent. It's a very laid-back scent. It appears all the power of this cup is in the actual tastebuds, not in the nose.

The flavor is what I associate with Japanese food-- seaside, seaweed, grass... in short, a pretty good match for the scent of the leaves. There are bright, grassy notes, along with sort of a richness-- it must be that sense of "umami," the elusive fifth flavor, which is explicated here... This is a very fun read, though just slightly off topic.

This tea would go beautifully with some extremely rich dark chocolate, perhaps. I wish I had some to try out my theory!

The aftertaste seems to be sensed from the back of the throat, with a rich loamy sensation. Very nice. I almost think rich, dark aftertaste is nicer than the up-front brightness in the cup.

Ah, the all-important second cup, where the rubber hits the road, in my mind. I like to make at least two cups in one steeping, to let the second cup cool just a bit and allow the more complex flavors an opportunity to develop, by way of all the complex chemistry in a pot of tea.

The color of the second cup has taken on a more brown-gold appearance, and it is cloudier than its first cup.

It now has a much sharper edge to it. The flavors are more pronounced, the brightness enhanced. Had I only made one cup, my impression of this tea would be completely different. The mouthfeel is very full-bodied, for a green tea. The sharpness is primarily felt in the back of the mouth, like eating a very sharp grapefruit or something. There's a lemony fragrance that is quite pronounced. But the deeper notes, the umami, are very noticeable in the mouth, and that makes it, for me, a very satisfying drink.

Thanks, George, again, for an enjoyable tea! It's a serious tea, and I am very grateful the opportunity to learn more about sencha with this sample.

Side note: My wife doesn't really love this tea, because she is very used to black teas. She needed a little bit of sugar to cut the edge off of it. She finds it to be a bit woody, not grassy. She had the second cup, though, and I wonder if she would have liked the lighter first cup better.