Haru, a bright and cheerful spring breeze
When we think of Japanese tea, sencha, gyokuro or matcha are often the first that come to mind. Yet there are many rarer varieties of Japanese green tea that deserve our full attention.
Today, I'd like to invite you to discover a rare tea: Haru, a premium kabusecha from Yame, produced in the village of Hoshino. You can shop HARU here.
What is kabusecha?
From the Japanese かぶせ茶", literally "covered tea", kabusecha is shaded tea, i.e. literally covered with black netting or a tarp, which is laid right on the tea bush to protect it from the sun.
This method increases chlorophyll in the tea leaves and decreases tannins, resulting in a tea with a deeper, more balanced aromatic profile (umami).
Kabusecha is shaded for less time than gyokuro. It is covered for one to two weeks, and at around 50%: only certain tea bushes are directly covered, not the entire tea field. This is a rare and precious tea, accounting for less than 4% of Japan's tea production.
What is kabusecha's aromatic profile?
Kabusecha is a tea often described as halfway between sencha and gyokuro. It has the vegetal notes and freshness of sencha without its bitterness, as well as umami and a more moderate sweetness than gyokuro.
Thanks to this duality, it's a versatile tea that can be brewed in a variety of ways to suit individual preference. The attack is marked by herbal notes, the middle notes are marine, it finishes with a sweet aftertaste.
Tasting the Kabusecha premium Haru tea
Haru tea is a premium kabusecha from the first harvest, produced by Takaki-san in Hoshinomura, the Mecca of Japanese tea. At the head of the family farm since 1999, Takaki-san stands out among the farmers of his generation for his dynamism, and continues to win numerous awards for the exceptional quality of his teas.
Haru is based on the recent Kirari 31 cultivar, a cross between the Sakimidori and Saemidori cultivars. Compared with other cultivars, Kirari 31 is characterized by its higher amino acid content and lower catechin content, giving it greater umami and very low astringency. Cold-resistant and easy to grow, it could become a potential successor to the famous Yabukita.
As soon as I open the bag, I perceive delicious vegetal notes, reminiscent of spinach, fresh marine and soft nutty notes. As the kettle heats my spring water, I observe the tea leaves: very fine, elegant needles, and pretty shades of green, between pistachio and Hooker’s green. This bouquet is darker than sencha leaves, and lighter than a gyokuro.
After warming my cup and teapot, I pour the tea into the kyusu and let it steep for 90 seconds. On the nose, I detect notes of spinach, fish and a slight fruity note. Visually, the infused leaves are bold and fresh, promising a quality experience. The liqueur is a lovely linden-green color: the tea is ready to be tasted.
However, it's in the mouth that Haru surprises and sweeps me away with its great complexity and density. The creamy liquor and intense umami flavor envelop my entire mouth. The attack evokes vegetable broth, spinach and buttered zucchini, followed by a core of white fish flesh. A salty sensation mingles with umami, before gently fading away, giving way to a sweet aftertaste, with fruity and floral notes, evoking peach and sweet-flowered hydrangea.
I'll need to take my time, and several sips, to get to grips with Haru and understand all the richness it has to offer. As I savor it, a strong breeze seems to blow through me, it’s so remarkably fresh. It's a rich, generous, opulent tea that demands you stop for a moment to enjoy its unique taste experience. And to those who heed its call, Haru returns the favor.
Sensing that this kabusecha still has a lot to offer, I proceed to a second infusion, this time more balanced: the liquor is silkier, and the umami now leaves more room for the sweetness to express itself. On the finish, a slight liveliness reminiscent of kabosu, that subtly sour Japanese citrus fruit, mingles with the sweet, fruity flavors.
Haru's remarkable persistence prompts me to continue with a final infusion: now light, sweet and with a very subtle umami, it brings this tasting to a close; if not meditative, then clearly contemplative.
How to brew Haru kabusecha?
Haru kabusecha is a tea with a fine balance between umami and sweetness. For this reason, Haru can be prepared in a variety of ways to accentuate the tea's umami or sweetness. During my tasting, I opted for a preparation similar to that of a gyokuro, but slightly hotter and shorter, which has the advantage of bringing out both the umami and freshness in force.
I therefore prepared it at 70C degrees (158F) for 1 min 30. To prolong the experience, simply increase the temperature to 80C (176F) degrees (and decrease the time by 30 seconds for each brewing.
Producer Takaki-san's method, on the other hand, offers a generous first infusion, but is milder than the previous preparation. It also has more sweetness and less body on subsequent infusions.
Takaki-san’s Method (for two people):
- Pour 8 grams of tea leaves into a teapot, preferably a kyusu.
- Heat 200 ml of water to between 75C (167F)and 85C (185F) degrees, then pour into the teapot.
- Steep for 1 minute. Pour successively into each cup and enjoy.
For a second infusion, steep at 90C degrees for 30 seconds.
Cold brew kōridashi:
Haru also lends itself to iced kōridashi infusion. This method has the advantage of bringing out the maximum sweetness and umami of the kabusecha, without bitterness or astringency. Simply fill your teapot with ice cubes (around 10g of tea for 200ml), leave to melt and enjoy.