New Tea Additions: Two Vibrant Matchas from Uji and Yame
The origins of tea culture in Japan can be traced to the eighth century, when Buddhist monks on pilgrimage to China were exposed to the virtues of tea as a stimulating aid during sustained hours of meditation. By the 12th century the monk Eisai (1141-1215), also credited as the founder of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, oversaw the early planting of tea in Japan and published the first Japanese book on the subject of tea in 1211. Tea preparation at this time followed the approach codified in China under the Song dynasty: entire tea leaves were ground into a fine powder before being steeped and consumed. While many new approaches to tea preparation have evolved in the centuries since, the green tea style known as matcha, a refined approach to production and preparation that is utterly unique to Japan, is a largely unchanged reflection of these earliest traditions.
Japan is the exclusive source of high grade matcha today, and the most sought after matchas are generally produced in one of three regions: Uji to the south of Kyoto, Yame in Fukuoka, and Nishio in Aichi. The raw tea leaves that are grown to eventually be milled into matcha are called “Tencha” and different producing regions traditionally favor different cultivars for tencha, making a significant impact on the flavors of the finished teas. A key step in tencha production is a prolonged shading period, usually lasting 25-40 days after the plants have begun to grow new leaves. Following shading, hand-picking, steaming, and drying, the leaves are deveined, at which point they are ready to be stone-ground into matcha. In contrast to other tea styles, it is relatively rare for finished matchas to be composed of tea from a single small plot of land. The art of the “Chashi”, or master blender, is to combine different teas (whether representative of different growing locations, different cultivars, or both), to create matchas offering particular flavor qualities and appealing balance.
For our latest additions to the tea menu, we are excited to share two vibrant matchas that offer pure, and contrasting, expressions of two of the storied Japanese regions mentioned above. Each of these teas is a reflection of regional microclimate, unique plant genetics, and meticulous production. As we at Passenger continue to navigate cold temperatures and wintry conditions in our hometown of Lancaster, PA, invigorating teas - that quicken the pulse and awaken the mind - are a perfect antidote to the winter doldrums. Wherever they find you, we hope these delightful matchas will bring brightness, energy, and inspiration.
Ogura matcha is named after the small sub-region of Uji where this tea was grown. It is primarily composed of the Samidori cultivar with a touch of Uji Hikari. The tencha (pre-ground tea leaf) was exclusively produced in Ogura and was expertly blended by a 12th generation Chashi. A special aging process called “jukusei” imbues the tea with a rich, almost fruity tomato-like aroma. Offering a very traditional Uji profile, this beautiful matcha is characterized by a harmonious balance of deep sweetness, savory umami, and invigorating astringency.
“Tsuyu” means dew, referring to the dew that is often found early in the morning in the hills of Okuyame, a subregion of Yame, Fukuoka, where this delightful matcha was produced. Crafted from the Saemidori and Kirari 31 cultivars, this tea undergoes a more intensive "hiire" firing, locking in a nutty, toasty fragrance and a chocolaty, creamy finish.