Monday, July 20, 2009

REVIEW: Maeda-en Sen-cha Select

Maeda-en Sen-cha Select

Heard This Morning
Seven-year-old boy: "That's good. Best one ever."
Wife: "That was good. What was it?"
Baby girl: ...

I'm quite happy with this cup of tea. Maeda-en is a Japanese company, and I've had the opportunity to enjoy a couple of their senchas recently. It is July, but here in the Chicago area, we've had one of the coolest summers on record. Quite often, a Japanese sencha is drunk cold in hot weather (and is often cold-brewed, which imparts an entirely different set of steeping parameters that create yet another taste experience for those so inclined). But because of the cold, I am drinking it hot.

Most people are familiar with matcha, the powdered Japanese tea that is prepared in a bowl with a whisk, and is used in Japanese tea ceremony. Sencha, on the other hand, are steamed (not pan-fried) teas that are not ground into powder.

1 tsp per 1 cup 70C filtered water, steeped for 2 minutes in Great-Grandma's 100-year-old Japanese porcelain pot.

I use Culligan reverse-osmosis water, which is a bit superior to the local tap water, even when I run the tap through a Brita filter. That being said, because reverse-osmosis water has had practically all of the particulate matter removed, the water can be just a bit flat. I have been shopping for Japanese bamboo charcoal, which when added to boiling water will purify it and add minerals to liven it up a bit. Several Twitter tea compatriots swear by this, and I will be placing the order soon. But for this tea experience, the cry will be heard by '50s-era housewives everywhere: "Hey, Culligan man!"

I am used to large-leaf Chinese oolongs and mid- or large-sized Darjeeling SFTGFOP1 leaves. But these are quite tiny, with quite a bit of particulate matter and stems. Once steeped, they appear very much like cooked, frozen spinach. I particularly like the aroma of the steamed leaves, which is a warm, quite complex combination of, really, cooked food smells: like a kitchen with interesting things happening within.

Lovely green-yellow liquor, with a very faint fogginess, which is quite what I would expect with a Japanese green tea. The tea is quite mild in flavor: lightly sweet, and ever-so-slightly bitter, and a focus on the low flavor notes, which I noticed in the throat and back of the tongue: slightly woodsy, a hint of bitter salt. I experienced a nicely roasty huigan (which is the sweet aftertaste), a bit like very clean charcoal from wood. There is a light bitterness that rises in the mouth as the initial sweetness of the huigan recedes. The huigan is really quite enjoyable, as it alternates between the greenly sweet grassiness, and the slight bitterness, and the green sweetness again. Well done.

Obviously, as you saw above, my family much liked this tea, and so did I. Very enjoyable, very relaxed, and nicely complex. Thank you, Maeda-en, for such an enjoyable tasting experience.

(This review is being posted and will appear eventually at