Saturday, April 4, 2009

Tea Tasting Saturday #14 - Kakegawa Ichiban Sencha

One of the earliest newspaper features I remember writing was about some local folks doing something called "ichibana" Japanese style flower arranging, so I should warn you right now that my fingers desperately want to type "ichibana" instead of "ichiban." Out of curiosity I googled the meaning of "ichiban," and it turns out it's Japanese for "number one" or "best." I also have to report that for the first time in my life, I was pondering which tea to have the other day and my mind did not immediately go to some fruity or chocolatey number but instead to the Taiping HouKui, a Chinese green from a few weeks back. I could not have *imagined* I would ever prefer a "pure" tea, and certainly not a green tea, to one of the flavored ones, but I did.

Name of tea: Kakegawa Ichiban Sencha

Category: Japanese Green Tea

Purveyor: Harney & Sons

When purchased: March 2009

Dry leaf appearance:
There were a few very thin, dark green leaves like last week's Matsuda's Sencha, but I was surprised at the small particles that made this seem almost like a powdered tea!

Wet leaf appearance: As with last week's Sencha, this tea changed color and turned a much brighter green very quickly. Because of the small leaf size, it ended up looking sort of like pureed baby food.

Steeping temperature and time: 1 teaspoon of tea, 175 degrees, 2 minutes. And then 1 minute. And then 30 seconds. I'll explain ...

Scent: You know how I'm always writing "this tea had a nice vegetal scent"? Well, this tea had a nice "vegetable" scent. Not merely reminiscent of veggies, this one smelled exactly like a vegetable (think asparagus, spinach, something very green) only with a very fruity finish, like it had a nice heavy douse of lemon juice. Later, I was also reminded of the scent of the collard greens I cook with white grape juice for a New Year's dish I'm fond of making.

Color: An opaque yellow green. This looked almost the color and consistency of the broth in chicken noodle soup.

This one was a challenge! Since the Harney book recommended 1-3 minutes for steeping, I decided to aim for the middle and go for a minute and a half. I got busy trying to get a photograph, however, and it ended up steeping for 2 minutes while I got my shot. No problem, right? Because the scent was one I really liked, I expected to love this tea from the get-go. I took a nice slurp and nearly choked! Good grief, was this stuff bitter! So, I tried again for exactly one minute. Not nearly as bitter, but not nearly as enjoyable as those other greens I've been trying. Humph. Like I'm gonna settle for that! Could it be possible this would work at just 30 seconds? Let's see ... and I am oh-so-happy to report that 30 seconds did the trick! I got a nice green taste, no bitterness, and a little astringency afterward, which is fine. Aesthetically, I have to say I've enjoyed watching those pretty leaves of the other teas unfurl through subsequent steepings. So while I'm not fond of the appearance of this one, taste-wise, once I (finally) got it right, I liked this tea just fine.

Additional notes: From the Harney book: "The hills surrounding Kakegawa are covered with tea plants, perfectly manicured rows of green. The area is so dominated by tea production that one hill has a tea bush topiary trimmed in the shape of the Japanese character for tea." Wouldn't you love to see that!

Next week's tea: Kagoshima Sencha


  1. I think it's interesting that you liked the 30 second brew the best. Is it just me or do you feel "cheated" when you only brew a tea for a minute or less?

    I've always liked Japanese green tea better than Chinese. Though your past tastings have me wanting to order some new teas. My daily green tea is a Sencha, but no other wording. Do you know or does your book say is there is such a thing as just Sencha? I didn't know if that was an Americanized thing or not.

  2. This was a good review of the Kakegawa Ichiban Sencha. I'm not sure that I would care for this tea, since I don't like anything really astringent, or a little bitter. The info in the book about the deep steaming method to make a quicker, stronger brew was also interesting.

    Can't wait till your review next week when we get into the "toastier" flavor tea. ;-)

  3. Oddly, this reminds me of what was in a small sack that the dentist gave me after a tooth extraction. At least by the color and look of it.

    As a thought...since you say it gets bitter...(as bitter herbs)would this serve our Jewish friends in a tight, when traveling? Since Passover is coming up...I wonder...

  4. Ginger, you're right! Somehow, I *want* to brew the tea for more than 30 seconds. And just this week, a generous friend shared a tin of Harney plain Sencha with me (she didn't care for it), but I like it a lot.

  5. Really interesting review, since I just got my hands on some of Kakegawa sencha too. I think it's not a 'ichiban' grade though, since the leaf size is a lot bigger.
    I think the tea was pretty good for a cheap sencha, and very calming too :).


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