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ICHIKO: TEA TASTING BY ALEX AHEARN

Name of the Product: ICHIKO

Type of Tea: Matcha

Producer: Nakayama Kosuke of Nakayama Chaen — a family tea factory operating for over 70 years

Location: Higashi-Sonogi, Nagasaki Prefecture, Western Kyushu, Japan

Harvest: May 2023

Read About Higashi-Sonogi Below.

Higashi Sonogi is the largest tea production area in the Nagasaki Prefecture, and this past year the region won Best Region in Japan. The area is known for its unique landscape and geographical features. Tea fields are prevalent across the area, and centuries ago, farmers built stone and rock terraces to make use of the hilly and mountainous terrain.

The volcanic activity in the area and its proximity to Omura Bay provide a unique terroir for tea production. The tea producers in Higashi Sonogi have been working together with a ceremonial-grade matcha master from Uji in the Shizuoka Prefecture and have developed matcha unique to the Higashi Sonogi and Kyushu Island terroirs.

Washi Wrapped ICHIKO Matcha

Taste This Tea Like Nakayama-San!

Nakayama-san’s recommended steeping parameters.

Water: 70ml (2.36 fl oz)

Temperature: 80°C (176°F)

Matcha: 2g (~½ teaspoon)

Chawan (tea bowl)

Whisk

I sat down at my table and laid out the teaware and accessories that I needed: a chashaku (tea spoon), a tea towel and a furui (fine mesh sifter) to the left, and a chawan (tea bowl), a chasen (tea whisk), and a chasen kusenaochi (tea whisk holder) to the right. I then started to boil the water in my tea kettle and waited until small bubbles started to form and string together at the bottom of the kettle.

As the water was coming to the right temperature, I cut open the bag of matcha and lifted it to my nose. A subtly sweet and vegetal aroma filled the air around me, which reminded me of walking through a meadow in the spring. The elegantly rich aroma had notes of fresh spring greens, like fresh spinach and Swiss chard, lightly toasted macadamia nuts, and fresh spring flowers.

Preparing Ichiko

As soon as my water was at the ideal temperature, I placed the chawan directly in front of me and filled it halfway with water. I lifted the chawan in my hands and slowly turned it in a clockwise motion to cover the sides with the warm water. I discarded the water and dried the inside of the bowl with the tea towel. I set the bowl down, placed the sifter on top of the bowl, and gently scooped out 2 grams of matcha from the bag using the chashaku, placing the emerald green powder in the sifter.


Emerald green Matcha just sieved (photo © Alex Ahearn)

Using the flat side of the chashaku, I lightly pushed the matcha through the fine mesh of the sifter and watched as the powder easily and smoothly fell to the bottom of the chawan. The sifted matcha resembled the same mountain-like shape as the matcha on the chashaku when scooping it out of the bag. I looked at the powder and lifted the bowl to my nose to smell it another time. The aroma was still lightly sweet, with subtle nutty and floral notes underneath the more prominent and lively vegetal aroma.


Breaking the bubbles on the surface of your matcha will allow the most smooth experience, try it! (photo © Alex Ahearn).

I poured about a quarter of the 70ml (2.36 fl oz) of water on top of the matcha and watched as the powder absorbed some of the water. I whisked the water and powder together using the chasen and the mixture became thicker and had an intense and rich green hue, which contrasted with the pale color of the porcelain chawan. I added the remaining amount of water and whisked the matcha more, moving my wrist in "W" and "Z" motions to make the matcha frothy.

I continued to whisk until the matcha was very frothy, and I slowed my whisking to break apart some of the larger bubbles on the surface of the matcha. This is an important step to have a very smooth, velvety foam at the top of the matcha. I lifted the whisk up slightly, just below the surface of the matcha, with the bottom of the tines still immersed, and continued to whisk until the foam became shiny with smaller bubbles.


As I slowly lifted the chasen out of the matcha, the foam remained smooth and the moving of the whisk did not disrupt the fine foam on top. I placed the chasen with the tines upward beside the chawan. I lifted the bowl to my nose and take in the vegetal aroma of the matcha. It was very balanced and had notes of butter lettuce and fresh cut-flowers, with just a hint of lightly toasted almond. The matcha also had a consistent umami character which grew more complex as it moved through my mouth.

Tasting Ichiko

As the matcha passed my lips, it had a vibrant character and a smooth, silky body. The finish was very clean, with a gentle astringency on the sides of my tongue and inside of my cheeks and a subtle hint of bitterness that lingered in the back of my throat. After a few minutes, a sweetness lingered in my throat, and the umami-rich character of the matcha persisted. I sipped the matcha again and noticed the same sweetness and brightness.

The matcha was very refreshing and had a balanced mouthfeel. The vegetal, umami-rich, floral, and nutty characteristics blended harmoniously together, to create a flavor both rich and delicate. This matcha is made with the Tsuyuhikari and the Sae Midori cultivars.

Make This T‍ea For Any Occasion!

Iced Preparation:

This matcha can be enjoyed iced as well. It can easily be made in a 250–300ml (~8.4–10 fl. oz) bottle or jar. This preparation method captures the matcha’s vibrancy and lingering sweetness.

Sift 2-3g (~1 teaspoon) of matcha and put it in a bottle or jar. Add a few ice cubes, enough to just cover the matcha, and fill the bottle or jar with cold filtered water, leaving a little bit of space at the top. Close bottle or jar and shake it until frothy and enjoy immediately.‍

Food Pairing Recommendations:

You may enjoy this tea by itself or pair it with a wagashi, a piece of chocolate, especially a piece of light, creamy white chocolate. The sweetness of a wagashi or piece of white chocolate will accent the umami-richness and subtle bitterness of the matcha.

You may also pour a serving of the matcha over a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream, like with an affogato, which is an Italian dessert in which a shot of hot espresso is poured over cold vanilla gelato or ice cream.

Always take your time to choose your accessories and enjoy them as much as your tea or matcha.


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