Tea W/ Friends: My First Proper Japanese Green Tea ~Experience~
On Halloweekend, I took a trip to Shanghai.
Shanghai is 3 – 6 hours away by train and I had to work around my Friday afternoon and Monday morning classes, but I was willing to make the effort because some of my closest friends from uni live there. Besides, I’m a sucker for poetry (especially Halloween-themed poetry readings).
On that Saturday, just after meeting several groups of friends and a few hours before the event, I sat with N to drink tea. I’ve already told you some of my tea story, but let me introduce you to N.
One of his parents is Central European and the other is Japanese (I specified because this detail is important). He’s rooted in both cultures and speaks both of his parents’ mother tongues, but he’s also a self-described “citizen of the world.” I can imagine some of your rolling your eyes. Our school’s motto was “make the world your major” because half of the graduates come from outside of China and are required to spend at least 2.5 years at the Shanghai campus and at least half a year at one of the other campuses. By now he’s traveled to more countries than I can count, and speaks almost as many languages to varying degrees of fluency.
During our third year in uni, he studied at NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus and joined a tea club. It was there that his appreciation for tea blossomed. He learned to discuss the flavors and fragrances of the tea he tried, and learned to generally tell teas apart. During our fourth year, he returned to the Shanghai campus and joined the tea club M and I started (I’m not sure if I introduced M before, perhaps you’ll “meet” her someday).
Now that we’ve both graduated, we don’t have as many people to discuss tea with. M and the person who headed NYU AD’s tea club are back in the US, D is in the Huangshan area and I’m in Jiangxi Province. Meeting N to talk tea was high on my Shanghai to-do list.
N had already laid out his tea table by the time I arrived. We tried some new tea he’d recently purchased from Laoximen Tea City, and I let him try some of my Teasenz samples. We even compared the tea I brought with some of his. His Phoenix Oolong beat mine, but my Da Hong Pao was much more complex than his. His Phoenix came with a sample, which nearly made us puke in the process of trying. We had no idea tea could be so bad. I’m a glutton for punishment though, because the experience didn’t stop be from trying other tea samples.
After a while, he started showing me some of his Japanese tea and teaware.
I have a passing familiarity with Matcha and with some of the processing differences between Japanese and Chinese green teas. Japanese tea tends to be fresher and it undergoes less processing, but I really couldn’t talk at length about it.
N pulled out some Fukamushi Cha (深蒸茶/Shen Zheng Cha in Chinese, I can’t type in Japanese) which translates roughly to “deep steamed tea.” After being harvested, the tea is steamed a couple times then dried and preserved in vacuum-sealed packaging. The tea oxidizes so quickly that it needs to be stored in the refrigerator after the package has been opened and should be finished within a year or so of the harvest date. I imagine the tea lasts longer if it’s kept in a cold, dark, dry, airless environment, but it’s pretty difficult to satisfy all of those criteria. I was mind-blown at the prospect of refrigerating tea in the first place (who does that??).
Once N had explained the basics to me, it was time to taste the tea. He poured out about 4 grams onto the scale. The leaves were a deep, magnificent green with a few flecks of lighter green here and there.
Fukamushi tea needs to be brewed for about a minute and a half with 70-80 degree water. He slid the leaves into his Japanese teapot (kyusu) and we chatted for a bit while we waited for the water to cool down. We mused over the fact that were were blending Chinese and Japanese teaware while drinking a Japanese tea in China and speaking English.
Finally, after we very scientifically tested the temperature of the water by passing our hands over the steam, N poured filled the teapot and let it brew. He then introduced me to the Japanese style of brewing tea, which omits the fairness pitcher step. Instead, the server pours tea in a sweeping motion over all the cups so that each cup is filled with tea from the beginning, middle and end of the pour. Since the teapot was larger than the capacity of our two cups, though, we poured the excess into a fairness pitcher to prevent the tea from over-brewing.
I took a sip and was astonished by the flavor. The Fukamushi tea was salty, but not so much so that it was unpleasant. It tasted a little bit like seaweed and was quite smooth. There was something satisfying about the flavor. It tasted a bit like fresh miso soup. I guess that’s the “umami” flavor I often hear people mention when they discuss Japanese tea. The flavor lasted for at least 7 brews. After that I stopped counting.
The tea liquor color was somewhere between mustard yellow and green. It was much brighter than I’d seen any green tea liquor before and was almost syrupy thick.
For a while, I ignored the taste and relished the feeling of the tea in my mouth. I know I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: I love thick teas. I like when my mouth feels full of not only the flavor, but also the substance. N told me that the pot one brews the tea in while affect the mouth feel. Those that have larger strainer holes will filter less leaf debris and create a thicker tea. Those with smaller holes will filter more and produce a thinner tea. Ideally, one’s teapot should be somewhere in the middle. You don’t want too many leaves because they get in the way of the tea liquor, but you don’t want so few that your tea feels empty.
All in all, I was so impressed with the tea I ordered some for myself (Taobao is a wonderful place). N sent me the link to his seller, so I’m going to try the tea on my own and see if the quality is consistent. Even though I don’t really plan on getting too deep into Japanese tea (I still have so much to learn about Chinese tea!), I can definitely see myself adding it to my list of regulars.
A year and a half ago I would have told you that I’m not a fan green tea, but M opened my mind to it, living in Jiangxi sealed my preference for it as a casual daily tea, and N has literally broadened my horizons. I suppose that’s what friends are for. <3