Photo courtesy Takashi Inoue, president Ohkuraen Co., Shizuoka-ken, Japan
Authentic fukamushi deep-steamed tea from Ohkuraen Co. green tea makers.
KAKEGAWA, Shizuoka, Japan
Japanese teas from Kakegawa are famous for two reasons. The cultivation method using dried grasses, and the deep steaming that the leaves undergo are both unique to the area.
By Jane Pettigrew
Kakegawa City lies in the western part of Shizuoka Prefecture, which is located on the Pacific coast of midland Japan. Shizuoka (meaning ‘quiet hill’), with plentiful fresh melted water draining down from the Mount Fuji’s snow-capped peak, and its humid, sub-tropical climate, is an ideal location for the cultivation of green teas. But Kakegawa’s green teas offer a quality and flavor profile that are even more special and have won the national award for fukamushi-cha (deep-steamed tea) for the past 10 consecutive years.
Kakegawa’s tea bushes are cultivated by the ‘chagusaba’ method of farming, a traditional tea-grass integrated system that has attained globally important agricultural heritage systems (GIAHS) status. Chagusaba means ‘semi-natural grasslands’, where bamboo, Japanese pampas grass, silvergrass and other grasses are cultivated and harvested for use as organic matter in the tea fields. The method of cultivation dates back thousands of years to a time when much of the Japanese landscape was given over to the cultivation of grasses that were used for such purposes as roofing and fertilizer. During the Edo period (1603–1867) 30% of the land was grassland, but overgrown meadows gradually became forests and, while other parts of the world have been worrying about losing their trees, Japan has been losing a vast proportion of its grasslands so that now only 3% remains. The reduction of grassland has led over time to a decline in the biodiversity of many agricultural regions.
Kakegawa’s deep-steamed teas
Almost all of Japanese green teas are steamed at the beginning of the manufacturing process in order to kill off the enzymes that would otherwise allow oxidation to take place. To make sencha, the country’s most widely drunk tea, the spring-picked leaves are steamed for 20 to 30 seconds. The idea of steaming the leaves for longer was developed in Shizuoka in the 1970s and the tea farmers of Kakegawa studied and perfected this method of processing the leaves in order to produce teas of a consistently high quality.
To make ‘fukamushi-cha’ (deep steamed teas) the leaves are normally steamed for 60 to 90 seconds, but in Kakegawa, where the tea bushes tend to have large, quite tough leaves, manufacturers found that by extending the steaming process to approximately 150 seconds, they were able to make tea that yielded a naturally sweet taste and an attractive deep green color.
The length of steaming varies according to the condition of the plucked leaves, which is affected by the season, the humidity, the amount of sunshine, and other factors relating to terroir. Teas picked in the later part of the year are tougher than leaves gathered in the spring and so need to be steamed for a slightly longer time.
The extra steaming breaks down the fibers in the leaves and more easily extracts theanine (the amino acid that gives tea its sweet umami character), the healthful catechins, and other ingredients such as beta-carotene, vitamin E, and chlorophyll – all of which are known to have beneficial effects in the body. The health benefits are evident in Kakegawa City where the percentage of deaths due to cancer is lower than in any other Japanese city with more than 100,000 residents. Kakegawa’s medical services spend 20% less than the national average on medical care for elderly people, and 15% fewer people in Kakegawa die of heart disease than in other parts of Shizuoka prefecture.
After steaming, the manufacturing process continues in the same way as for sencha, and the tea is dried, rolled, and shaped in a series of automated machines. But whereas sencha brews to give a well-balanced combination of aroma, umami and astringency, Kakegawa fukamushi-cha yields a deep rich aroma and a sweet mellow taste without astringency or bitterness. The other main difference between fukamushi and sencha teas is the appearance of the fresh and the dry leaves. Fresh fukamushi leaves tend to be darker in color than fresh sencha leaves; dry fukamushi leaves are more yellow green than Sencha leaves.
And while sencha leaves are quite regular and uniform in shape and size, the dry leaf of fukamushi-cha contains a high proportion of small particles as well as longer needles of rolled leaf. The manufacture of Japanese teas differs from production methods in other countries in that Japanese tea processors make what is called ‘aracha’ or raw, unrefined tea. Instead of sorting the tea at the factory, the bulk aracha is sold to wholesalers who store the tea in cool conditions and sort it at a later stage into sencha (the leaves), kukicha (the stalks), mecha (the smaller particles), and konacha (rejected fine buds and leaves left after sencha leaves have been separated out), etc. So each of those individual teas is made up of needles or particles that are of a relatively uniform shape and size. However, because of the longer steaming process applied to the leaves for fukamushi teas, more tiny particles drop off the tea during processing and these are not separated out to the same degree as during the sorting of sencha teas. The fukamushi dry leaf is therefore much more mixed in size and shape and this means that the tea liquors they brew contain more suspended tiny particulates and are therefore more cloudy than sencha liquors, and have more small particles deposited in the bottom of the tea bowl.
Assessing Kakegawa teas
When tea tasters assess the dry leaf of fukamushi teas, they look for well-twisted, tightly rolled, wiry leaves with a clean, dense, heavy texture, a light yellow-green color and an even, bright appearance. Flat, chunky, powdery, stalky teas, yellow and old leaves, leaves that are bluish-black or have a white surface, and leaves that look dull all lose points. For tasting, the leaves are brewed in a very precise and exacting way. Even when a hundred or so teas are to be tasted, only twenty to 30 teas are prepared at a time so that the judges can smell and taste the teas at a controlled temperature.
Three people work together to prepare the teas correctly and they start by measuring 3 grams of unsorted fukamushi aracha into white porcelain bowls that hold 100 ml water. Near boiling water is poured over the leaves to the count of 7 seconds and each bowl must be prepared in exactly the same way. As soon as all the cups have been prepared, the tasters assess the color of the liquor and then, using a flat wire mesh strainer, lift some of the leaves out of the bowl and smell them to assess the aroma.
This lifting of the leaves and smelling is repeated again and again as the temperature and the aroma changes and, if the tasters wish to be able to distinguish any tiny differences between the teas, they prepare them again and repeat the entire assessment. The aroma should be complex, deep and clean, with no grassy green smell. To taste the tea, the leaves are all carefully removed from the bowls using the flat wire strainer and the tasters assess the appearance and taste of the liquor. The brew should have a thick texture and a yellow-green color, with a slightly blue tinge due to the floating particles, and the taste should be richly umami and sweet, with a mellow feel on the tongue, and no green grassy taste, no bitterness, and no astringency.
When they start drinking Japanese green teas, some people find the flavor of sencha too strong and astringent. But the sweet, mellow character of these less-well-known, deep-steamed fukamushi teas from Kakegawa make them a perfect option for green tea lovers who are just beginning to understand and appreciate the character of Japanese steamed green teas. And those who sip them know that the production method adds to the tea’s nutritional value, and also helps to protect the environment in the region where they grow.
Aerial view of grasslands and rows of tea in Kakegawa province.
Brewing Kakegawa Fukamushi-cha
- If using a temperature-controlled kettle heat the water to 70? C.
- Measure 3 grams of tea per person into a small Japanese kuysu pot.
- Pour on the water and steep the leaves for 1 minute.
- Pour the liquor into small bowls, sharing it carefully so that the color and flavor are evenly distributed.
- If using a normal kettle, bring the water to the boil.
- Have ready small Japanese white porcelain bowls that hold between 60 and 80 ml.
- Also, have ready a cold porcelain or glass jug
- Measure 2-3 grams per person of tea into a pot.
- When the water in the kettle has reached 100? C pour from the kettle into the cold jug.
The water temperature will drop by about 10 degrees.
- Pour the water from the jug into the cold bowls and this will cause the water temperature to drop by another 10 degrees.
- Finally, pour the water from the bowls onto the tea leaves in the pot and as it hits the leaves it will be at an ideal 70? C.
- Steep for 1 minute, then pour the liquor into the bowls, sharing it evenly between the bowls so that the color and flavor is evenly distributed and balanced.
Always be sure to pour every last drop from the pot.
For both methods above, repeat the brewing twice more, increasing the water temperature by 10C and steeping the tea for 30 seconds before pouring.
Twenty-five Japanese Teas
1. Aracha –The term for “coarse tea”.
2. Asamushicha – A light-steamed tea, usually referring to sencha.
3. Awa Bancha –Awa Bancha is a slightly fermented bancha tea from Tokushima Prefecture that contains lactic acid giving the tea a slight pungency.
4. Bancha – The name for “ordinary tea” which is usually summer or autumn and therefore contains less overall catechin than spring harvested teas.
5. Batabatacha – A puer-like tea from Toyama Prefecture on the coast of the Sea of Japan.
6. Chumushicha – A “mid-steamed tea” that is in between Asamushi and Fukamushi (steam time is longer than Asamushi but shorter than Fukamushi).
7. Fukamushicha – A “deep-steamed tea”, refers to tea leaves that have been steamed longer (for 1-3 minutes) than Asamushicha or Chumushicha.
8. Genmaicha – A type of tea made by mixing sencha or bancha with toasted rice.
9. Goishicha – Japan’s only fermented tea. Made in Kochi Prefecture on the island of Shikoku, the name goishicha is taken from the Japanese game Igo.
10. Gyokuro – A sencha shielded from the sun for 20 days, but length varies by farmer and region.
11. Hojicha – Roasted tea, generally a roasted bancha green tea.
12. Kamairicha – A tea made by heating the leaves in a pan instead of steaming.
13. Karigane – A kukicha leaf stem tea made from gyokuro or high-grade sencha.
14. Kabusecha – A tea categorized in between gyokuro and sencha. Shaded for approximately one week (after the leaves bud) for a balanced taste.
15. Konacha – A “powdered tea” often confused with tea powder but made up of smallest bits of tea leaves that are left after processing.
16. Kukicha – A tea made from twigs or stems of tea plant.
17. Kuradashicha –A sencha that has been picked in spring (shincha season) and aged or matured in storage.
18. Matcha – A powdered tea made from tencha.
19. Mecha – A tea made from the tips of the leaf or small, soft leaf that are separated from other leaves during processing.
20. Ryokucha –The Japanese word for green tea.
21. Sencha – A type of green tea made in Japan in which the tea leaves are steamed, rolled, and dried immediately after harvest to prevent oxidization. It can also refer more specifically to tea leaves that are unshaded when compared to shaded teas such as gyokuro and kabusecha.
22. Shincha – Describes a “new tea” from the first-flush harvest of the season.
23. Tamaryokucha – This “ball green tea” is a type of sencha.
24. Tencha – Leaves are covered and shaded from the sunlight but unlike gyokuro, tencha producers skip the rolling process so the leaves remain flat.
25. Wakoucha –The term for Japanese black tea that is made in Japan.
- Adapted from Yunomi/Ian Chun