76 Tasting Notes
I think it’s very cute that each of the different types of kukicha in this sampler has a different little bird on it.
It smells like. roasted sticks! With maybe a hint of sweetness. But mostly roasted. Actually, it smells a tad burned. Like if I smelled this when I pulled something out of the oven, I would be a little concerned.
When you add the water, it definitely looks like mud. Kukicha is already a weird tea to explain to your family. Roasted kukicha, even more so. Luckily, no one is home to judge me.
When I went to smell the wet leaves, something in there was…. I dunno, it had a cooling sensation, like maybe something mentholy? I sniffed it a few more times, trying to figure out what it was. I inhaled deeply. And then I sneezed. A lot. So much, my ears were ringing!
I hope I am not somehow allergic to something in this stick-tea. That would be a shame. Well, if I have an allergic reaction and die, I hope whoever finds me thinks to read the screen I am sitting in front of and realizes what the culprit is.
I really need to figure out words to differentiate between different roasted flavors besides Roasted. I guess it’s kind of a roasted grain flavor, like mugicha, but more chlorinated. That’s not the right word either. But I’m unable to pinpoint exactly what I am thinking of. There’s just a hint of effervescent freshness I get every so often, I think I am associating it with something in Tiger Balm or some kind of cleaning product. It’s not unpleasantly chemical or anything, I just wish I could identify it.
It’s dry, in a wood-y type of way, which for some reason is more tolerable with stick-teas. It feels more like a flavor that belongs.
In the third steeping that I left longer than intended, I was pleasantly surprised by a mouthful of …cocoa and cinnamon, almost, rich and dark. I think I really am just very shy of oversteeping and probably not letting these teas reach their potential. Another reason that I should have ordered two of these samplers, hah.
The astringency becomes more pronounced and less pleasant as it cools; this tea seems to be at its best (and most comforting) when it’s piping hot.
Four or five steepings in and my favorite part is the raisin-sweet aftertaste on the roof of my mouth. And… it is comforting. I don’t know what it is about these roasted teas that sometimes just deactivate my racing brain. I guess all teas do that to some extent, but there’s something extra in roasted teas.
This is also making me want to make gimbap for dinner. Sometimes green teas stimulate my appetite and sometimes they suppress it, I really don’t know why, or which. But I think in this case, the comfort of this tea is nudging me towards comfort food, so I think I will go start some rice.
Now this one smells quite grassy, the dry leaf somewhere between hay and lawn clippings, but also something else, maybe a bit damp and mulchy, soil-y, and… oh, well, I guess this is literally named “earth.” That tracks.
The wet leaf smells about like what I might just call “classic” sencha. Like one whiff of this would probably make anyone go, “oh yeah, that’s sencha.” Someday maybe I’ll have better words to describe this, but all I can say is that the scent is quite directly attached to a specific memory.
First steeping is quite mild, but I got a lovely surprise melon rind or cucumber note amid this grassiness.
I think I chronically under-steep my first steeping, but the second always seems to be where senchas really wake up. Another note about this tea said it would be good with sushi, and I feel like I agree. While I’m not finding anything fantastically bold or stand-out about this sencha, it’s just overall pleasant, with the grassiness and borderline savory brothiness I tend to favor in sushi-sencha without too much astringency.
I am gradually starting to relearn the visual differences in these teas. The leaves in this one are substantially smaller compared to the leaves in the autumn harvest tea I had the other day, which makes sense. Not especially small, but the autumn harvest tea had some impressively large leaves in it. This tea also seems a bit more fragmented than the last, but maybe that’s also just a common appearance with smaller leaves. I’m not sure what amount of stem-iness is common in these teas, but it feels like there are fewer in this spring tea. Hm, now I kind of wish I had photographed the leaves of prior teas for later comparison. Maybe I’ll start doing that.
By steeping 4 or 5 (I’ve lost track), it’s mellowed out into an array of boiled vegetable flavors, I’m getting bok choi and lima bean, maybe a hint of not-unpleasant collard-bitterness. I have been doing these tea sessions on an empty stomach lately, and I feel like it helps me tune into the flavors a little more, in the way that everything tastes better when you’re hungry. So far I have yet to get an upset stomach from this practice, though I have been warned some teas can do that.
It says on the packet that these teas were harvested from 30 year old tea trees. I wonder what flavor differences there are between old and new trees? I don’t see anything advertising “young” trees, so I am inclined to think that the older trees are more favored. Some very brief initial research shows that older teas are greatly favored in the puerh world as they impact how well a tea ages, but I am not sure what their role is in un-aged sencha. Hmmmm.
If I regret anything about ordering this Obubu sampler, it is perhaps not ordering two. It might have been fun to drink one session going in blind, as I often try to do, and a second after reading through the tasting notes and having a better grasp on what others find in each tea, and see if I can find similar flavors. A form of.. I dunno, mentally calibrating my tastes, I guess.
Really, it’s just nice to be mindfully tasting tea like this again. The last time I was in this habit, it was nearly a decade ago and I was coping with… a lot. Tea kept me grounded. Life is a lot easier now in many ways, even if it’s a little harder in others. I don’t necessarily need the tea habit as much now, but… I just really love it. And it’s nice to be finally enjoying a period in my life where I can do things that I love because I love them, without them needing to fulfill some practical function to be worth doing. I’m so grateful for that.
Dry, these leaves smell… almost fruity, like a dried fruit, but only just barely, in a sticky way, maybe a little nutty, maybe dried watermelon with the seeds still in it. Wet, there’s a …creamy and maybe vaguely chocolatey undertone? I dunno. Something in it just briefly reminded me of warm chocolate chai lattes I would make on hot summer nights back when I lived in the south, sipping before bed, listening to podcasts.
But this is a sencha, not a chocolate chai latte, so I’m not sure what scent-note exactly is slinging me into that memory.
Sipping it though, wow, it really is creamy though, somehow. While also being astringent enough to dry up the roof of my mouth and back of my throat a little. Just… how interesting. There’s a flavor I’m getting right before the astringency hits that I wish I could linger on a little longer. It’s so interesting. Maybe almost nutty, but.. I dunno. Spicy isn’t right either. I really don’t know why I’m getting chocolate vibes from this, but I am, definitely. But not like, sweet chocolate or overly dark chocolate, maybe more like a cocoa butter flavor. I dunno
The aftertaste is like… very fresh steamed broccoli. Very fresh, before it starts getting that cabbagey flavor. Or maybe edamame. Hmm.
I forgot how fun this is, hah, just pressure-free trying things and guessing flavors. It’s been such a long looooong day at work and I’m not technically done yet but I missed lunch, so a tea break felt in order.
Whoof, the second steeping is very astringent, but after I get used to it, it feels like a stronger version of the first steeping, that creaminess is really something, you could absolutely convince me I was drinking a latte right now if my eyes were closed. Maybe an oatmilk latte, specifically, there’s definitely some grain flavors to this, like a hearty, whole, filling grain, maybe some hot cereal, or a matcha latte with buttered toast. And… there’s that interesting fruity note again, maybe just a light, juicy acidity.
The third steeping is starting to wane but I think that juicy acidity is getting a little stronger. Something in there for a second reminded me of lotion. The creaminess is fading and the graininess is starting to take over a little more.
This is the first time in a very long time that I am actually drinking higher end, not expired sencha. Was it always this good? I am excited for the rest of the teas in this sampler, if they are anywhere near as fascinating as this.
Houjicha, my beloved. I have been craving this for months.
I had a number of places scoped out to order houjicha from, but of course, I can’t order just houjicha. I mean, I could, but the baseline shipping costs make it feel… not really worth it unless I am ordering several pounds. But several places that offer free shipping with an order minimum have suspended that (a relatively minor, if still somewhat disruptive side effect of living in interesting times). After going back and forth between a few places and waiting longer than I would like to see if the shipping situation changed, someone directed me to Obubu. Not specifically for Houjicha, though I was pleasantly surprised to see the selection, but because I was asking around looking for sencha-specific ‘tea of the month’-type clubs. While their membership program is less an ‘of the month’ club and more like a harvest-based farmshare program, truthfully that’s really a lot closer to what I’m looking for, and makes a lot more sense for sencha specifically. I’m…very intrigued, but figured I should try their tea out first. So despite shipping equating to nearly $20 usd, the most I’ve ever probably paid to have anything shipped in the last 15 years, I put in an order for their 18-serving sampler pack, 80g of basic-roast houjicha, and a futanashi kyusu. Not that I really need another kyusu, but I’ve never had a lidless kyusu before, and it was so darn affordable (cheaper than the shipping, certainly).
Everything finally arrived the other day, and I was thrilled. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an extensive sampler before. As I was trying to figure out what to try first, I noticed the bottom seam of the dark roast houjicha packet was starting to come undone and a few leaves were escaping. At least that made my choice easy.
In smelling the dry leaves, the first thing I notice past the obvious toasty notes is a faint sweetness. When wet, the first thing that comes to mind is “mushrooms.” Quite different things, there. The liquor itself is… good, but nuance beyond that comforting toastiness I have been craving for so long is eluding me. The first cup I may have understeeped though, I forget this isn’t nearly as delicate as typical sencha. Further steepings seem to bring out a deeper sweetness underneath increasing earthiness, with just a touch of that chewing-on-a-pencil wooden-astringency, but the dominant flavor is definitely that toastiness.
It pretty much hits on what I like about houjicha. Something about the toasted flavor just deactivates my fight-or-flight response and makes me feel cozy and safe. Yet the analytical side of me can’t help but wonder if tea is affected by roasting in a similar way that coffee is, wherein the more it is roasted, the more it just starts to taste like … roastedness, losing any other nuances. In truth, I should have tried the basic roast at least once first to have a baseline to compare this to, but oh well. When I was initially browsing the store page, I was pretty intrigued by the concept of a Dark Roast houjicha, so I’m glad I got to try it.
This kyusu, by the way, is also quite nice. The pour seems better than my other kyusus (which, to be fair, are also inexpensive mass-produced pots), and I am really enjoying the soft, rounded shape. The spout is also wide enough to easily fit a bottle brush and I feel like I can actually see all around the inside, so it should be easy to keep clean. It’s larger than I need, but nothing stops me from filling it only partway, and I prefer that to the recurring problem I seem to have of overfilling my smaller kyusus and making a mess trying to pour them, hah. I think I’ll stick to using this one for a while.
I only have like…. maybe 40 grams worth of tea left from this old Yunomi shipment. Once I drink through that, I’ll have to either order more sencha or start going through some of my other tea. I have a lot of…. very old tea that might be dubious to drink at this point. I really shouldn’t put it off, but the sencha habit has been such a nice routine that I am a little hesitant to give my little kyusu a break in favor of the gaiwan.
I guess I still have a little time to figure it out. Meanwhile, there’s a comfort to this tea. It’s more or less what I expect from a fukamushi, though I couldn’t even really define that if asked. It’s not entirely smooth, but the dryness spreads out over the tongue in a subdued, almost smokey way— it doesn’t stick all in the back of your throat like the astringency of the daily grade stuff. The color of the second steeping is murky, but the flavor is surprisingly mild. I can get more flavor out of it with boiling water and longer steep times, but it does seem to drop off a bit faster than the other teas I have had in this order. Suppose I can’t blame it, again, this is from a two-years-ago harvest and deep-steamed teas seem to stale even faster, in my limited experience. And it’s enjoyable, nonetheless.
Last serving of this, and I feel like it’s worth mentioning that by only adding in maybe 1/3rd of the water into the pot for the second and third steepings, and then adding the other 2/3rd directly into the cup after the tea is poured, I have been able to mitigate the high astringency of those steepings and enjoy it a little more overall.