The ascending steam floats effortlessly out of the kyusu. It carries a tantalizing whiff of meadow grass with a hint of sea salt—a common tasting note of Japanese tea leaves. The ceramic cup, warmed by the tea, is so comfortable to hold that it takes a conscious decision to lift it for a sip. The hot liquid is savory with a hint of sweetness, and time pauses for a moment.
Fresh-brewed sencha (green tea) can be a near-complete and highly enjoyable sensory experience. Far more than a tonic or trendy health supplement, green tea is a delicious, soothing beverage that is conducive both to small gatherings with thoughtful discussion and solitary moments of daydreaming.
To achieve that level of complexity, every detail is important. The process starts right in the beginning of cultivation, beginning with where and how the leaves are harvested. The location of the tea plantation—or plantations, in a blended tea—and its unique balance of climate, geography and soil will affect the aroma of the finished brew. The amount of sunlight the leaves receive determines the balance of phytochemicals that give off the tea's color and make up much of its taste. Almost all Japanese teas are steamed after harvest to reduce moisture content in the leaves, and changes in the duration of the steaming period can impart quite different flavors to leaves picked from the same plants. Tea from two estates, even if it's the same cultivar, will vary significantly.
The appeal of single-estate teas such as our organic Morihata line is clear: just as single-origin chocolate or coffee brings out singular taste experiences between different batches, single-estate tea has a wider variety of tastes. It can be expensive, as supply is inherently limited, but can also have a greater purity of flavor than blended teas because all of the leaves share the same origin.
Blended teas have their own appeal, however. If single-estate teas can occasionally have an unbalanced flavor profile, for instance, a blend of tea leaves from multiple estates can mix varietals that complement each other in their savory and sweet notes. Excellent tea blends, such as the ones Ippodo has mixed for over 300 years, can even remain consistent year to year by adjusting the amount from each estate in the final batch.
As long as single-estate and blended teas are made with the highest quality leaves, the distinction between the two is entirely a matter of individual preference. We invite you to find a favorite cup the only way that matters: brewing and tasting it for yourself.
WORDS BY KYLAN SCHROEDER
PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRIS SETTY