There is something overwhelming about Springtime. I’m sure I bring it on myself after six months of hibernation, but the rate at which tasks are added to my To Do List makes me withdraw from the world. Thankfully, family came for a visit, and I was wrenched from my comfort zone (lately known as “the couch”) and thrown into the yard. Up until this, our house had been an embarrassment with overgrown bushes and trees and weeds in the flower bed that reached my knees (okay, really it was mid-thigh). Yesterday we spent 12 hours pulling weeds, mulching the flower bed, potting herbs (for tea! such as spearmint, lemon balm, and bee balm) and tomatoes and planting hastas, cutting back bushes and trees, mowing the lawn, whipping the weeds, and cleaning and replacing gutters. Today, my muscles are sore and my skin is sunburned, and I feel proud of what was accomplished yesterday.
Today I’m taking things much more slowly. I read out on the deck to catch some morning sun; although apparently 67 degrees is “scorching hot” to me, so I only lasted about an hour. Now I’m appreciating the view of my front window– of mammoth trees, petunias, and a snoozing kitty, while sipping green tea and waiting for the afternoon’s impending thunderstorms. (Yes, I know my curtains are ugly. They came with the house, and I haven’t replaced them yet).
Today’s tea comes from Japanese Green Tea IN, a tea seller specializing in green tea from Japan’s Shizuoka prefecture (which I understand has an incredible view of Mount Fuji!). I tried their Fukamushi Sencha, first crop, which is unlike any tea I’ve ever experienced before. The appearance of the tea leaves was the first surprise. The forest green leaves varied in size including long thin leaves, small fragments, and even powder. The fragments and the powder first led me to believe that this was a reflection of the quality of the tea– that it was no different from a bag of Lipton tea dust, but I was mistaken. This appearance is a result of how the tea is processed– the tea is deep steamed, and while the leaves become more delicate (hence the breakage), the astringency is reduced and the flavor becomes more rich.
The next surprising characteristic about this tea was the color. Most of the green teas I’ve steeped produce a pale yellow liquid, but the Fukamushi Sencha produced a cloudy, Chartreuse green color. I was intimidated at first, thinking I over-steeped my tea, but again, I learned this is just another characteristic of this kind of tea. It’s also common to have tea sediment collect at the bottom of the mug– go ahead and drink that up though because they are nutrient-rich!
As for the flavor of the tea, I was under the impression it was supposed to be naturally sweet, but it tasted more savory to me. The first steep was vegetal and lightly astringent, and the finishing notes were buttery and slightly like blanched or grilled asparagus. Because it’s a savory tea, and also because it is lightly caffeinated, I think it makes for a perfect early afternoon treat. The tea also begs for multiple infusions. So far, I’ve brewed four cups of tea with the same batch of tea leaves, and the flavor (although lacking the buttery finishing note) was just as rich and flavorful as the first cup, and I’m confident I can steep at least one or two more cups.
The final notable characteristic of this tea is how it is farmed. Japanese Green Tea IN sells tea that is cultivated using the Chagusaba Method. The tea farmers in the Shizuoka prefecture put sustainability first, and as a result, the region has been named 1 of the 26 sites in all of Asia and the Pacific Islands as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The Chagusaba Method uses deliberately grown, surrounding grasslands to mulch fields of tea shrubs. The grass mulch prevents weeds, keeps the tea fertilized, prevents run-off into surrounding ecosystems, and maintains biodiversity. The Chagusaba Method is a labor-intensive process, which means it is a dying art in a business world that is becoming increasingly mechanized to remain competitive in a global market.
Japanese Green Tea IN’s Fukamushi Sencha is probably one of the more expensive teas I’ve featured on Books & Tea; it’s a little bit of a splurge at $45 for 3.5oz (that’s about 30-40 cups). That breaks down to about $1.12 per cup (compared to Adagio’s 78 cents/cup and Twinings 20 cents/cup). But the quality of this tea though… the flavor, the multiple infusions, the sustainability… is a worthwhile luxury for novice to seasoned tea drinkers alike.