by kate on August 9th, 2013
Canton Tea Club Week 45: Sencha Midori No Kaori
This week we have one of the most special teas from our Japanese range, Sencha Midori No Kaori. An extremely high quality Sencha from the Sugimoto Family.
The Japanese tea industry is totally geared towards the domestic green tea market (other types of tea make up only a tiny proportion of the industry). Sencha is arguably the most important tea for the Japanese industry, making up 80% of production. There is huge variation in quality of Sencha available, from the very cheap to the very, very expensive.
Sencha appeared on the market in the seventeenth century, around about the same time that Shohokuen, from where this Sencha originates, started producing tea. It is now so popular that the Chinese have even started making it. Since the seventeenth century, production has advanced and now Japan has one of the most modernised tea industries in the world. Due to the high labour costs in Japan, the tea world quickly developed technologies that made production a lot more efficient. Now the vast majority of picking and processing is done by machine and only the extreme high end of the tea on the market is picked and processed by hand.
Picking is done by a hand-held machine that comprises of a large bag, an air compressor and scissors. Two pickers walk down the rows of bushes, which are cut into a curved shape to improve the efficiency of the picking. The scissors cut the leaves and the compressor blows the leaves into the bag. The leaves are then processed by machine into arancha. Arancha is the unfinished tea – the term is similar in meaning to the Chinese mao cha. The arancha will then be auctioned and sent to another site for the final processing.
The Sugimoto family who have run the renowned Shohokuen business for fourteen generations (in 1915 Shohokuen’s tea was served to the new emperor at the Japanese Imperial Court) combine modern technologies with traditional methods to produce their high end green tea. This Sencha is in fact machine picked as per the method outlined above (the Gyokuro that we will taste later in the month is actually hand-picked). However, unlike the majority of Japanese tea industry, Shohokuen use traditional hand processing methods; as outlined below:
1. Steaming: The fresh leaves are steamed immediately after picking.
2. Chakiri: A charcoal fire is stoked under the rolling table which is topped with a Jyotan (a board made of hundreds of sheets of traditional Japanese paper pasted together). The leaves are dried on this board and constantly moved about by hand to ensure that the leaves are evenly dried.
3. Yoko-makuri: The leaves are laboriously rolled by hand for over an hour.
4. Itazuri: A skilful artisan will then sit at a wooden table and roll the leaves back and forward for 50 minutes which lengthens them and gives them their characteristic sheen.
5. Drying: The leaves are spread out on paper and fanned with a Uchiwa (a traditional hand-held paper fan), they are then sieved.
The entire process takes around five hours. This truly is a special tea.
You can buy this wonderful Sencha in our shop