This article was originally posted to T Ching in August of 2016.
As shincha season has come and gone, we are now in the dog days of summer… the trickiest time for tea in Japan. Tricky because the intense moisture in the air zaps all freshness from the precious steamed leaves if they aren’t stored and handled correctly.
We get heaps of tea at the café given to us from farmers bestowing their latest and greatest. And when a tea farmer comes up offering their prized leaves, we simply have to steep a pot. This results in a bit of a stockpile as you can imagine!
We also receive quite a range in quality: amazing tea is not easy to make if the quality is not there, and the more samples we try from around Japan, the more aware of this we become.
The truth is, there’s a fair bit of ordinary stuff out there.
So when the leaves are a bit past their sell-by date, have been moisturized, or just aren’t that fabulous in the first place, what to do?!
Enter the Holly (or insert your name) Blend!
In a nutshell, I “spike” inferior leaves with a stronger, fresher batch.
My preferred source of magic comes from either a fresh Gyokuro or a Kabusecha. Ratio-wise I’m talking about 70% old/flat-tasting to 30% fresh. When using Gyokuro, the blend ratio might be as little as 10% to 90% dodgy leaves. Using Gyokuro presents a slight issue because of the water temperature and longer steeping time. Simply adjust by lowering the temperature to about 70ºC – not all the way to 55ºC (131ºF) and steep it for about 90 to 120 seconds or until you see enough of the leaves open up.
On a side note, reading the leaves is something most folks simply don’t do with Japanese tea. It’s much easier with a fabulous full red-crested high mountain oolong from Taiwan! Japanese leaves are tiny in comparison and sometimes resemble mush so it’s hard to know when the steeping is complete. Keep reading and the better you will become!
The reason home blending is such a secret is because we often feel the Master producer knows best and it’s not our place to interfere with what the “experts” say. So we tend to take their word at face value. But why shouldn’t we have an opinion and a play?!
Blending your own Japanese tea leaves can open a whole new world of flavors. I rarely do this with exquisite, artisan tea because in such cases the farmer is essentially already doing it for us. But for older or slightly ordinary leaves, you can start to explore a myriad of different sensations.
Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t always go to plan! I’ve had some instances when the blend goes south, turning flat-tasting tea into an outright bubbling Hogwarts brew! But when you hit the jackpot you’ll have both the benefits of a unique, interesting, maybe even delicious beverage plus the warm glow of satisfaction at your own handy work!
N.B. this technique is not for old Matcha! If your ceremonial Matcha has been open for longer than a month, rather than trying to fix it with fresh Matcha, simply start adding it to smoothies!