Or more specifically, green tea (dried leaves shown above) is that like red wine, chocolate, coffee and anything with several polyphenolic compounds (read, layers of flavor and nuance) green tea never simply tastes like green tea.
Behind the simple careful cuttings of the tender new growth of camelia sinensis leaves, particularly those of Japan, is a subtle study of terroir and the basis of a age-old way of life. Kay Hoyama is the founder of Goko Tea. I was fortunate to sit down with her and taste some of the rare varieties of sencha, genmaicha and matcha she imports from Japan. Most only available in very small quantities and more never before seen in the states.
Watching her motions and the attention to paid to each tiny pouch of rare tea, I was reminded of a dutiful sommelier. Looking, touching, feeling, smelling and tasting to get a feel for the tea and where it came from. Kay's work takes her frequently to Japan where she grew up (she now lives stateside). Her passion and curiosity took her to the finest green tea producing regions in the country. In each, she's cultivated relationships the way farmers cultivate the land -- slow, methodical progress built up over time.
It's because of this passion and patience that she has access to refreshing Asamiyas, an oddity with their pan-roasted golden color ("green" doesn't always mean good, that goes for olive oils and tea) and exquisitely complex gyokuros from Hoshino. There are hints of coastal breezes, wet rock, warm bowls of short grain rice and the thick sweetness of unroasted nuts. Surprisingly, there's a prevalance of that succulent umami -- named as elusively as "ether" and meant to articulate a complex but irresistible flavor we find in mushrooms and other bites that neatly wrap up salty and sweet with thousands of sensations inbetween. Not bad for a seemingly austere cup of green tea.
As we sipped through the lot, each brew came with a story. The history, the producers, the legacy. What I found most intriguing: Even with the narrative, the tea or Kay or didn't seem poncy, snobby or out of touch. I could relate to the foothills of Hoshino (where the Japanese Imperial family gets their tea) and the daily temperature swing that makes for risky farming, but fabulous tea. It was as if you were sitting down to a show you actually wanted to watch on PBS or the Discovery Channel. I've seen shows on samurai swords. I think tea deserves it's own.
Anyone who enjoys a cup of tea can relate to its quieting effects (calm moments and a book, etc.). So it goes without saying for those folks and me that tea is synonyous with gentle grace. That is, when it's brewed correctly. Anywhere from 50 to 75 degrees Celsius is all that's required to steep. A couple of minutes at most. And each pinch of tea leaves can and should be steeped up to three times since each brew opens up the flavor of the tea and by the last steeping, different tastes pop up on your tongue.
They're quiet and subtle. But for those who take the time to listen, there's a message there. Drinking tea, especially the kind Kay is proferring, is a graceful act and it lovingly smacks you with the recognition of generations that sipped it before you and more immeidately, of the people who hand-picked and hand rolled each young leaf that's sitting in your pot right now at this moment.
There's more on green tea to come. But in the meantime, I wanted to leave you with this tidbit and introduce Kay who's importing business is due to launch soon. Stay tuned.