2010 Maeda-en Shin-cha Select
[Full Disclosure: this tea was provided as a free sample by the vendor. While I normally purchase my own tea and have no intention of turning this blog into a free-sample-fueled positive review machine, I did manage to acquire this tea after badgering the vendor for reviewing their own tea highly on Steepster. In this case, I think my intentions are sound.]
I must admit, this is my first shin-cha. Gyokuro and sen-cha I have sampled before, but never the first flush of the season. And how typical of me that my first taste of an inherently seasonal tea comes from a year with such remarkable variation in quality.
This tea did require that I hone my Japanese tea brewing skills. I brewed twice this morning.
At first, I used perhaps too much leaf (~5 g in 3oz of water), while following the vendor’s instructions for temperature (195F) and steeping time (45s). The resulting brew was thick, but bitter. The complexity and texture were there, but the bitterness was out of balance. The second steep from the first session, however, yielded a very silky, sweet liquid that was just my style.
For the second session, I pulled back on the leaf to about 3g, cooled down the water and knocked 10s off the initial steep. This produced a much lighter brew, but had almost no perceptible bitterness.
In terms of flavor, this tea was clean and delicious, if a bit one-dimensional. It had friendly vegetal greenness, a faint bit of brine, and some distant tangerine leaves. The viscosity of the brew was enjoyable, with a long, lingering thick sweetness, dappled with near-savory umami. I did think, though, that the proportion of dust was rather high and may have contributed to my initial bitter brew.
What this tea did remarkably well was load me up with a massive theanine glow. It was nearly immediate, strong, and beautiful. A sensation of heaviness came over me, and I just sat on the patio, smiled, and watched the Sunday morning open with high clouds, a gentle breeze through the garden, and the cheerful song of goldfinches dancing across the yard.
If all shin-cha has this effect, I’m really looking forward to the first round of OTTI.
Revisited on June 26, 2010, using the brewing parameters for the OTTI Shincha tasting, seen here. This tea was added as a personal “sixth” for the tasting, since I had it and it fit right in.
Having brewed this the first time with probably too much leaf and maybe too much water temperature, I pulled out my bag of this tea and brewed it the way I brewed the other five shinchas in the tasting set. I found it much more palatable.
The aroma was light, but quite briny when it made it’s way through my nostrils. Flavors in the first steep were bright, clean and had strong doses of kelp, spinach, and watermelon rind. It wasn’t as sweet as most of the other samples I’ve had, but was up there. The best part of the first steep was that it a fantastic minty cooling sensation on the lips, tongue, and back of the throat that lingered long after the soup disappeared, making me want to return to my cup for more.
I even took this tea out to a fourth steep since it was my only session this morning and was amused to find that it looked much like the first steep, but tasted like thin tea-water. The second and third steeps gave full-flavored and rich cups, but they held the more classic profile of ocean vegetables, salty brine, and melon pith. I think this is an exemplary and clean example of the classic profile of flavors for a decent shincha.