Sunday, May 16, 2010

Side by Side - Sencha & Kukicha

This is an experiment I did quite a long time ago when I was only starting to really enjoy and learn about tea.
I wanted to train my palate as much as I could for recognizing different tastes.
Side by sides are probably the best way to do this.
If you are just learning about tea, this is a perfect way to start!
I revisited this method today.

My setup includes:
-Two cupping sets
-Sterling silver spoon

The two teas are both (obviously) Japanese.
The sencha is a deeper green, although I think this is a more Chinese style sencha. The leaves are not so needle like. More coarse.
The sencha (on the left) smells very heavily vegetal, and slightly nutty.

The kukicha is much more needle like, displaying light greens to dark greens. The leaves also have a waxy feel and look to them.
It smells sweetly woodsy and rich. I would describe it as aromatic umami.

-2.5g tea
-165 degrees
-2:30 steep time

The infusion (wet leaves) of the sencha smell of freshly cut grass, and have marine notes that blend nicely in the aroma. They are an evergreen color, and pretty broken up.

The kukicha infusion's aroma stays true to the dry leaf, but slightly intensified.
They are rather pretty leaves! I love the color.

The liquor of the sencha (left) has marine, salty notes above a grassy undertone. There is a nice astringency to this tea. The aroma is mostly floral, but has some nutty characteristics to it as well.

The kukicha (right) is very creamy and grassy. The umami is presented in the cup as well and rounds out the rich, lingering taste. The aroma is woodsy.

This is a good way to compare tastes from different countries, regions, estates, and climates. It is an invaluable skill.
Anyone else have some interesting cupping experiences?



  1. William,
    don't you, by any chance, have any better, more detailed photo of dry leaves of that sencha?
    It seems like it isn't of very good quality, as heavily vegetal smell is characteristic for Bancha teas more than Sencha. Also, the wet leaves are quite dark which isn't that usual... this is my not-so-good and quite old photo of wet leaves of one really good sencha I got as a gift from Japanese friend:
    most good sencha teas look like this after being infused; color of leaves is much lighter than that of your sencha.
    Infusion color also tends to be much more green than on your picture and sort of opaque.
    Apart from that, this is a photo of bad quality (probably Chinese) Sencha on the left and good, genuine Japanese Sencha on the right:
    I can also send you one really great video made by some Japanese tea master, explaining how to recognize good Japanese tea from bad and from Chinese fakes, if you would be interested.


  2. Michal,

    If you would like to send me the link to the video I would love to see it!
    I do know that the sencha I have is not of great quality. But I do not think it is a bancha.
    I have had good senchas before and I mostly know what to look for.

    The kukicha is of at least moderate quality. The retailer is "Serendipitea" (or something like that) and they do source good quality tea.
    This post was just shown as a demonstration to comparative cupping.

    If you do have information on discerning quality sencha I would be most interested though!
    I do not turn down an opportunity to learn!
    Thank you!

  3. William,

    this is the video:

    I think it's really nicely explained there.

    Yes, that Kukicha looks like standard, good Kukicha tea and I believe it's good - your description of it also implies that it's of much better quality than that Sencha ("The kukicha is much more needle like, displaying light greens to dark greens. The leaves also have a waxy feel and look to them.")

    About that Sencha, sometimes it's hard to tell just from picture, if the tea is Bancha or Sencha - this, for example, is Bancha from Marukyu Koyamaen:

    I would say it doesn't look like "classic" Bancha at all, but it still is one. It is just a nice proof that Japanese teas can, even in the same category, greatly vary.

    By the way, another great example on how good Japanese Sencha should look like -

    This was, in my opinion, one of the best Japanese teas from 2009 harvest... or my biggest favorite, at least. :)

    I will hopefully post few articles on some really wonderful privately produced Japanese teas from this year's harvest in the near future, so stay tuned to my blog and hopefully, you can find some useful information ;)


  4. So, do you swear by that scale thermometer? Looks like a meat one. Might prove useful when making tea, especially green tea, since it's so darn sensitive. Should I get one?

  5. Fox,

    That thermometer has not been wrong as far as I can tell. They are really useful in my opinion! And they are not that pricey at all! It just depends if you want to be spot on accurate.

  6. I recently cupped some hojicha side-by-side after writing detailed reviews while tasting the teas individually. In the reviews, I compared the two teas to each other based on my past memory of trying the first tea. Surprisingly, I didn't adjust my reviews very much when I tried them side-by-side.

    I've found, though, several times in the past, I had a different experience. In general, I tend to adjust my opinion/perspective most, after side-by-side cupping, in the cases in which I think one tea is slightly better than the other but the teas are otherwise similar...but upon trying them together, I end up thinking that one tea is really worth drinking and the other isn't. But if the teas have a different overall character (even in subtle ways, for example, different shou mei's of varying lightness/darkness), I find that I'm often better able to compare them mentally...and when I cup them side-by-side, my perspective usually changes little.

  7. Alex,

    It is interesting how one's views on different methods can vary.
    I am pretty good with memory of tea's tastes, but if I really want to get to know an individual category of tea (for example; Sencha from Uji vs. Sencha from Mie) I find that side-by-sides help bring out certain characteristics in that tea and helps with comparison and identity.

    Everyone has their own cup of tea though right?