Boosting inferior Japanese green tea leaves!
- Holly Helt
As shincha season has come and gone, we are now in the dog days of summer… the trickiest time for tea in Japan. Tricky because the intense moisture in the air zaps all freshness from the precious steamed leaves if they aren’t stored and handled correctly.
We get heaps of tea at the café given to us from farmers bestowing their latest and greatest. And when a tea farmer rocks up offering their prized leaves, we simply have to steep a pot. This results in a bit of a stockpile as you can imagine!
We also receive quite a range in quality: amazing tea is not easy to make if the quality is not there, and the more samples we try from around Japan, the more aware of this we become.
The truth is, there’s a fair bit of ordinary stuff out there.
So when the leaves are a bit past their sell-by date, have been moisure-ized or just aren’t that fabulous in the first place, what to do?!
Enter the Holly (or insert your name) Blend!
In a nutshell I “spike” inferior leaves with a stronger, fresher batch.
My preferred source of magic comes from either a fresh Gyokuro or a Kabusecha. Ratio-wise I’m talking about 70% old/flat-tasting to 30% fresh. When using Gyokuro, the blend ratio might be as little as 10% to 90% dodgy leaves. Using Gyokuro presents a slight issue because of the water temperature and longer steeping time. Simply adjust by lowering the temperature to about 70ºC - not all the way to 55ºC (131ºF) and steep it for about 90 to 120 seconds or until you see enough of the leaves open up.
On a side note, reading the leaves is something most folks simply don’t do with Japanese tea. It’s much easier with a fabulous full red-crested high mountain oolong from Taiwan! Japanese leaves are tiny in comparison and sometimes resemble mush so it’s hard to know when the steep is complete. Keep reading and the better you will become!
The reason home blending is such a secret is because we often feel the Master producer knows best and it’s not our place to interfere with what the “experts” say. So we tend to take their word at face value. But why shouldn’t we have an opinion, and a play?!
Blending your own Japanese tea leaves can open a whole new world of flavors. I rarely do this with exquisite, artisan tea because in such cases the farmer is essentially already doing it for us. But for older or slightly ordinary leaves, you can start to explore a myriad of different sensations.
Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t always go to plan! I’ve had some instances when the blend goes south, turning flat-tasting tea into an outright bubbling Hogwarts brew! But when you hit the jackpot you’ll have both the benefits of a unique, interesting, maybe even delicious beverage plus the warm glow of satisfaction at your own handy work!
N.B. this technique is not for old Matcha! If your ceremonial Matcha has been open for longer than a month, rather than trying to fix it with fresh Matcha, simply start adding it to smoothies!
About Holly Helt
Holly is American and grew up in Japan drinking Japanese tea from age-three. She has studied two methods of tea ceremony, Urasenke and the lesser-known Yabunouchi, which has a direct lineage to Sen-no Rikyu (known as the father of the tea ceremony) ; it's also the school of practice for samurai. In 2012 she founded Chiki Tea - an online retailer of Japanese green teas, all sourced directly from small farms in Japan. Splitting her time between Japan and her home in Texas, Holly strives to bring the best teas from Japan to as many people as she can find to share in her life's passion.