Tea Tasting: Three New Blends from Naoki Matcha

NB: These three teas were sent free of charge in exchange for my honest opinion. Please see my contact and collaboration information if you are interested in collaborating.

It’s not a secret that Naoki Matcha is one of my favorite matcha companies and recently, they contacted me to be part of the tasters for their new blends coming out. They sent me 20g of each blend from three different regions of Japan and while they were content with private feedback, I thought I would share my notes here.

The packaging is a sleek black resealable bag with the Naoki Matcha branding. I love the gold-on-black color scheme. The powder itself is very creamy-textured, almost like a really high-end eyeshadow. There wasn’t a whole lot of variation in the colors among the three of them, but all three are vibrantly green. And they were all a little complicated to sift because that creamy texture tended to stick in the sifter, but a little tap with my scoop freed it.

I tasted all three of these whisked traditionally with a bamboo whisk. I used the same white glazed clay chawan for all three and kept parameters consistent. All three were made with 2g of matcha powder, sifted, and whisked with 60ml of water that was at 85C.

Uji Harmony

This is the most subtle of the three. The aroma of the dry powder is green and nutty, like cooked chicory. It has a smooth mouthfeel that I described as like velvet and thick cream. The flavor is mellow, with little discernible bitterness initially, but a soft bitterness on the back of the tongue. The froth is thick and dense, like a flat white. The overall flavor experience is like a leafy green vegetable cooked in a peppery olive oil, with a vegetal umami flavor. The body energy of this matcha was very warm and stimulating.

Wazuka Hilltop

This powder immediately reminded me of the “classic” matcha baked good aroma. When you think of something being green-tea flavored, this is what it smells like. The foam was a slightly brighter green and looked very glossy upon being whisked. The flavor is much brighter, with a tart or fruity astringency on the initial flavor. This has a milder umami flavor and a lighter mouthfeel that dissipates without coating the mouth. There is some bitterness on the aftertaste, but it is tempered by the astringent brightness. I tasted a lingering tartness at the back of my tongue.

Nishio Bloom

This one has a savory aroma and a creamy texture. I taste it almost entirely in the back of my mouth, with flavors of asparagus in butter. The bitterness perfectly matches the bitterness of very fresh asparagus (which I’ve recently had the opportunity to taste, as I grow it myself). It looked gritty in the bowl, like I didn’t whisk it enough but I didn’t detect any feeling of grit in the mouth. The asparagus flavor fills the mouth and lingers in the aftertaste, with a creamy, mouth-coating texture. This one had a chill body energy.

I haven’t tried any of these blends in lattes, but I might experiment with that soon. For now, each of them has their own unique qualities that I turn to for different mornings. Uji Harmony is more inspirational, while Nishio Bloom is a more low-key morning. And all three have made their way into my matcha practice, if not for good (these might be limited edition), at least for as long as they last.

The Experiential Tea Tasting: Hojicha Classic from Hojicha Co

NB: This post has been sponsored by Hojicha Co. All thoughts are my own.

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Recently, Francois from Hojicha Co contacted me to see if I would like to taste and write about their newest release, Hojicha Classic, which releases today. Now, I’ve written about my love for their hojicha in the past, as well as shared a video about how their dark roast is my quintessential autumn tea. So when Francois mentioned that this release was a medium roast that was inspired by the classic methods of roasting hojicha in cafes in Kyoto, I was intrigued. I know how roast level affects my enjoyment of coffees, so I was curious how it would affect hojicha.

But the thing that hooked me in properly was his description of how this hojicha was intended to remind you of sitting in a cafe in Kyoto, having a cup of tea. Because I recently had to cancel my planned trip to Japan, the idea of experiencing a small part of that trip through tea sounded lovely. And the experiential side of tea tasting is something about which I’ve been thinking for a while. Eventually, I want to create a flavor and aroma wheel that takes into account how different flavors and aromas can evoke memory and emotion. So I thought I would share a bit about the experience of trying this tea, along with the actual concrete tasting notes themselves.

First of all, the hojicha from Hojicha Co is excellent, but their branding is also spot-on. Upon seeing the box on my front stoop, I cut into it and emptied the box onto a clean surface so I could discard the box and wash my hands. The contents of the box are already gorgeous. The simplicity of brown paper wrapping with a coarse twine tying it up, with just the simple Hojicha Co business card tucked into the twine not only sticks to their color scheme of brown to match the color of hojicha leaves, but also evokes the rustic simplicity of a product that until recently was a tea primarily enjoyed within Japan, and not a fancy export tea.

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From there, I opened the bag and was greeted with an intense aroma of freshly roasted nuts. It definitely smelled less roasted than their dark roast, but was still a pronounced warm aroma. The leaves are a uniform dark brown color, and are uneven in size, which makes sense given hojicha’s typically-humble origins.

I measured out eight grams of tea leaves while enjoying the cozy aromas of the dry leaf, and set my kettle to 90C. I used an open-top porcelain kyusu that holds about 300 ml, so I also weighed my water to ensure I was only adding 250 grams of hot water. I steeped the hojicha three times, for thirty, forty-five, and sixty seconds respectively.

Immediately upon pouring out the first pot, I noticed that the wet leaf aroma reminded me strongly of a yancha, though the liquor aroma was very roast-forward without any of the fruity or sweet notes in the nose that I often get from yanchas. But upon sipping the cup, I realized that not only was this a very smooth tea with a balanced roast flavor, but that fruitiness and juiciness came through. There was a slight tannin in the back of my throat as an aftertaste. On the second steeping, the roast flavor and aroma moved to the background, while the umami notes came forward and the tannic aftertaste faded completely. By the third steeping I was feeling hungry, so I decided to try the third steeping alongside a piece of homemade sourdough with chocolate hazelnut spread, which complemented it very well. The umami and the roast both accentuated the nuttiness and cut through the sweetness of the chocolate spread. The third steeping was lighter in flavor, but still bold enough to stand against a snack.

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As I sipped the tea, I felt a deep, comforting warmth rise up in my body. It is still hot here, though the mornings are cooler, so the body warmth was not unwelcome. I will definitely make sure to save at least a little of this try to in the middle of autumn when I start to miss spring and summer warmth. The whole experience is one of comfort. I’ve talked before of how the dark roast evoked memories of fireplace fires and crisp evenings in autumn. This feels somehow more urban than suburban. I can definitely see how tea sellers could have used the aroma of roasting hojicha to lure in customers, and the simple act of sitting at my table with a cup of hojicha and a piece of sweet toast made me feel for a fleeting instant as if I were having a quiet break at an off-the beaten-path cafe in Kyoto.

At $16 for 80 grams of tea, this is certainly cheaper than a flight to Japan, and quite a bit more flexible in a time when many of us are canceling travel for the foreseeable future. It won’t bring back my trip, but it is an enjoyable little piece of Japan I can enjoy at home.

NB: Product provided free of charge for this sponsored post. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please see my collaboration information.

Experiments in Tea: How to Stay Cool

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It’s definitively summer here in Maryland, and we are feeling it, at home with our non-industrial air conditioning. By about 3pm (if we’re lucky), our aircon stops being able to keep up with the daily heat and the temperature inside starts to creep up, too. So sometimes, I just don’t feel like having a hot cup of tea. Now I’ve talked in the past about my love of cold-brewed tea, but that is not the iciest glass of tea I can make. For that, I have to turn to the Japanese technique that is known as shinobi-cha or kori-dashi, which is the practice of brewing tea with ice.

Now, if you’re new to ice-brewing, it may sound like some sort of Coors Lite gimmick, but let me tell you, it produces and singularly smooth, and very cold cup of tea. And I personally find it very well-suited to Japanese teas, possibly because of the power of suggestion, but also because of the delicate balance of umami and sweetness that dances in those leaves. It’s particularly prized as a method for brewing gyokuro, but I also love it for a delicate sencha.

So this week, with the weather sweltering, I weighed out 120g of fresh ice cubes made from filtered water (you don’t want them to have absorbed any weird odors while sitting in the freezer), and added 4g of sencha from The Steeped Leaf Shop on top. I’ve made it both with the leaves on the bottom and the leaves on top, and I find leaves on top makes for a more flavorful brew. And this sencha is one that I’ve particularly enjoyed, with a balanced umami, sweetness, and brightness that comes through beautifully when iced.

Now, you can use one big ice cube, if you wish. I will often weigh out a 120-g portion of water in a silicone container and freeze it overnight to have that one big, Instagrammable, ice dome, but I was impatient and brewing on a whim, so I used smaller cubes from the ice maker (our ice maker frightens the cat, so we only run it when we need ice right then). I haven’t noticed a big difference in the result, but the time it takes for the ice to melt is shorter with smaller cubes.

And that’s how you brew it — you put tea over ice, or ice over tea, and let it melt. When it has melted, it’s done. Personally, I like to let it nearly melt, so that the last little bits of ice are still solid, ensuring that the final brew is still icy cold. It is a long wait for a relatively small bit of tea, but the flavor experience is exceptional, and it’s probably the only tea I don’t feel absolutely disgusting taking outside to my garden after noon!

NB: Nothing to disclose. The tea mentioned was purchased by me and I was not paid or incentivized to write this post. If you are interested in collaborating, please see my collaboration and contact information.

Connecting with Tea Lovers through History and in the Modern Day

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It is no secret that I love old things. I originally envisioned this blog as a vintage blog, before my love of beauty and later tea took center stage. And over the last year, my Historical Tea Sessions have been some of my favorite videos to research and create. And I think one of my favorite things about this project is connecting with historical figures who seem to have shared my own intrigue with new and different teas.

In my Baisao video, I mention how the old tea seller writes of his get-togethers with a friend who brings him a new tea and how intensely interested he is in that experience, while in my video on Abigail Adams, I talked about how her husband John wrote in his letters about sending her new teas to try that he encountered on his travels. This idea of sharing tea with loved ones and fellow tea-lovers transcending the boundaries of time and geography fills me with a unique warmth. Similarly, I’ve found my own little worldwide community of tea-lovers in the present day with whom to share new and interesting teas we’ve found.

And I think one of the most interesting new things I’ve learned through my tea community was that white teas outside of Fuding in China are definitely worth checking out. It started with Chado Tea House reaching out to me and offering me some teas for review. I chose one based on an upcoming literary tea session, but the other, I took their suggestion to try their Colombian white tea, simply because it just sounded so intriguing. I was unaware that tea was grown in Colombia, and to have it be a white tea, rather than a commodity black tea was curiouser and curiouser.

When it arrived, it was an extremely generous quarter pound of tea, in a massive bag to contain the large and fluffy leaves. It had the fluff level of a really nice Bai Mudan. I decided to pretend I was a professional tea taster and sit down to this in my cupping set, steeped with boiling water (as I do almost all of my white teas), for a few minutes at a time. Now, this isn’t a comprehensive tasting note post, as I want to try this gongfu style before sharing my official thoughts, but right away I was struck by how different this was from Chinese white tea. It almost reminded me of Taiwanese teas, with its smooth mouthfeel and subtle sweetness. Keep an eye out for full tasting notes in the future.

And then I saw a post from Jin and Tea about the Benifuki Japanese white tea from UNYtea that I’ve seen pop up throughout my social feeds and decided that it was finally time to give that a try. And, once again, I was met with a delightfully different white tea that expanded my concept of what a white tea is. As much as I bemoan the constant stream of new and interesting things that lead me to have such a bursting tea cabinet, social media is a wealth of inspiration to keep tea drinking interesting and new. And it reminds me of a modern-day equivalent to John Adams’ gifts to his wife or Baisao’s visiting friend. So let’s all keep in touch and keep our tea community alive for the next several hundred years!

NB: The Colombian white tea was sent to me free of charge in exchange for featuring. All thoughts are my own. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.

Tuesday Tasting: Kukitori from Hojicha.co

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Today’s Tuesday Tasting is a special one. Today, my favorite purveyor of roasted green tea, Hojicha.co, is releasing a new tea and I had the opportunity to try it so I can share my tasting notes with you. Their dark roast hojicha made my list of 2019 most memorable teas, so I was understandably excited to try a new one. This is their Kukitori, which means “stem bird” (thank you, Duolingo). The tea is their take on a kukicha, or twig tea, made from the stems of tencha, which is the type of tea that is grown to make matcha.

I used 4 grams of loose tea in a 120-ml kyusu pot, with 180F water. The dry “leaf” is twiggy, consisting of twigs of varying shades of brown, from light to dark, about 5 mm in length. After warming the leaves in the pot, I could get aromas of pipe tobacco and toasted sesame oil.

The first infusion was for thirty seconds, after which I could smell aromas of coffee on the wet leaves. The liquor was a rich chestnut brown color and smelled sweet and smoky, like a campfire. It had a rich, yet clean mouthfeel with flavors of maple and wood. There was an undertaste of toasted nuts, like pecans or hazelnuts, which persisted as an aftertaste.

I infused it again for thirty seconds. The leaf smelled of sandalwood incense. The liquor was the same rich shade of brown, with a sandalwood aroma. The flavor was sweeter and with more umami, with a mouthfeel similar to light soy sauce. It was very smooth and nutty, with that same hazelnut flavor and a subtle note of buckwheat honey, sweet and dark with a little acidity. I noticed a clear and meditative energy coming off this tea.

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The third infusion I let it go for forty-five seconds. My notes turn poetical at this point, with the note that the wet leaf smells of “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” The liquor was slightly lighter in color, body, and aroma, and the flavor was subtler, too. I still got a light flavor of tobacco smoke and umami, but it was the kind of umami that turns into sweetness. After a fourth steeping, it was apparent that the tea was finished.

The wet leaf is not much to look at, just a darker color and, well, wetter, because it’s twigs and won’t unfurl like leaves do.

NB: Hojicha.co sent this tea to me free of charge for tasting. All thoughts are my own. If you’re interested in why I switched from reviews to tasting notes, read this post. If you’re interested in collaboration, click here.

Tea Review: Naoki Matcha Silver Yame Ceremonial Blend

Several weeks ago, one of my favorite tea bloggers posted a review of a matcha from Yame in Fukuoka prefecture. Now, given that I am currently in the process of planning a trip to Fukuoka, I was intrigued, and decided to buy some for myself. You may remember in this Sunday’s historical tea video, I featured this matcha while discussing a well-traveled woman who figured into the history of Japan’s tea culture, and mentioned that I would have to do a more in-depth review later. So here is that review.

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First of all, I purchased the Silver Yame Ceremonial Blend Matcha from Naoki’s own site, though they also sell on Amazon if you absolutely must have your matcha in two days. But my experience on Naoki’s website was pleasant enough not to feel the need to patronize Amazon. I paid $22.99 for 40g, which is actually a bit less than it’s currently listed for on their site (there was apparently a website glitch when I ordered, but they honored the price). It’s currently listed at $24.99 for 40g, which is about $0.62 per gram, and pretty solidly mid-pack for price among the high-quality matchas I drink. They also offer free shipping. I placed my order on a Sunday, it shipped on the Tuesday, and I received it Friday, so less than a week’s turnaround was quite the treat for someone used to waiting for shipping from halfway around the world.

For the video, I decided to pre-sift a few teaspoons of matcha into a clean, reused tin from Ippodo (if you happen to recognize the logo in the picture), instead of sifting it directly into the bowl like I often do. The matcha sifted easily because it’s a nice, soft, fine powder. It whisks well with no residual clumps, even after I’d stored the pre-sifted powder in the fridge for a day or two. I did have a little trouble getting a good froth the first two times I whisked it, but I later got the hang of it. Perhaps I’m just out of practice.

Tasting this matcha for the first time was a revelation. It was sweet, creamy, and mild. It reminded me of the time I ordered a rye and soda and was convinced they’d given me Sprite because the soda added such a pronounced sweetness to the rye. The first sip of this was just so smooth. And then the sweetness and richness develops into an umami aftertaste as you finish your three sips. I’m loathe to overuse the word buttery (Tracy), but, yes, the description “buttery” would apply here. This would be a very nice starter matcha for someone who wants to taste the good stuff and doesn’t want to be hit with really complicated flavors. It’s also really nice for the summer when I’m just too darn hot to have a serious conversation with my tea.

So, once again, Oolong Owl has steered me right. I suppose the dual morals of this story are that you should try Naoki Silver Yame matcha (and that I will likely want to try others of their offerings), and that you should follow Oolong Owl’s blog and allow her to enable you with wild abandon.

NB: I purchased this product with my own money and was given no incentive to feature or review it.

Tea Review: Koyo Teas Sencha and Matcha

NB: This review is of products sent to me free of charge in return for an honest review. All opinions are my own. For more information about my policies regarding review samples, click here.

A couple months ago, Anil at Koyo Tea Company contacted me to see if I would be interested in trying some of their teas. We went back and forth, discussing the teas. Anil was lovely to chat with over email, and I especially liked the clean design of their website, so I decided to give it a try. Then, one lovely September day, I was surprised with a package. Inside was a packet of sencha, a packets of matcha, and two small, single-use samples of other teas.

Koyo Tea Company sources its teas from small cooperative farms in Kyoto, such that they can try to find the best price for the teas they offer. Additionally, the source teas that are from a lesser-known cultivar that is supposed to have less bitterness. They’ve found this little niche, offering a few teas from this particular area and cultivar without the huge overhead of a large-scale tea export company, which I found interesting.

I’ve teased a little on Instagram, as I’ve tried the teas, but I thought I’d share my full thoughts about the teas in this review. I’m going to focus on the sencha and matcha, as I haven’t found the right time to try the other samples, but if the quality is comparable to the others, I expect them to be good.

Sencha: This looks like a standard sencha tea, with small, delicate leaves and an intense Japanese green tea scent to them. It is listed on the website at $12 for 1 oz., which is neither very expensive nor worryingly cheap. I brewed it with 175F water in a glass teapot for a minute, and was able to get two resteepings, steeped for one and two minutes respectively, after the first. The brewed tea is a pale yellow-green color that reminds me of some pinot grigio wines. The flavor is delicate and floral, with a hint of grassiness and almost no bitterness. The floral qualities come out even more strongly as I resteep. I found this to be a particularly enjoyable sencha and might consider buying more for myself, once I’ve worked my way through my current tea stash.

Matcha: The Koyo teas matcha at first seems like a very standard ceremonial-grade matcha. It’s listed on their website for $25 for 25g, which is right on par with other matchas I’ve bought. The powder is fine and whisks up without clumping. The color is not quite the brilliant emerald green of the Matchaeologist or O-Cha matchas I’ve tried, but the flavor is lovely. It is a very vegetal matcha, with a thick mouthfeel and body and a flavor reminiscent of boiled spinach, with a pronounced umami quality, but almost no bitterness. While I prefer more floral and acidic matchas, I did not find this difficult to drink and will enjoy finishing my batch. I would probably not repurchase this for myself, but I would recommend it for people who like matchas with that thick, vegetal quality.

So I definitely noticed the lack of bitterness in this cultivar, as Anil told me. Interestingly enough, I didn’t bother looking back at my old emails with Anil before I went ahead and brewed the teas, so I had actually forgotten that I might want to see if that was true. I found working with Anil to be enjoyable and the teas lovely, so if you’re interested in trying some excellent examples of classic Japanese green teas, you might want to check out Koyo Tea Company.

One final note: if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that beauty and tea are my two passions. If you’re interested in see how I’ve gotten those two passions to combine, check out my Volition Beauty campaign by clicking here. I would appreciate your support by voting for my campaign. Voting isn’t an obligation to buy the product if it is launched, but it does get you a discount if you do decide to buy it. Thanks.

Tea Review: Kaoru Supreme Organic Matcha from O-Cha

My recent experience with Matchaeologist renewed my interest in matcha and made me curious to try a real, Japanese ceremonial-grade tea. To that end, I did some researching and found the website O-Cha, where they sell high-quality Japanese teas. I decided to buy one of their organic ceremonial-grade matchas, which came highly rated, especially for the price.

I went with a decision to try a matcha that was in a similar price range as the matcha powders from Matchaeologist, but sold through a more traditional Japanese company. While the Matsu matcha was very good and interesting, I found the Matchaeologist website a bit “slick” for my tastes and I felt remiss not being able to compare it to anything more traditional. So I placed my order, and a short while later, got my package from Japan.

I chose the Kaoru Supreme Organic Matcha based on reviews I’d read around Reddit and other blogs. Upon opening the matcha, I was not disappointed. It has a vibrant green color and a light, fragrant scent. I prepared it both with the traditional whisking method and with an electric frother and tried it with and without sifting.

This is a very enjoyable matcha to drink. It lacks the heavy, almost syrupy textured vegetal flavors of the Matsu matcha, and it displays a much more characteristic “green tea” flavor. I found the flavors a bit more delicate, and it lacked any astringency, but it had a slight acidic bite that made it actually quite pleasant, especially first thing in the morning.

As with most matchas, this gives me a sense of enthusiastic vigor for life, which is why I like it as a morning drink. But the experience of savoring a cup of this tea first thing in the morning is enough to recommend it, even without any particular other benefits. I definitely would consider this a good starter matcha for those interested in getting started with the real thing, directly from Japan.

NB: I purchased this product with my own money and was given no incentive to write a review. All thoughts are my own. If you are interested in learning about partnering with me, please see my contact and sponsorship page. This review does not contain affiliate links.