of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Japanese tea

Whiskey Smoked Tea

Whiskey Smoked Tea – The Tea-Totaler Trilogy, Part 3

This is a parable about poor impulse control. I was having a conversation with Mizuba Tea’s Lauren Purvis about experiments regarding matcha, smoke and wine. She asked me if I’d seen a recent article posted by The Japanese Tea Sommelier. I’d heard of this blogger before, but hadn’t had a chance to visit his site, yet. Tea For Me Please had featured him on her blog once. The blogger himself was a certified tea sommelier – originally hailing from France, now living in Japan – that both wrote about Japanese teas and helped source them for the company, Thes du Japon.


Florent Weugue – The Japanese Tea Sommelier

I gave the blog a looksy upon her suggestion. The article she had pointed out was about a Japanese black tea (kocha) that’d been smoked over chips of whiskey barrel oak. I read every description of it with rapt attention. Black tea . . . from Japan . . . smoked over whiskey oak. What was this magical stuff, and why didn’t I have it?!

Mere minutes after reading it, I bought it. Then messaged Lauren and blamed her for “making” me do it. The package arrived a couple of weeks later.

The leaves looked like brown chips and flakes shaved off spent firewood, and smelled kind of like it, too. However, instead of just possessing the scent of hickory and campfire – like Lapsangs of yesterbrew – this had new elements to it. I was a whiskey drinker at one time, and I know peat moss when I smell it. And it was there – subtle, but there. There was also a tremendously woody bend to the aroma, much like an oak-smoked oolong I tried from Assam.

loose leaves

Instructions said to brew this for only one minute with boiled water to start, and then progress upward with further infusions. I did exactly that. Japanese teas – green or otherwise – were known to be touchy.

At only a minute, the liquor brewed bright red, but I was surprised at how light it still was – like an under-brewed Keemun, in appearance. The aroma was anything but light, imparting an oak-smoked tendril of awesome up my nostrils like a manly handshake. It was like my nose was wearing its own smoking jacket in the private room of a whiskey bar, wearing a monocle.


Further infusions with added time also deepened in flavor. Drinking it was like upping a workout regimen, adding more weights or an extra incline. Each sip was like a power squat. I think my mouth now has muscles. The smokiest was the final Western-style infusion. Any subtlety this had pretty much vanished after two minutes; straight ashen pipe tobacco. A very well-deserved addition to the smoked tea pantheon.

To the point where I’m now spreading the gospel of this process to other tea makers I know – to see if their impulse control is as poor as mine.



That concludes this little series on teetotaling with tea. So far, it’s been six months since “going dry” from actual alcohol. And, as you (fair reader) can clearly see . . . with teas like these, who needs missing hubcaps and dead brain cells.

I’m totally okay to drive.

Three Words: Japanese. White. Tea.

This all started a year ago, and it’s all Greg’s fault.

By “a year ago”, I literally mean a year ago! Like, last August. And by “Greg”, I mean the dude behind Norbu Tea. One fateful day, in August of 2013, I noticed he had retweeted something interesting.

Alas, I’d seen the update too late. They’d sold out of that batch of Japanese white tea in less than two months. I even wrote about said lament in an article on Taiwanese white tea. However, they did encourage me to check back in a year – when the new harvest came in.

And wait, I did. Like some kind of deranged tea stalker.

Over the course of the year, I checked the site at least once a week. Hitting refresh a few times before moving on. That fierce determination lulled a bit in the spring months, but this last July…all that stalking paid off. A new batch had come in! Same location, same growing months, different cultivar.

For those not in the tea “know”, the Japanese don’t usually deviate from producing green tea. In recent years, that’s been a-changin’ – what with increased production in Japanese black tea, oolong, and in some cases, heicha. All that said, white tea was still undiscovered territory.

The farmer that devised this stuff hails from Gokase Town, Nishiusuki District, Miyazaki Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan. Say that five times fast. The region has had a healthy history of tea experimentation, particularly in oolong production. White tea, though, was a new venture. The farmer(s?) in question had only been at this style for two or three years.

The cultivar utilized for this batch was 100% Kanayamidori. From what I could find, it was registered in 1970 (source: My Japanese Green Tea), and is best known for producing very fragrant leaves. Ideal picking occurring in early-to-mid-May. The product I chose to buy was plucked around May 9th, and – according to Yuuki-Cha – was notably sweeter than later plucks. They had me at “sweet”.

Unlike Chinese white teas, these leaves were mostly un-tampered with. Plucked, withered and dried; no rolling that I could see, or at least not much. That and none of the leaves were “downy furs” young. They were youthful, yes, but more like toddlers in the leafy scheme of things. In appearance, they reminded me of Taiwanese white teas I’d tried. If I were a “Lay” tea person, I’d think these looked like lawn shavings. The aroma, though, would’ve dispelled that . It was note-for-note like Arya Pearl – a Darjeeling white of similar aesthetics – spicy on the nose with a grassy bend.

There weren’t any brewing instructions to go by on the Yuuki-Cha page, so I had to work with prior white tea knowledge on this. I went with roughly 170F-ish water and a three minute steep – roughly 1 tsp. of leaves in a 6oz. steeper cup. It worked for everything on the light end of the tea spectrum.

The liquor brewed a bold (if pale) yellow with an aroma of straight…well…sweetness. Not like a flavored tea, more like a fruit of some sort, but I’d be hard-pressed to narrow it down. It was just fruit-sweet on the nose. Same with the taste; first sip and I was whistling. This was perhaps the sweetest white tea I’ve come across since an Ali Shan Taiwanese white, or a Makaibari Silver Tips. Nothing about this outright screamed, “Nippon!”, save for a smidge of nuttiness on the aftertaste.

In baser terms, it was like a Taiwanese white tea seduced a Darjeeling white in a pachinko parlor, skipped town, and was greeted a year later with a bouncing baby Kanayamidori at its doorstep.

Worth the year-long wait? I’d say, “Mostly yes.”

Oolong for the Old Otaku

I have always had a fascination with Japan for as long as I can remember. The first seeds of wonder were planted by early-80s dubbings of Robotech, and continued on well into my teens and twenties with samurai films galore. One could even say my otaku (read: fanboy) brain was hardwired to like everything Japanese from the get-go. So, why did it take me so darn long to like Japanese teas?

The first sencha I ever tried was from a coffee shop in San Francisco. This was early on in my tea exploration – 2005-ish – and I was just getting used to the different regions. I had no idea where sencha came from, or where it fit in the green tea hierarchy. My cousin suggested it, and I bought a 12oz. cup. And I hated it. Every spinachy sip of it.


It wasn’t until years later that I learned the asshats at said coffee shop had used boiling water, and that sencha required the lightest possible heat setting – like “white tea” light, no more than 160F. Unfortunately, that experience turned me off of sencha for a period of years.

Then I met Ms. Gyokuro.

Talk about life-changing. It was like watching Robotech in my mouth. An epically different experience than I’d had with other green teas. Of course, I also learned that it was considered the green tea from Japan. Highest grade and all. But then I met her wilder sister, Tamaryokucha.

Hard to describe tamaryokucha, but I’ll try. It’s like someone took all the rules to sencha, and threw them out the window. The type didn’t just convince me that I could actually like sencha, but actually opened me up to exploring more. Through that, I encountered many of the weird experiments being done with tea by the Japanese. And I’m all about the experiments.


Okay…maybe not all the experiments.

After going down the windy, surreal road that is Japanese tea, there was one thing that always irked me. Why were all Japanese teas green? No blacks, oolongs, whites, or anything else; just different shades of green. Granted, I liked a good percentage of the tea-speriments out there, but where were the others?

It wasn’t until I encountered my first Japanese black tea that I learned why. Japan had tried making a go of black tea production roughly two hundred years ago, but they could never produce at the same level (or at the same cost) as neighboring competitors like Sri Lanka (Ceylon). Plus, the quality of the product was not as up to par. I can attest to that. Of the three-ish Japanese kocha (black tea) I sampled, I liked about half.

Somewhere down the line, though, I learned of the existence of hand-crafted Japanese oolongs. Not sure when I ran into it or how, but that instantly grabbed my attention. That in turn led me to contacting an outfit called Yunomi.us.

I knew of (and talked to) Ian Chun of Matcha Latte Media before. His du-“tea” prior to Yunomi.us was setting up online stores for various Japanese tea farmers. Yunomi.us was a bit of a different beast because it was modeled as a collective marketplace for Japanese teas and teaware. Instead of independently-run, un-connected sites, different tea farms were listed under one umbrella. Similar to Tealet but focusing exclusively on Japanese wares (or so I surmised).

Yumoni.us graciously sent me three Japanese oolongs to try. Two from the Kaneban Higuchi Tea Factory in Asamiya, Shiga Prefecture…and one from the Takeo tea farming family.


Unfortunately, I didn’t get to brewing them until six months after receiving them. Not sure why I waited so long, especially given the results.

Higuchi #1: Blue Oolong Tea

The leaves looked and smelled like no oolong I’d ever seen. The cut was similar to a curly-style sencha, but with flakier, leafy bits. And the color palette was like a Japanese kocha. The aroma was even more bizarre – something like mint and sweet rice.

Brewing instructions on the site recommended 90C water (190-ish F, roughly) and a five-minute steep. I used 1 teaspoon of leaves in a gaiwan, and did just that. Five minutes seemed like a long time, but…might as well try it there way first, I thought.


The liquor brewed up to a beautiful brass-to-dark-amber color with an aroma that was both dry and sweet. On taste, several things were at play. When the liquid first hit the tongue, a nutty and tingling sensation occurred. Never had that happen before. In the middle, there was a tad bit of roastiness but not much. A mineral lean as well toward the top note, typical of an oolong. By the finish, it rested on its laurels with a mild but welcoming astringency. As if to remind me, Yes, this is still tea.

Only on the aftertaste did it remind me a tad of other Japanese teas I’d tried. It even lasted a good, medium bodied second steep.

Higuchi #2: Black Oolong Tea

The leaves looked exactly like the Higuchi Blue Oolong, but the smell was quite a different experience entirely. There were hints of brown rice and unfiltered sake – sweet, nutty, a little woodsy and a hint of vanilla. In short, I had no idea what I was dealing with.

I brewed this up the same way I did the Blue Oolong. One would think that something with a “black” label would brew up darker. Not the case here. The liquor for this oolong was a shade or two lighter than its blue sibling. But that may have been my brewing technique…or lack thereof.


The area where this tea differed was…everywhere else. The aroma was malty, along with the requisite nuttiness I found in the Blue. Taste-wise, astringency was the first thing to crop up, followed by a strange mélange of almonds, roastiness, malt, and an odd feeling like I was tasting green tea. This was closer to a Japanese black tea than an oolong, but it definitely pulled back before going all “kocha” on me. Still a very pleasant cup.

A second steep at a shorter steep time produced a crisper brew.

Takeo Family Organic Oolong Tea

This was different than the Higuchi stuff by sheer sight alone. The leaves were longer, curlier, and their aroma – while still nutty in that Japanese way – had a little more going on. The fragrance was – oddly enough – like a Dong Ding. To me, anyway. I wondered if these were hand-rolled as opposed to machine cut.

Brewing instructions for this oolong differed considerably. The tea profile recommended a steep of two minutes in 176F-ish water. An approach more in line with a pan-fired green tea.


The liquor infused to a vibrant copper. The aroma resembled a straight OP, slightly astringent but full-bodied, like an autumnal Darjeeling. As for taste – oh my word, the taste! – it was an oolong in all the best possible ways. Sure, there were some aspects of it that were truly Japanese. (You can definitely taste the region.) I want to say there was a hint of muscatel toward the middle. While most of it reminded me of a lowland, medium-roast Taiwanese oolong – at least on introduction – the rest reminded me of a Darjeeling oolong. Spry, ornery, but oddly refined. Definitely my favorite oolong of the bunch.

While the experimentation of semi-oxdized teas is new in Japan. It is my ne’er-do-well opinion that they’re on the right track. Some refinement of artistry is in order, for certain, but the efforts on display speak for themselves. It was a nice change to encounter a Japanese tea that I instantly liked as much as anime.


Of course, that’s probably the old otaku in me talking.

Or would that be o-“cha”-ku?



Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén