I recently ordered a Sencha sampler pack from Nio Tea, which came with 12 sample size packs of different senchas. Today is as good a day as any to break some of them open. I think the plan is to go through these three at a time so I can get my thoughts out there on all of them without it taking all year. I just randomly chose three pouches of tea and I picked: Sencha Kobataen, Masuda YuDi, and Yamaga No Sato. I admit I knew nothing about any of these before drinking them so this is all new to me. I wasn’t sure which brewing paramaters to use, and I ended up using the wrong ones at first, but I still think I got a pretty good idea of the teas.
These pouches were each 5 grams and I used the full pouch on my two 130 ml gaiwans, then did some math and used 2.3 grams on my tiny 60 ml gaiwan to have the same ratios. I started with water at 160 F, but then decided to check the Nio website for brewing instructions, and it said to used water at 140 F, so I dropped it down to 140 after the first unfusion.
I warmed the gaiwans and put the dry leaf in them and gave them a smell. I noticed that the Kobataen and Masuda smelled similar, but the Yamaga had a more complex aroma to it. The leaves of the Yamaga were larger and more intact as well.
First infusion was for 30 seconds at 160 F (Nio says to used 60 seconds at 140F, oops). The Kobataen was very sharp and bright and had that tangy zesty sencha flavor to it. The body was medium and slightly astringent. It had that Japanese green tea taste, which reminds of the ocean. I don’t know exactly what it is, if it’s seaweed or just the salty sea air, but it’s a distinct flavor of most Japanese green tea that I have had. The second infusion was similar but I picked up a slight toasted grain note. The third infusion was less bright and zetsty, but it had a sweetness to it that I didn’t get in the first two.
I am noticing a pattern in sencha. The first infusions are very bright and zesty, but the later infusions become less bright but bring out a sweetness. I have to say I prefer the sweeter infusions, but I do enjoy that Japanese brightness.
The Masuda YuDi was just not my cup of sencha. It was noticeably thinner and made my mouth quite dry. It still had that sencha brightness to it and it also had a vegetal note on the finish, which I didn’t get on the other two. I wouldn’t call it a bad tea, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as the others. The second infusion let me know that this tea should only be steeped once.
Now for the Yamaga; sweet, sweet Yamaga No Sato. This tea was thick, complex, bright, smooth, not astringent and very satisfying. This one was creeping towards Gyokuro territory. I really enjoyed this tea and it stayed strong for all three infusions. It also had that marine like taste to it and some brightness along with more depth. The third infusion brought out some sweetness as well as the marine flavor. I am a fan.
So what exactly is different about these teas? All I really know is that Sencha is grown in several different parts of Japan, but I couldn’t tell you how each region’s tea tastes compared to the others. Here is how Nio describes each tea:
The Kobataen – This sencha is a blended tea, meaning that it comes from multiple tea breeds or cultivars. Blending these teas together in perfect amounts has become an art in its own right. The main cultivar in this tea is the Asanoka, but it is balanced out by the Okumidori and the Yabukita. The flavors combine beautifully to produce a sencha that is fresh, sweet and umami with a slightly roasted note in the background. So this is a blend of three cultivars with Asanoka being the main one. It also states that it is from Kagoshima, which is the southernmost tip of Japan. This is also lightly steamed.
The Masuda YuDi – This shade-grown Sencha comes to us from the farm of Masudaen in Shizuoka. We don’t get much info about cultivars. Shizuoka is in the center of Japan.
The Yamaga No Sato – Fukamushicha, otherwise known as a “deep steamed tea” has a wonderful flavor that is truly unique. Due to the extra steaming, the tea takes on a darker hue of green and a more powerful vegetal flavor. The umami note you experience is similar to that of a Gyokuro, and the astringency you might find in a Shincha. The tea is made by blending the Yabukita cultivar with the Asatsuyu. This one is deep steamed and is a blend of Yabukita and Asatsuyu cultivars. I was right about the Gyokuro, but I didn’t notice any astringency.
Now for the prices: Kobataen is $33 for 70 grams. That is 14 sessions at 5 g per session. $2.35 per session and three infusions per session is $.78 per cup. That’s expensive compared to my normal teas.
Masuda is $24 for 100 grams. 5 grams per session is $1.20 per session. You can only get one steep out of these so that’s $1.20 per cup.
Yamaga is $29 for 100 grams. That is $1.45 per session, and three infusions per session comes to $.48 per cup. That is still higher than what I normally drink, but is much more reasonable and this was my favorite of the three. Go figure. I just don’t have refined taste for Japanese tea yet, apparently.
It should be noted that the price per session of these is similar to the Chinese teas I have had, but since Japanese tea can only be steeped 1-3 times, the price per cup is much higher. Compared to a Chinese black or oolong that can go 8-12 rounds, it’s not a very fair comparison. But I believe it should be noted anyway.
So I learned that I liked the sencha that was deep steamed on this round. Down the rabbit hole we go further. Cheers!