Spring is finally upon us and what better way to enjoy the nice weather than to sit out with a cup of freshly brewed green tea? If you’re a tea person like me, you need to know about this particular type of Japanese green tea. It’s called Kabusecha Asatsuyu.
If you think all the different types and varieties of wine and coffee are confusing, well then you’ll be glad to know that there is equally as much knowledge and history going into making that humble cup of green tea. I am in no sense of the word a tea connoisseur but hopefully I can help provide you with a basic understanding of the different types of Japanese green tea.
“Asatsuyu” (朝露、あさつゆ), which translates literally to “morning dew”, is a cultivar of green tea which is makes tea that is sweet and rich tasting.
“Kabusecha” refers to the method of cultivation, of which there are 3 main types. In ascending order of quality, they are Sencha (煎茶), Kabusecha (かぶせ茶) and Gyokuro (玉露).
We’ve all had Sencha before. It’s the type most commonly seen and is usually what you find in restaurants and supermarkets.
Gyokuro is on the other end of the spectrum. It is the highest quality and the most expensive, so you probably have to go to a specialist shop to find it.
The differences in quality (and price) arise due to the amount of shade the leaves get before they are harvested. Sencha is exposed to direct sunlight; Kabusecha is lightly shaded with nets, while Gyokuro is heavily shaded.
Now please bear with me while I get a little technical. The shading reduces the conversion of theanine into catechins by the sun. Theanine is an amino acid that gives tea its umami and sweetness, while catechins are what make a tea taste bitter and astringent.
Umami is a Japanese word which means “pleasant savoury taste”. It is one of the five basic tastes and so is distinct from saltiness. It is hard to describe what umami tastes like, but if you’ve had delicious MSG-laden Chinese food before, you’ll know that the MSG gives the food that extra dimension which makes is more tasty. That tastiness is umami.
Thus, the more shaded the leaves are, the sweeter and less astringent the tea will be. And the more umami it will contain.
I have yet to try Gyokuro myself, so I can only compare Sencha and Kabusecha. If you’ve had the good fortune of trying Gyokuro before, do leave a comment to let me know if you liked it.
If spring had a taste, this would be it.
Kabusecha, which literally means “covered tea”, is mid-way between Sencha and Gyokuro. I find Kabusecha lighter and more refreshing than Sencha. It is fragrant with a slightly vegetal aroma and has none of the bitterness and astringency that I usually get from cheap supermarket Sencha. If spring had a taste, this would be it.
“Asatsuyu” (朝露、あさつゆ), which translates literally to “morning dew”, refers to a cultivar of green tea which makes tea that is sweet and rich tasting. It is also called “natural Gyokuro” due to its characteristic of tasting like Gyokuro without having to go through the shading process.
The packet of Kabusecha Asatsuyu I got was from the basement of Takashimaya in Singapore and is from a company called Fukujuen (福寿園). It cost about $28 (£14) for a 100g pack, though I think that was a discounted price and it usually retails for about $35, if I remember correctly. It’s admittedly a little pricey, but I think well worth the price. Besides, 100g of tea can go a really long way.
An important point in brewing this tea is the temperature. The packet came with instructions to brew 3g of tea with 30-50ml of 60°C water for 2 minutes. This temperature is a lot lower than what I am accustomed to, which usually entails carelessly pouring hot boiling water into the cup. This is big no-no for Kabusecha. A couple of times I did use water that was too hot and/or let it steep for too long and the tea became bitter and astringent.
I hope I’ve persuaded you enough to give this tea a try, so do pop by your local Japanese tea shop and pick up a bag of Kabusecha. It’s the perfect springtime beverage!
Better yet, enjoy the Kabusecha with some Japanese okashi (Japanese sweets) like the ones on the left. Best one’s mochi in the top left hand corner, in my opinion.