The challenge of "Aromatic green tea." Made in the Northern End of Makinohara | Imura Tea Farm in Shimada City, Shizuoka

July 15, 2021

BEHIND THE SIP

Jasmine, muscat, peach, chestnut, corn, soybean flour, herbs, spices, tomato, milk, mayonnaise, and seaweed.

These are all aromas that I have felt from "green tea."

The aroma of green tea is composed of more than 200 kinds of aromatic components. In comparison, the scent of black tea and oolong tea comprises more than 600 kinds of aromatic components, and these components are intricately intertwined to create the aroma of tea.

Our sense of taste and smell and our food experience are responsible for the flavors we experience in our daily lives.

With its delicate and complex aroma, Green Tea is a drink to be enjoyed for its aroma.

This time, we visited Imura Tea Farm, a company that manipulates the delicate aroma of the tea to produce a variety of fragrant teas.

150 Years Shimada City, specialized in aroma

Shimada City, Shizuoka Prefecture, is an area that stretches across the lower reaches of the Oi River. Kawanehoncho is located upstream, and the Makinohara Plateau, one of the most famous tea-growing areas in Japan, spreads out in the southern part of the city, where tea production has been flourishing since ancient times.

Imura Seicha has been producing tea for 150 years at the northern end of the Makinohara Plateau in Kikukawa, Shimada City.

Norio Imura, the sixth-generation owner of the garden, is a specialist in fragrant teas, making black tea, roasted tea in a pot, fragrant green tea, and other teas with a distinctive aroma.

Makinohara is the birthplace of Fukamushicha (deep steamed tea), and Norio's tea production is unique as he focuses on the "aroma" in such a sacred place of deep steamed tea.

Three factors that affect the aroma of tea

Three main factors affect the aroma of tea. These are variety, cultivation, and processing.

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Each cultivar of tea has a different aroma component. It can be a straightforward and unconventional green tea aroma, a gorgeous flowery or fruity aroma, or a distinctive herbal or milk aroma. The aroma called "cultivar aroma" is a unique aroma that only that cultivar can have.

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Depending on the cultivation method, a unique fragrance may be added, or the fragrance may be weakened by fertilizer.

For example, the seaweed-like scent added to green tea by covered cultivation is a sign of high-quality tea, also known as "covering scent.

The most significant change in the aroma of tea is the processing. In particular, the oxidative fermentation process determines the aroma of the tea.

Oxidative fermentation for aroma and color

To begin with, green tea, black tea, and oolong tea are all made from the same tea leaves. What changes their watercolor, taste, and aroma is the process of "oxidative fermentation" (called "fermentation" in the tea world, but strictly speaking, this fermentation corresponds to oxidation by oxidizing enzymes, not fermentation by microorganisms).

Tea leaves contain oxidizing enzymes that start oxidizing the tea the moment of plucking. As the catechins are oxidized, the color of the tea leaves gradually changes from green to reddish copper, and at the same time, various aromatic components are produced.

Depending on the degree of oxidation, the flavor of the tea will change, and it will branch out into various types of tea, such as oolong tea and black tea.

Norio Imura, a specialist in fragrant teas.

It was about 15 years ago that Norio started making tea.

"Before that, I had never made tea at all. My father didn't know how to make it, and there was no place to study. But there was a man named Takeda-sensei who wrote a book on tea varieties. He knows a lot about how to make tea, so I learned a little from him."

Norio says that at first, he did not know how to make tea. However, in recent years, he has been recognized as one of the top producers in Japan, winning awards at the "Japanese Tea Awards" and the "Domestic Tea Grand Prix."

On the day we visited, the Imura Tea Farm was making black tea, and there was a wonderful aroma of tea in the process of being transformed into black tea, a mixture of fruity apple and fresh green leaves.

How tea leaves transform into black tea

This is a picture of a plucked "Yabukita" being wilted. The mellow aroma that is not present in green tea "Yabukita" has been created, and the oxidation process is in progress.

After the wilting process is complete, rubbing the tea leaves in a rubbing machine. This process destroys the cell walls of the leaves, making them more susceptible to oxidation.

The next step is oxidative fermentation while standing. The tea leaves, which were initially bright green, turn reddish-black here. This is the process that gives birth to the color and aroma of the tea, which will become more and more gorgeous as time goes by.

It is up to the grower to determine the best timing for the oxidation process, depending on various factors such as temperature, humidity, growth of the buds, weather conditions before picking, etc. The best timing is determined by holding the tea in one's hands and checking the aroma of the tea as it changes from minute to minute and degree to degree.

The aroma of black tea is carefully and delicately created in this way. Then, finally, we caught a glimpse of the sophisticated technology that Norio has accumulated over the past 15 years.

The dense scent of tea wafting through the factory is an aroma that is unique to this place and makes your cheeks relax.

New Challenge: Aromatic Green Tea

Two years ago, Norio started producing "aromatic green tea" with two cultivars, "Sayamakaori" and "Saeakari."

Green tea, also known as "non-fermented tea," is produced without wilting or oxidative fermentation. Still, it is possible to create an aromatic sencha with a gorgeous aroma that is not found in ordinary sencha by daring to do so.

This new type of tea is sometimes called "the third type of sencha" or "wilted sencha." However, as you can see, there is not even a category name yet, there are not many people making similar teas, and the correct way to make them has not yet been established.

"At first, the Shizuoka Tea Experimental Station started to produce aromatic green tea, and we had almost the same equipment, so we decided to try it. It's not a big reason."

Norio replied with a laugh when we asked him how he started making aromatic green tea. The production of aromatic green tea, which started vigorously in Shizuoka Prefecture, still has very few producers and no one to teach it to. He is primarily self-taught.

What surprised us when we drank Norio's aromatic green tea was its high level of perfection.

The two types of aromatic green teas have a gorgeous wilted aroma, a perfect balance of bitterness and astringency, and a sweet aftertaste that lingers on the tongue. In addition, it has an enchanting and gentle aroma that is different from both sencha and oolong teas. We can't help but admire Mr. Imura's ability to produce such delicious tea in just two years.

Making the Most of Aroma. New Possibilities for Making Tea

As we were looking at the tea fields, Norio told us something that we will never forget.

"'Sayamakaori' has been hated for a long time. It has a high yield and an astringent taste, and tea merchants didn't like it very much. But, recently, it has been reevaluated because it is very good at wilting and covering."

"Tea dealers did not well receive Saeakari. They don't like the beaniness of it, so I don't think it's going to get much recognition as a green tea."

Both "Sayamakaori" and "Saeakari" are cultivars for green tea, but they are both problematic cultivars with their advantages and disadvantages.

"Sayamakaori" has a high yield and is easy to cultivate, but its quality as a sencha is not very high because of its strong astringency and the eggy taste it leaves on the tongue. On the other hand, the sweet aroma of Saeakari, which can be compared to beans or corn, is suitable for enjoying on its own. Still, it is not ideal for blending, making it difficult to use for anything other than a single origin.

Nevertheless, Norio has successfully brought out a new charm to these two cultivars, which are difficult to use, by shining a new spotlight on them through wilting.

When we think about it, we were fascinated by drinking tea varieties with unique aroma and taste, which are disliked in combined teas by tasting them on their own to enjoy their individuality and collecting tea cultivars from all over Japan.

A new way to enjoy tea that cannot be appreciated within the existing framework. The world of tea is changing year by year, and teas that we have never had before appear every year. We are delighted to be in the midst of this drastic change.

Norio's aromatic green tea is "getting better and better," he said. So what kind of wonderful aroma will Mr. Imura's tea have next year? We are very excited to find out.