January 07, 2014

Ippodo: Lessons in Japanese green tea

Last December I had the pleasure of tasting green teas at Ippodo Tea. Each tea was flavorful and the Ippodo staff wee engaging and knowledgeable. Many of the senchas and gyokuros and other Japanese green teas I had drunken previously are not on the same level as the Ippodo teas!

The first tea was a matcha which I discussed in a post about making matcha usucha-style. Matcha is made by first steaming, then removing the stems and veins, and then drying the leaves. Lower grade matchas are ideal for baking, cooking, and practicing the art of whisking matcha. The ideal whisking time for usucha matcha is 10-15 seconds.

The second tea was a Kanro gyokuro; the name means "sweet drop." The prepared tea was not sweet. It was unexpectedly chewy which I enjoyed. Also, it was savory like a soup stock. This gyokuro is served in small cups; a little leaves you satisfied. (For a sweeter cup of gyokuro, cold steep the leaves for 20 minutes.). Tea plants that will be used for gyokuro are shaded during the last three weeks of growth before the harvest.

The third and fourth teas were the Hosin sencha (a best seller) and a hojicha. The former had piney flavors while the latter had a roasted, chicory profile.

The fifth and final tea was the Iribancha. Bancha is made from mature leaves and branches which are steamed then roasted. The prepared tea smelled like the smell of your hair and cloths after sitting around a camp fire. And the taste? Tobacco, which lingers in your cheeks.

Tea leaves are sized to the pot. Bigger pots are used for bancha. A small porcelain pot would be used for premium gyokuro. Material also matters. Do not prepare bancha in a clay pot. A glazed pot will not retain the smell and flavor of a bancha.

Have you seen the documentary about sushi master, Jiro? The Ippodo tea house reminds me of Jiro's restaurant. I look forward to drinking more tea at Ippodo.

Thank you, YC media and Ippodo Tea staff, for a pleasurable experience!

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