Review: Hibiki-an Matcha Premium

Hibiki-an, Matcha Tea Add comments
Lynn’s Teaview Snapshot
Thumbs up!"I find a bowl or two of matcha at the beginning of a work session really does help me focus. Just don't drink it before bedtime, unless you plan to work all night, too."
Lynn’s Teaview: 8.5/10
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hibikianmatchapremium"Matcha Premium is carefully grown close to the river, where the soil is very fertile. Rich soil creates the characteristic mellow and deep taste. Our Matcha Premium is grown in the shade for 20 to 30 days before harvest by the way of "Tana" which requires skillful technique and great care. Excellent noble aroma is created by the shaded from sunlight of the "Tana" technique." Hibiki-an website

This process also produces higher levels of Theanine, an element of green tea's sweet taste and mellow aroma. Theanine is said to relax the mind and restore mental balance. Gyokuro and Matcha are especially rich in Theanine, as well as caffeine. I find a bowl or two of matcha at the beginning of a work session really does help me focus. Just don't drink it before bedtime, unless you plan to work all night, too.

I discovered Hibiki-an a few years ago when I was first exploring matcha tea. Based in Ujitiwara, Japan, near Kyoto, birthplace of Japanese green tea, they grow and process all their teas. "I've been working hard to harvest good tea leaves at our family tea farms. I hope our tea leaves will be enjoyed by as many people as possible all around the world," said Tatsumi Yasui, the owner of the tea farms. By growing, processing, and direct shipping their tea, they strive to provide the freshest green teas, which often suffer with poor storage and shipping. They offer a wide selection of greens—sencha, gyokuro, karigane, and matcha—with five grades, as well as organic offerings. The Matcha Premium is a mid-level grade, second down from the Pinnacle.

My shipment came, as always, in less than a week, beautifully packaged. The matcha was packed in a proper metal canister with a screw top. When I first opened it, I found an inner lid with a pull tab. Now that's sealed! I popped the top, releasing a mellow, creamy sweet vegetal aroma. The matcha powder was a promising bright spring green.

Matcha is traditionally made in a bowl called a chawan. The tea powder is measured with a curved bamboo scoop called a chashaku and whipped to a froth with a bamboo whisk called a chasen. My chawan also came from Hibiki-an, and although it is their least expensive, it is from the well-known Shigaraki kiln, hand-thrown and nicely glazed in light earth tones, very pleasant in the hand. Chawan prices range from $43 to artisan-made raku ware pieces that run as high as $875.

There are two styles of matcha: Usucha and Koicha. (The latter has nothing to do with fish, by the way.) Usucha is made with two chashaku measures (about 1 tsp) of matcha to 70ml of water, while Koicha, the tea of the Japanese tea ceremony, is made with four measures and 50ml of water. The temperature should be between 185F and boiling for either. The matcha powder is measured or sifted into the chawan and the hot water added. It is then briskly whisked until it is smooth and frothy. I didn't find it necessary to sift the matcha; there were no lumps.

Since the Matcha Premium is suitable for Koicha, I began with that. After a vigorous whisking it foamed up very nicely. I poured the tea into a glass and saw that the bright green foam was at least half an inch thick, and firm like the head on a glass of Guinness. The tea itself was a much darker jade green and the aroma was sweet and vegetal, as well as a little kelpy. The first sip spread thickly over my tongue, tasting distinctly vegetal, a bit like raw asparagus though that's only an approximation. It was sweet, too, but with a very slight undertone of bitterness that receded as it cooled. I have had much more expensive matchas that had no bitterness at all, but this was still very drinkable, much better than any other I've tested to date, and priced reasonably for the quality.

Risking a night's sleep, I then whipped up a bowl of Usucha, just to see the difference and was glad I did. Although Usucha isn't expected to foam as much, I managed to equal the head I'd gotten from the Koicha and it had very good staying power, too, lasting as long as it took me to leisurely finish the tea. This version proved to be free of bitterness. Thinner in consistency, of course, it flowed over the tongue faster, with a mellow vegetal, slightly kelpy flavor and a pleasingly mild finish. The flavor itself was equally complex as the Koicha, but not quite as intense. Of the two, I prefer the Usucha as a daily drink, and it makes a matcha stash last twice as long, too.

The Hibiki-an site is worth a visit. There's a tremendous amount of information on green tea, from its history to how it's grown and made, and detailed instructions on how to brew the various greens. Other links take you to their vast array of teaware and equipment, and even to recipes for all sorts of tea-based treats and drinks. I've made matcha ice cream with their House grade matcha and it's fantastic.
For Koicha, I might hold out for one of their hand-picked Super Premium or Pinnacle grades, though the Pinnacle goes for $47/30g. But for everyday Usucha drinking, this one's a winner. Goes very nicely with sweet snacks, too. Highly recommended.

— To purchase Hibiki-an Matcha Premium, or for more specific information on ingredients or the story behind this particular tea, click here to go directly to the manufacturer's web site.

Teaviews Member: Lynn Lynn
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