I actually believe this is the eighth iteration of my blog (Happiness Buh-rometers I-VII are archived and hopefully I’ll never need to look at them again). I’ve tried seven other times to convince myself to write (and consistently write) a blog, and this is only the second time it’s actually sunk in. I think that’s probably thanks to the fact that despite how i often behave in reality, I’m actually really confident and knowledgeable about this subject. The only other successful blog existed back in high school, so obviously that was a totally different person from who’s writing this one.
Irregardless, when people hear that I have a blog they laugh and assume it’s a silly anime review site. Even if they hear it’s a tea blog, they’re probably thinking all I ever talk about is Japanese tea or Chan no Yuu. In reality I haven’t spent much time discussing either of those things; I’ve only really touched on my past experiences with them. In retrospect this lapse (if such it is) is probably owing to two factors: First, I generally think of myself as a non-conformist and that could very well be what’s coming into play here. It does seem odd, however, that I have a peer group chiefly interested in Japanese arts and culture and am not really catering to them with this blog. For these reasons, I want to dedicate these next few posts to those readers and to Japanese tea and tea culture.
The second reason I haven’t written much is that, as much as i hate to admit it, there just isn’t a great deal of variation when it comes to Japanese tea. Unlike a lot of countries that would export any profitable crop, Japan keeps a lot of the best and most interesting teas close to the chest to heighten prestige and maintain cultural distinctiveness (the best Japanese teas I’ve had were inside the country itself and from a Japanese national who was herself a collector and had relatives send her things to sample, which she would sometimes share with me). Add to this the fact that despite its people’s zeal and genius, Japan really amounts to a mountainous archipelago the size of California. Compared to the many different climate zones and traditions found in China, Taiwan, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and South Africa, Japanese tea growing is fairly uniform.
Among the teas actually exported from Japan there are five basic types you see over and over from vendor to vendor (sencha, houjicha, genmaicha, kukichi and matcha) and a few fun offshoots (if you’ll forgive the pun)–from there it’s just variations on a theme. A few years ago I would have included bancha, but it seems like that’s become more rare over the last decade? I know on the surface that sounds like a horrible generalization (i have been known to occasionally indulge in such things), but I’m really just making a hard and fast synopsis. The less than exhaustive list I just made won’t reflect what you’ll find on Wikipedia for Japanese green tea, since it includes a lot more teas than you’ll be able to actually find sold or served in brick and mortar stores in the West. However, online there are some really nice options for Japanese tea. Thanks to Steepster, one that’s quickly climbing out of obscurity and seems definitely worth a look is Tea Wing. Unfortunately, as of this writing, i haven’t gotten my paws on any of Tea Wing’s stuff so stay tuned!
So anyway, if you’ve made it this far you definitely deserve to get an actual tea review. Itoen’s Shincha Green tea is one of the neat rare finds that’s a variation on their normal Oi Ocha ryoukucha (which just so we’re on the same page means literally “green tea” and for practical purposes is really just another name for sencha) . At the beginning of each harvest, the first buds of the tea plant, often the most delicate and underdeveloped compared to later harvests, are… well, harvested. This “first harvest” (hence the name shincha (“The New” tea)) is often the highest fineness and most sought after, regardless of the kind of tea or where it’s grown. To honor the love of first harvest, Itoen has bottled their version of it as an iced tea. I admit, this is the first time I’ve seen an iced tea advertised as being of the first harvest. In order to make iced tea in the quantity necessary to be bottled, you have to brew a mega tonnage of tea, which necessarily means it’ll be totally homogenized… >.> Yeah, well i suppose consumers usually don’t think that deeply.
Shincha is a thinner, but not gritless sencha with a low antioxidant content versus some of its cousins. It still has a generous amount of caffeine but compared to coffee of course you’d need to drink the entire bottle to get an espresso shot’s worth out of it. I think the most remarkable thing about Shincha is its aroma: I get the sense of both a woodiness and a greeniness (think chloroplast), though not so woody as to be a kukicha and not so green as to be matcha. Highly recommended (unless you’d need to spend more than $5 a bottle to try it).