Friday, December 18, 2009

Harney & Sons Tea Tasting: Chinese - Japanese Greens

Cups at the ready

A few weeks ago, I had the joy of spending an afternoon with a friend, tasting 5 different teas. I wanted to compare Chinese and Japanese green teas. The difference between these two large categories is very broad, then within each category, the nuances and distinctions are quite interesting. We were using teas recommended in the Harney & Sons book. (And thanks to Angela for several of these teas! Some of them are hard to find!)

To start, we tasted two Chinese greens. Bi Lo Chun (Spring Snail Shell) and Lung Ching (Dragon's Well). The Bi Lo Chun had a hint of apricot in the aroma and the flavor was strong and roasted, but very pleasant. We both enjoyed this tea a lot. The Lung Ching is a very famous type of Chinese green. This one had a sweet aftertaste, especially as compared to the previous tea. Both teas were steeped at 175 degrees for 2 minutes.

As you can see below, the shape of the dry leaf is very different for each. The Bi Lo Chun is said to look like snail shells. It unfurls completely as it steeps, revealing two leaves and a bud. Lung Ching gets its flat shape by tea makers who press the leaves against hot metal with their fingers.

Bi Lo Chun (back) and Lung Ching (front)

Bi Lo Chun

Lung Ching

I wanted to compare the essence of Chinese teas and Japanese teas. Chinese teas are fixed -meaning the application of heat to stop the oxidation - in a wide variety of ways. Common means include using hot woks and ovens. Japanese greens, on the other hand, are almost always fixed using steam. Whereas Chinese makers coax a wide diversity of flavors and styles from the tea, the Japanese have kept tradition and continuity as a prime consideration.

We tasted three Japanese sencha teas. Matsuda's Sencha, Kakegawa Ichiban Sencha, and Kagoshima Sencha.
Three senchas: Matsuda's (back), Kakegawa (middle), Kagoshima (front)

Sencha teas are incredibly popular in Japan. Harney points out they are so popular, they are mass-produced (often yielding a lesser-quality tea).

We both found Matsuda's Sencha to be very appealing. No bitterness at all with a sweet aftertaste. After reading Harney's description, we understand why. The tea is made by Matsuda, his wife, and his mother. He does not shade his tea as it grows (a common practice to boost amino acids). He considers it unnatural. He uses other processing differences to produce a sencha that is unique and quite wonderful. If you can get your hands on some of this, give it a try and compare it to other sencha teas.

Not to say the other two were bad. They were fine teas. It's just that the one was extraordinary. The Kakegawa, to me, was the least memorable of the three. A bit astringent. The Kagoshima was more memorable, but I didn't' care for it. I think it has to do with the fukamushi processing. This is an intense steaming process that breaks up the leaves into fine filaments, and gives a stronger flavor. I had a sense of this tea being salty. My friend found elements of raw bell pepper (as the tea cooled).
All the teas we tried, from left to right

I recommend you try a tea tasting that highlights the differences in Chinese and Japanese greens.


Southern Touch Catering said...

Wow now that was a boatload of information and I think that I'll have to print this one so I can remember it all. Thanks so much on the Matsuda's Sencha. This is definately one I'll be looking for. BTW, your tea setting was just lovely!

parTea lady said...

What a terrific comparison review of Chinese and Japanese teas. It was very informative, with great photos. Thanks.

Marilyn said...

Thanks for the comparison of green teas. I often don't like many greens, but you have encouraged me to go ahead and try some.

Marlena said...

Thanks for sharing this. I have just discovered how much I like Chinese greens. To date, my experience of Japanese greens has ranged from disgusting to ick and ok but why bother. I think I'll try that one you really liked and see.
Marlena at Tea For Today

Ginger said...

Thanks for sharing the review. I've always liked Japanese green teas better than Chinese. But I've never tried the two at the same time. I drink sencha every day, I'll have to compare my daily brand to these 3. I have this book but haven't tried as many teas as you and Angela have.

Anonymous said...


Amanda said...

Thank you for such a fun afternoon. I hope we can do it again soon. I've asked for the Harney book for my birthday. :)

Linda J. said...

Tea-riffic post!! And, as always, your photography is beautiful!!

Angela McRae said...

What a great review! I love the way you ordered this one, and it has reminded me to go revisit some of those lovely greens I've acquired this year. Thanks!