Ichiban Sencha

Ichiban Sencha, or as Lori and I lovingly call it “Icky-ban Sencha”, is a prime example of how easily you can mess up making a cup of tea. It’s refreshing to read even the most experienced tea connoisseurs and experts can incorrectly make a cup of tea the first time they brew a cup. The first time I made this sencha, I’ll admit, it was horrible. So much so, I was dreading this post. The second attempt, I’m pleased to report, was much more pleasant. 

Ichiban Sencha is possibly the most assertive of all senchas. Made from the first flush of new growth in the spring, the word Ichiban means “the first”. Unlike the single estate Matsuda’s Sencha, this is a blend of teas grown in the Kakegawa area of Shizuoka, Japan.

Made in a more modern (post World War II) style, this tea is deep steamed using  fukumushi method, where the tea is steamed an additional 30 seconds longer than the traditional method. Those extra few seconds further breaks down the leaves making a stronger brew. Today most senchas are produced using this method.

Brew It

Harney & Sons once again came to the rescue on this tea. Since there are no shops locally to source high quality teas, I do my tea shopping online, from a list quality vendors that I have grown to love. And Harney & Sons always has one of the best selections on pure teas available in the States. 

The leaves of Ichiban Sencha are a mix of rich green needles and more fine, almost powdery, bits. 

As you can see from my first attempt at the brew, the liquor is a darker green, and cloudy from the powdery leaves (this should have been my first clue that I made the cup a wee bit too strong). My second attempt matched closer to the expected intense green color (albeit still a bit on the cloudy side). 

On both attempts, the aromas of the steeped leaves is a unique mix of woodsy citrus with a vegetal undertone. 

Medium bodied on both attempts, but the flavors couldn’t be more different. The initial attempt was so astringent that Lori nor I could adequately pick out any flavors. It was like eating a lemon. Or more accurately, like a punch in the face. We did discover that as you held the liquor in your mouth, the flavors would evolve. The brew became less astringent and a warm spice flavor, almost a sweet-cinnamon or nutmeg-like, would pair with the citrus vegetable on the finish. 

My second attempt proved much more pleasant (no punch in the face!). I made the tea a little bit lighter. This made the tea slightly more lighter bodied, but also took out the worst of the astringency. As a result I was able to pick up more on the lemon and spinach / turnip green flavors. As on the first attempt, the longer that I held the liquor in my mouth, the more the flavors evolved, becoming less astringent still, letting the vegetal flavors really shine. The warm spice flavors were not as prevalent, but I definitely suggest trying yourself to see what flavors your tongue can taste. 

Contemplative Thoughts

Perfectionistic to a fault, I was certain when I first made Ichiban Sencha that I made it correctly. After all, I followed the instructions, so how could this have  gone wrong? But aray it went. 

I spent weeks brooding over this post. Dreading knowing what was down the pike. I procrastinated knowing that I would need to make another cup of this wretched brew to confirm what I had already tasted and recorded in my notes to adequately record my thoughts for you.  

Hindsight is always 20/20. And I now see that was part of the reason for delaying my writing. I found other things on which to spend my time. Making excuses for why something else was more important. But in the end, I was merely delaying the inevitable. 

Sometimes life throws you curveballs. Things happen that you don’t want, that you can’t prevent. And quite frankly, sometimes there’s no way to contend against them. Pummeled, we chose not to do what we can to push through, to press forward. We just turtle up, back against the ropes, hoping it will stop soon. 

But it won’t. 

And then we face the decision: Do I chose to stay cowering in the corner? Or do I pull myself up to my full height and fight back with everything within me?

Today, I chose to fight. But first, tea.

ZenTea Hot Toddy Class

Last week Lori (my tasting partner) and I had the pleasure of taking a wee bit of time off from work and heading to Chamblee, GA to attend the Hot Toddy Class at ZenTea Tea House. We had such a blast!

We arrived a good 45 minutes before the class and I’m so glad we did because it gave us time to soak in the serene atmosphere and explore the shop. The selection of teas the owner, Connie, has pulled together is incredible! She has procured a wide selection of common blends and varieties as well as more rare teas. I was in heaven as I walked around her shop.

As we waited Connie steeped some tea for us. Lori had a pot of Mate Roasted CocoHazelnut while I enjoyed the most glorious Oolong Pouchong. Heavy on the honeysuckle, this tea took me back to days of my youth, playing outside in the hot summer sun sucking honeysuckle nectar right off the vine.

After our two other classmates arrived, our Hot Toddy Class began.

First, Connie served us a delicious spread with sandwiches, crackers, nuts, and some sweet treats to snack on as she made toddy after toddy for us to taste.

We learned that a good toddy is made of 4 ingredients:

1. Tea (proper tea or tisane)

2. Whisky

3. Citrus (typically lemon, orange, or lime)

4. Sweetener (normally honey, sugar, or maple syrup)

It was fascinating experiencing ways to pair different flavors. We smelled every tea before it was brewed and got to sample a few of the teas and the whiskys separately before combining the ingredients. I have never been adventurous in trying new combinations of foods and flavors, so this process is interesting to me. There were several flavors that, when tasted separately, I would have never thought would pair well. However, the concoction that resulted from the blend was delicious.

Mint Ginger Lemon Toddy

First up in the flight was the most medicinal. This toddy was made with a tisane of Mint, Lemon, & Ginger with a bit of extra ginger root and mint, fresh lemon juice, a little bit of sugar, and a shot of vodka. High in vitamin C, this toddy was sweet and refreshing. After my first sip I was hooked and drained my cup. Definitely one of my favorites. 

Cranberry Apple Toddy

Second, was Lori’s favorite (and another of my favorites). An amazingly delicious toddy that tasted like liquid joy. Made with Cranberry Apple tea, apple cider, cranberry juice, and vodka garnished with a clove laden orange slice, it was a soul warming, reminiscent of the cheer of yore, brew.

Green Apple Pie with Bourbon

Made with Green Apple Pie tea (a delicious tea on its own), bourbon, brown sugar, and a slice of granny smith apple made for a tart treat with a stout kick. It was a stark contrast to the sweeter first drinks where the vodka seemed to almost disappear among the other flavors. In this toddy, you were definitely reminded of the bourbon’s presence.

Hot Buttered Rum

I had heard often of hot buttered rum, but had never tried one until this class. This one was made with a Black Russian Spice tea, a shot of light rum, a wee bit of maple syrup, and a spoonful of a spiced creamed butter. We garnished it with a cinnamon stick and a star of anise. The addition of the butter gave this toddy a very think and filling body, which gave great contrast to the previous drinks that had lighter body.

Holiday Spice Toddy

This toddy, with Holiday Spice tea, orange juice, brandy, and agave, was very similar to the Cranberry Apple that we had tried earlier in the evening. Not quite as “cheery” as the former, the addition of the brandy gave this drink a heavier body. Sweeter than the bourbon and rum concoctions of the evening, this drink became another favorite for both Lori and I.

Chocolate Whisky with Cream Toddy

Made in the likeness of the Irish Coffee, the Chocolate Whisky with Cream toddy was a delicious treat. The base was Black Connie’s Choice tea with a wee bit of a chocolate flavored Irish whisky. A pinch of sugar and a dollop of whipped cream made this thick, frothy brew. I can definitely see bringing this toddy around to celebrate St. Patty’s Day or any time you need a thick cup to relax.

This was also the moment when Lori’s and my tongues decided to differ.  The flavor of the whisky was too pungent for Lori’s taste, where as I found it stout, but very grounding and calming. I reckoned that the whisky taps into the highlander blood that runs through my veins.

Oolong with Aged Whisky

Lastly, in what might have been my most favorite pairing of the evening, the oolong with 12 year old single malt scotch, won my heart. Served separately, this simple toddy had only two ingredients: tea and whisky. No citrus and no sweetener.

A lover of oolongs, the Da Hong Pao, with it’s light to medium body, ranges toward the darker side of the oolong spectrum. Alone it was smooth and naturally sweet with an oak-like finish. The scotch, on its own (which happened to be my first sip of scotch), instantly cleared the sinuses, gave a wonderful woody flavor and left a smooth, clean finish. Initially, I thought the two flavors would be too much and the scotch would overpower the more delicate flavors of the oolong. When combined, though, this simple drink was a wonderful melody of a stout and sweet woody flavors; perfect for quiet contemplation.

Lori with her favorite cup, the Cranberry Apple.

And I with my first ever toddy, the Mint Lemon.

This class was a flavorful adventure. We learned a lot, laughed a bunch during the process, and tasted ways to have fun with our tea. If you’re ever in the Atlanta area, a stop at ZenTea is a must. You’ll get amazing tea, great service, and walk away as friend.

And no matter where life takes you, keep exploring tea.