25 November 2012

Oh Gyokuro

One of the my favorite things about my life in the past few years is that marathon tea-drinking sessions are a regular occurrence- and they are often preceded with a casual invitation along the lines of "Hey, want to come over and taste the first-prize-winning gyokuro from Kyushu? I have some killer sencha, too- I think it won third prize."

Let's just say it does make this whole aging thing seem more worthwhile. Sure, five years ago I could have sprinted across nine lanes of oncoming traffic without feeling like someone just shot a poison arrow into my right knee- but I was drinking tea alone, for the most part, and with much of what ends up here only playing out silently in my mind.

Now I often get to enjoy tea with people who are as equally obsessed with it, but the frequency doesn't lessen the impact.

It's like gyokuro itself: this is the tea that started it all (be bored by the long, maudlin tale here), but this is also the tea that stops me in my tracks. Still. This particular one was a single variety (saemidori) and the flavor was stunning, in the concentrated, endless burst of sweetness it offered. Combined with a rich, cream-like viscosity and utter lack of astringency, it absolutely blew me away. And it didn't dissipate throughout my palate or over time; it just sat there, quiet, still and strong as a pine tree growing next to a rock.

And while we're on the subject of time, something else occurred to me during the gyokuro session. My friend who was brewing it- and fastidiously shaking the last drops from the pot into our cups- remarked that I was so patient. I was sitting there practically holding my breath in anticipation of the first sip, but patient is a word (rightfully) rarely tossed my way.

My response was instant: "But this is so worth waiting for."

More on the sencha soon. I'm still recovering.

18 November 2012

Brewing Tea by the Roadside

A friend who I met years ago over Japanese tea (at Ito En) now has his own company, Tea Wing, sourcing some incredible senchas and gyokuro from a farm in Yame, in Fukuoka Prefecture. The matcha from here is lovely, too, especially when enjoyed outside after a leaf-viewing walk through Prospect Park.

The tea ceremony itself was informal, which, as a self-taught rather than formally-trained drinker, I enjoyed- when it comes to any tea, actually, I favor accessibility over obfuscation. I had matcha prepared in both traditional styles: usucha or thin (grassy and sweet), and koicha or thick (intensely vegetal, with a texture of melted iced cream). The tea was characteristically both soothing and invigorating, especially after the long walk and about 45 minutes of sleep the night before.

This matcha is also described as having notes of chocolate, moss and meadowgrass; I can't imagine a better diet to dream of.

Brewing tea by the roadside
fragrance rising from the pot
a marvelous refined pleasure
a flavor found nowhere else.
The soft shrilling of the pine wind
moving through the northern fields
billowing steam from the brazier
dispersing into the western clouds.
- Baisao, Brewing Tea at Saiun-ji in Kitano (1675-1763)