Green tea, though, was not the only thing produced in the region. Some 130 years ago - the time following the Meiji restoration - Japan tried to produce black tea for export as a governmental policy. Tea scholar and planter - Motokichi Tada - was sent to China and India to learn the black tea trade. The initiative wasn't a success for two reasons: (1) The sheer man-power and technical expertise required as well as demand locally and (2) competition with Sri Lanka (Ceylon).
Regardless of this setback, small farmers in the Mariko region of Shizuoka still practiced the art of black tea (or kocha) production. One such farmer, Niroku Matsumura, has been doing just that since 1953. Den's Tea mentions that Shirakata-Denshiro Shoten have been doing business with Matsumura for quite some time. As part of the 10th Anniversary of their North American "Den", they offered up some of his single estate kocha as a gift for purchases of $30 or more. I was lucky to get my hands on some of it via online tea friends.
It was also mentioned on the Den's site that the leaf cultivar used for the production of this black tea was called "Beni-Fuki" - a hybrid between Darjeeling varietals and the locally-grown Beni-homare, the latter of which was often used for black tea. The unique thing about any black tea production in Japan is the use of varietals usually reserved for green tea. The result is (apparently) a liquor that is smoother and less bitter. I had no prior exposure to attest or contest the claim.
Personally, I wasn't that impressed with the visual presentation. The leaf array ranged from long stems to almost-CTC-cut granules. I even found a leaf piece that looked like a curly French fry; that was unusual. Their aroma also left much to be desired, resembling a typical black tea scent one would find from a Hy-Top teabag - slightly smoky but generic.
Brewing instructions on the sample bag called for 1 teaspoon of leaves per 6oz of boiled water, steeped for three minutes. I wanted a bigger glass than that, so I risked a heaping teaspoon in 8oz. Time and temp were left the same, though. I only had one shot at this.
The liquor brewed an amber-to-brown palette with a common-ish black tea nose. Some nostril-digging turned up a floral note...maybe. Overall, though, it possessed a mild malty aroma with a bit of a nutty characteristic. Nothing special, though. The taste, thankfully, was where this finally showed some shine. Den's was right about the lack of bitterness. Astringency was a little present, but not in a bad way. My favorite aspects were the sense of wood, grapefruit, grass and "sweet"; it was hard to describe. I think the best comparison I can come up with is a Thiashola-grown Nilgiri black tea blended with sencha. Most unusual.
I wouldn't say I'm a raving fan of this. The sheer difficulty in acquiring it isn't justified by the outcome. That said, it is a pleasant enough black tea that had a lot of acerbic character to offer. I purposely didn't supply a rating here because this was more of a reflection than a review. I was finally able to notch a tea off my "WANT" list, and it more-or-less lived up to its promise.
You can read more about this tea here.
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