NaturaliTea #01: Hatsutsumi Handpicked Midori Shincha First Flush from Yunomi

Konnichi wa ocha no yūjin! 

Or if that made no sense:

Hello tea friends!

Japan is a country that inspires me to the point of being in awe. The culture, the technology, the religions, their traditions, and especially their tea. I thought I had experienced everything a few years ago that had to do with tea, until I went into the world of Japanese tea. There is nothing like it! If you have never tried Japanese tea for yourself then I highly recommend trying it. Part of this reason is because Japanese tea contains umami which is the fifth taste which translates to ‘pleasant savoury taste’. It may sound strange for a tea to taste savoury but I tend to liken it to a soup broth, completely unique and bursting with flavours. This is why I am so taken with Japanese tea in general.

I am happy and excited to be drinking some First Flush Midori Shincha by NaturaliTea as sold by Yunomi. No idea what Midori or Shincha is? Let me break it down: Midori means green and Shincha translates to ‘new tea’ which refers to when it was picked. Basically a Shincha is the first harvest of Sencha leaves which is also known as Ichibancha ‘ the first picked tea’. Besides the fresh aroma of the young leaves, Shincha is characterised by its relatively low content of bitter catechin and caffeine, and relatively high content of amino acid. This makes the Shincha harvested limited in size of the batch and also the time it is picked. And to finish off for Japanese tea newbies Sencha is a ryokucha or green tea cultivar that is indigenous to Japan, so much so that Sencha is Japans most commonly consumed tea with Sencha production being 80% of all tea  produced in Japan.

Now it’s time for the tea itself. Opening the sample pack reveals bright, glossy green leaf shards that are loosely broken. They bare a gorgeous sweet grass and mineral scent.

Steeping a Japanese tea is rather different than steeping a general green tea, the water temperature and steeping length can either enhance the umami or bypass it. A lot of it comes down to experimentation and preference; I like a nice umami which often comes through in low temperature water and short steeps. So I will be trying to find the umami goodness. Another thing you often find is the change of temperature, an example being the first steep at 80C, the second at 40 C and third at 70C. Again that would be because it enhances the umami quality.

My Steeping Parameters: 200ml Yunomi (Japanese cup), 360ml Futanashi Tokoname (lidless teapot used to enhance freshness and scent), 10g loose leaf. 

I want another note: my teapot is larger than my yunomi but I will only be using my teapot to 200ml. Also this is a sizeable yunomi that needed to be adjusted for. Otherwise I would recommend 3g of leaf to 60ml water.

Also, Yunomi bared this note: Our recommend steeping method is to use water cooled to about 40˚C/105˚F steeped for 2-3 minutes for the best balance between sweetness and umami (savory) flavors.

For that reason my first steep will be 2 minutes at 40C. (Room temperature is usually around 20C).

Once steeped the resulting tea liquid is cloudy, golden yellow colour that bares a vegetable (broccoli) and sweet grass scent. Not dissimilar to it’s raw state.

The first sips reveals a strong, broth like flavour packed with sweet grass, spinach, kale and mixed flowers with a pleasant, bitter aftertaste that lightens and becomes sweeter. That was the first sip, as you can see it packs a lot of different flavours and information in it. The after taste is lingering for very long in my mouth. I say broth because it reminds me of a strong, hearty, soup broth full of green vegetables.

The umami is very strong, so much so that I feel like I’ve jumped into an ice cold bath with every punching sip I take. But I can’t stop myself from sipping. The umami washes over me with warmth and wide eyed energy. A few sips more lighten the tea while my tongue adjusts to this unique flavour. It detects sweet honey and salty seaweed notes among the ever growing broth blend.

Second Steep – 80C for 45 seconds (see the jump in temperature?)

So the shorter steep at hotter temperature is mostly because I want to test the body of the green tea. Umami comes out in the first steep but it gets weaker over time, that is why I Umami the first steep and green tea the rest of it.

Yes, the umami is less than half of what it was. The punch that it packed is now a shadow of it’s former self; that being said it’s still a strong steep. It still has strong sweet grass and vegetal tones, and it’s also a little bitter; but it is lacking as much depth and oomph as the first steep. This is a good example of how much water temperature and steeping time can change a Japanese tea.

The sweetness is less so it’s not honeyed in this steep but it is hay like and grassy. In terms of broth this is mid level, like the vegetables are in a pan with water and steeping for a while, enough to have flavoured the water, but there is still more flavour left to go.

Third Steep – 60C for 30 seconds (another temperature change) 

Why the change? I want a lower temperature to increase any remaining umami that is left, whilst lessening the steeping time a little to try and reduce the bitterness. This is another example of why I said it’s best to experiment with Japanese teas, it’s all down to personal preference. Some people will read this and think I had it too strong or perhaps don’t agree with my parameters at all. I didn’t plan on the times for my second or third steep but I read what I wanted from the tea and it’s potential.

Was it a good decision to change? Yes. This steep is very light in taste but some umami can be found admidst the sweet, bitterness. This cup is more raw cabbage like than broccoli. It bares the same mineral, green sort of taste. While it’s immensely weaker in strength I feel if it was warmer it would have been too bitter to appreciate the remaining umami. As such just before the bitterness kicks in and the powerful sweetness I can taste the broth.

Final Thoughts

This was a nice Shincha that packed an incredible umami punch. Sweet yet savoury, vegetal yet bitter, it was a delicious combination in one tea. I would recommend it to umami lovers or those looking to experience it for the first time. If you are then stick with short steeps and 70-80C temp until you find it at your desired level. Don’t be put off if you dislike it the first time around, it may take time to get it to your personal taste. And once you do it will grow on you! Plus not forgetting that this is Organic I can tell the clarity of the flavours once prepared. There is nothing in this tea that tastes chemical or unnatural.

If you haven’t experienced many Japanese teas before then I hope I have given you insight.

Until next time, Happy Steeping!

Here’s the scoop!

Leaf Type: Green
Where to Buy: Yunomi
  • Name: Handpicked Midori First Flush
  • Ingredients: 100% Shizuoka-grown green tea leaves
  • Harvest: Late April harvest
  • Cultivation Notes: Grown pesticide free. Fertilized with organic compost. Machine cut trim of the youngest, topmost leaves, and handpicked leaves.
  • Region: Fujieda, Shizuoka
  • Vendor type: Family-operated farm cooperative.
  • Established: 1976
  • Producer: Toshiaki Kinezuka, President, Hito to No, Shizen wo Tsunagu Kai (NaturaliTea)

Learn even more about this tea and tea company here!

Yunomi Tea Discoveries Club, February Review (Part 1)

As with last month’s review of the Yunomi Tea Discoveries Club  (You can check out part 1 of that review here), I’ll be doing the review of this month’s package in two parts.  This first article will feature the review of two teas and the second article, published tomorrow at the same time, will feature three teas.  

yunomi2This month, we received five teas featuring Hojicha Roasted Green teas as well as Japanese-made Oolong teas.  Exciting!  I haven’t tried a lot of Japanese Oolong teas – most of my Oolong experiences have been with Taiwanese Oolongs and to a slightly lesser extent, Chinese Oolongs.  Japanese Oolong teas aren’t as common a tea to find – another reason that this Tea Discoveries Club from Yunomi is a GREAT deal!

The teas featured in this month’s package are:  three Hojicha teas (Hojicha Roasted Green Tea, Autumn Hojicha Roasted Green Tea and Superior Hojicha Roasted Green Tea) and two Japanese Oolong teas (Oolong Tea and Black Oolong Tea).  I’m so excited to try these!  I love Hojicha and I love Oolong and am especially excited to try something rare like Japanese Oolong!

Also included in this month’s package is a pamphlet that offers steeping and tasting notes as well as some other interesting information including tea-related Japanese phrases and terms and the cutest little origami Crane!

HojichaRoastedGreenSo let’s jump right in and get started with the Hojicha Roasted Green Tea from NaturaliTea.

This Hojicha delivers all the flavors that you’d expect from a Hojicha.  It’s got that wonderfully cozy, roasty-toasty flavor.  It’s lightly sweet and nutty.  It’s a very autumnal type of flavor – it evokes thoughts of autumn for me.  I think of the cooler weather, the crispness in the air and the smell of smoke from the neighborhood chimneys.  It’s the kind of flavor that you want to curl up to.

I like that this particular Hojicha is light.  It doesn’t have a heavy flavor to it.  It’s the kind of drink that you want after you’ve had a heavy meal.  It’s soothing and gentle.

SONY DSCThe second tea that I’ll be examining in this article is Organic Oolong Tea from Takeo Tea Farm.  This is a tea that I explored previously in another review (read that review here).

Dry, this tea looks a lot like a black tea.  It reminds me of a black tea with its dark, slender leaves.  If I were given the dry leaves ‘blindly’ (without knowing that it was an Oolong) I would not have guessed it was an Oolong by the appearance of the dry leaf.

The tea brews up dark too.  The only real “Oolong-like” indication I started to recognize is after the rinse and first infusion, I noticed how much the leaves had expanded and it was very “Oolong-esque.”  (Oolong teas tend to expand quite a bit during the brewing process!)

Now the flavor … this does taste like an Oolong.  It reminds me a lot of a darker Oolong, like perhaps a Formosa Oolong or a Oriental Beauty Oolong.  It has that deep, fruity flavor and the really lovely, full texture of an Oolong.  It’s sweet and really quite pleasant.

It has an almost ‘wine-like’ quality to it too, much more so than teas that I often call ‘wine-like.’  I can really taste a fermented grape flavor here.  The tea has a very rich, full and satisfying flavor.  This is truly a unique Oolong tea – one that should be experienced to be understood fully.  (In other words – try this tea as soon as you can!)

My first cup (infusions 1 and 2) was probably the most intensely flavored cup of the three that I enjoyed.  I found that with my second cup, the flavors were beginning to mellow slightly.  The tea was still very strongly flavored and I still got a very distinct fermented grape-like flavor to the cup.  But the flavors in the cups that would follow were a little less focused.  (Still quite enjoyable though – it’s well worth the effort to keep on steeping!)

With the third cup, I started to notice that the fruit notes were becoming sweeter.  It wasn’t as ‘fermented’ a taste as I noticed in the first two cups.  Floral notes began to emerge as did a sweet note that evoked thoughts of honey.  A really lovely cup!

I can’t wait to explore the other three teas!  Read about them in tomorrow’s article!

Yunomi Monthly Mystery Tea Sampler’s Club: NaturaliTea #11: Organic Autumn Bancha Tea


Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Green

Where to Buy:  Yunomi

Tea Description:

Grown under the strong summer sun and harvested in autumn, this bancha tea has stronger astringency and less caffeine than sencha.

Learn more about this tea here.

Learn more about Yunomi’s Monthly Mystery Tea Sampler’s Club here.

Taster’s Review:

The Monthly Mystery Tea Sampler’s Club package from Yunomi promises to be FUN!  In addition to this Organic Autumn Bancha from NaturaliTea, there is also a package of Genmai … which is just the toasted rice!  I get to custom blend my own Genmaicha!  Yay!  I look forward to that … so, that review will be coming later.  (I’ll probably be using some of this Bancha to make my first cup of custom Genmaicha!)

Before I do that though, I think I’d like to sample this Bancha on it’s own and give you my thoughts on the tea.  And my thoughts?  This is a really nice Bancha!  The dry leaf is cut small, and I noticed a couple of stems in with the leaves.

I like Bancha … it’s less celebrated than Sencha tea, but, I find that the two are really quite similar.  It is as the description above implies, though, it does have a bit more astringency than a typical Japanese Sencha.  But here’s what else I’m noticing … this is deliciously sweet, vegetative, and has less noticeable bitterness – at least to this taster’s palate – than a typical Japanese Sencha.  This is perhaps a little less sweet than a Japanese Sencha, but it has a nice, buttery taste and texture to it that I quite enjoy.

It’s a smooth, delicious green tea with a brothy mouthfeel – reminiscent of the broth of a soup that might have been crafted with mild green vegetables.  It has a sweet yet savory taste to it … and I find that the sweet and the savory notes are well-balanced.  It’s a mellow, lovely cuppa, and I look forward to blending this Bancha with the Genmai that was provided in this month’s Mystery Tea sampler’s Club package for a tasty Genmaicha!

Yunomi Monthly Mystery Tea Sampler’s Club: NaturaliTea #01 – Organic Handpicked Midori First Flush


Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Green

Where to Buy:  Yunomi

Tea Description:

2013 harvest from Naturalitea. Handpicked from a select number of the Kinezuka family and partners’ best fields at the very beginning of the shincha season this is the youngest tea leaf you can find.

Learn more about this tea here.

Learn more about Yunomi’s Monthly Mystery Tea Sampler’s Club here.

Taster’s Review:

I know that I’ve mentioned before just how much I love receiving a monthly mystery tea sampler’s club package from Yunomi every month.  And this Organic Midori First Flush tea from NaturaliTea (if you’re looking on the website, this is the #01 tea from NaturaliTea) is an example of why I love receiving these teas.  This is SO fresh.  I absolutely love it when I can see and taste the freshness in a tea.

The color of the dry leaf is so vibrant and they are a dark, forest-y green.  I can smell the vegetal quality of these leaves, it smells like something in between just-cut spring grass, freshly steamed vegetables and kelp.  It has that aroma that is just ALIVE with vegetation.

And the flavor is equally as fresh tasting.  It has a sweetness to it and a sharp bitter taste of a good quality Japanese green tea.  The bitterness offers a really lovely, savory contrast to the sweetness of the young leafy taste.  I like the balance of savory to sweet here … it is neither too sweet nor too bitter … it is just a pleasure to sip!

It has a light, brothy character to it … it just FEELS good when I drink it … I can feel it rejuvenate me as I sip.  It tastes fresh and it refreshes the palate as it washes over the tongue.  This tea … just speaks to me of springtime:  from the taste of the young leaves of the spring harvest to the fresh fragrance and flavor.  It is a very refreshing beverage!