Many foreign tea aficionados are frequently surprised by the cloudy appearance of Sencha Fukamushi. In most of the tea world, a cloudy tea is a sign of poor quality. However Sencha Fukamushi is a very special tea that must be judged differently. The cloudiness of this deep-steamed green tea is a feature, not a bug.
To understand why Sencha Fukamushi is so cloudy, we’ll explain in detail here how it is made.
(You can also read a general overview of how Japanese green tea is made in this blog post.)
First, young tea leaves are harvested by the farmers who then perform a “kill-green” step by steaming the leaves. Steaming halts the enzymes which would otherwise oxidize the fresh leaves into oolong or black teas. It is here at the farmers that the leaf steaming style is determined. Light steaming is called “Asamushi”, medium steaming is “Chumushi”, and deep-steaming is “Fukamushi.” Which style is selected is based on what the leaves need to bring out their best characteristics as well as the farmer’s personal preference. In much of Shizuoka where we get our leaves, the deep style of “Fukamushi” steaming is preferred.
Think of when you steam vegetables at home. If you steam them for a short amount of time, the food might not be cooked all the way through. If you steam for a very long time, your food will become extra soft and even mushy. It is the same with tea. The long, deep-steaming style of Fukamushi is cooking the leaves to make them soft and bring out the umami characteristics of the tea that fans of Japanese green tea love.
Deep-steaming breaks the leaves apart, creating leaves of different sizes, and breaks the cell walls which then release small particles when the tea is brewed. These particles as well as the little particles remaining on the dry leaf from the steaming process are what give Sencha Fukamushi it’s characteristic cloudy appearance as well as it’s delicious umami taste.
After the leaves are deep steamed at the farmer’s, the farmers then roll the leaves into needles (further breaking cell walls) and then dry the leaves. Now the tea can be called “Aracha” which means crude tea. This is the tea that then goes on to be finished at the tea factories otherwise known as Seichas, such as Sugimoto Seicha.
At Sugimoto Seicha, the Aracha is first blended with other Arachas from different fields to create a uniform flavor, then goes through a sorting process. The Aracha is shaken to separate the Sencha leaves from the stems and small pieces. The stems become Kukicha and the smaller pieces become Konacha.
After the initial sorting, at Sugimoto Seicha we actually sort our Sencha once more before it is roasted to finish it. As mentioned above, the Fukamushi steaming process breaks the leaves into different sized pieces, most of which are larger than qualifies as Konacha. Our Sencha is sorted into large, medium, and small sized leaves, each to be roasted separately in order to achieve a uniform roasting before being combined back together.
The reason we do this is because if the tea was roasted all at once that would create an unevenly finished tea which would affect not only the flavor, but also the shelf life of the tea. Roasting creates the final flavor of the tea unique to the Seicha and it also removes the last of the water content in the leaves to give the tea a longer shelf life.
The key thing to remember about Fukamushi style Sencha is that the cell walls have been broken down by the deep-steaming. Furthermore there will be lots of little particles that remain on even the larger Sencha Fukamushi leaves through the rest of the processing. Even if a Sencha Fukamushi was created by only using the largest pieces of leaves, it would still create a cloudy brew due to the nature of the Fukamushi steaming. Both the cellular contents and the remaining particles go into the brewed tea and result in a cloudy brew. And again, these little particles are a feature of the tea and where much of the prized umami flavor is contained.
You’ll notice that when pouring the tea out, the little tiny particles tend to float to the bottom of your cup and are concentrated in the last pours from the kyusu teapot. This is why when we prepare Sencha Fukamushi tea we use a rocking motion on the pot in order to achieve an even brew and get those delicious cloudy drops into the cup. When pouring for multiple people we do tiny microsteeps, rotating through each cup until the tea is gone from the kyusu so that everyone gets some of those final “golden drops” of flavor.
In conclusion, the next time you brew Sencha Fukamushi, please don’t be surprised at the cloudiness of the tea! We hope you can understand a bit better now where those particles come from and what they contribute to the tea. The cloudiness is not something to avoid, and instead is a critical part of what makes Sencha Fukamushi the unique and delicious Japanese green tea that so many people enjoy.