Hime Fuki Organic Makurazaki Black Tea from Yuuki-Cha

Today’s review will focus on the Hime Fuki Organic Makurazaki Black Tea, purchased from Yuuki-Cha. You may view this product at the Yuuki-Cha Shop by clicking here.

First, I would like to say a few words about Yuuki-Cha. Ever since my interest in Japanese tea began while attending a Japanese Tea Ceremony, I have become a rather frequent visitor of the Yuuki-Cha website. At first, I went there to see all of the beautiful kyusu and other earthenware teapots, cups, and other authentic Japanese tea utensils. I have since purchased two kyusus from Yuuki-Cha, and if I did not have at least the minimal self control that I do, then I would have purchased dozens of the earthenware pots and cups. They are simply beautiful, and the prices are quite reasonable compared to some other shops I have visited. The shipping from Japan to the U.S. is inexpensive and surprisingly quick, and the products always arrive nicely packed and secured.

With regard to the Japanese teas offered by Yuuki-Cha, every single one of them is organically certified by the JAS, or Japanese Agricultural Standard. The prices of the teas can seem a bit high, as evidenced by the fact that this is the first tea I have reviewed from Yuuki-Cha, but if you are looking for what I believe are some of the best Japanese teas offered outside of the country, then the prices are reasonable and the quality is outstanding. Although I am reviewing this Hime Fuki Organic Makurazaki Black Tea first, I did have a taste of the Organic Uji Gyokuro Gokou Green Tea last evening, and it seriously and honestly took me to another level of existence. More on that experience will come when I review that product. I have been on a Japanese and Korean tea craze recently, and my first stop was Yuuki-Cha.

Now, about the Hime Fuki Organic Makurazaki Black Tea, this is a hand-picked (Tezumi) spring tea organically grown and manufactured in Makurazaki, Kagoshima Prefecture, in the deep south of Japan (see Google map below). Harvested in May (Ichibancha), the leaves are only plucked from tea bushes of the Benifuki cultivar. This particular black tea has been awarded multiple times, and appears to have a rather solid reputation among Japanese black tea producers and connoisseurs. As mentioned above, the Benifuki tea leaves are harvested by hand, not by machine, unlike the vast majority of Japanese teas. This fact, and the organic cultivation, results in comparably low annual production of this tea, thus the higher price tag.

The sample packet has been opened, and a rich, woody and sweet scent is escaping the packet. Let the journey begin…

Hime Fuki Organic Makurazaki Black Tea Dry Leaves
Hime Fuki Organic Makurazaki Black Tea Dry Leaves

The dry leaves have a uniform dark brown to black color, with a few small golden tips. The leaves and buds are all small to medium sized fragments, and are machine rolled. There appears to be no bare stems in the mix. The pluck cannot be determined by the dry leaves. The leaves have a very dry, hard, rigid texture. The smell has scents of malt, fresh baked bread, toasted grains, dry pine wood, and a touch of dry kelp.

Three grams of dry leaves were placed in a five ounce (150 ml) porcelain infusion cup. Spring water was heated to 205°F (96°C). The leaves were infused for 4:00 minutes.

My suggestion for at home preparation is to use three grams of dry leaves for every six to eight ounces (180 to 240 ml) of water to be used. Heat water to 205°F (96°C). Steep the leaves for 3:00 minutes. Expect two worthy infusions out of the same serving of leaves. Increase steep time on the second infusion by 45 seconds to 1:00 minute.

Hime Fuki Organic Makurazaki Black Tea Liquor
Hime Fuki Organic Makurazaki Black Tea Liquor

The first infusion produced a liquor with a very deep, dark ruby red color which is translucent, but dark enough to not be transparent. The aroma has rich scents of roses, pine wood, fresh baked bread, grapefruit, malt, and toasted grains. The body is full, with a velvety, smooth texture, and a calming yet energizing spirit. The taste has strong notes of roses, pine wood, and grapefruit, with less dominant notes of malt, fresh baked bread, toasted grains, and sea mist. The piney, rosey, grapefruit notes carry through the persistent aftertaste, and slowly evolves into a citrusy, floral essence.

Hime Fuki Organic Makurazaki Black Tea Infused Leaves
Hime Fuki Organic Makurazaki Black Tea Infused Leaves

The infused leaves have a uniform copper brown color. The leaves and small buds are all small to medium sized fragments. There are a few bare stems in the mix. The pluck cannot be determined by the infused leaves. The leaves have a thin, soft, somewhat paper-like texture. The smell has scents of roses, grapefruit, and light pine wood.

The Hime Fuki Organic Makurazaki Black Tea from Yuuki-Cha is an incredibly interesting, unique, and beautiful black tea. Although not so interesting to observe the dry and infused leaves, all of the interest comes in the liquor. With a deep, dark ruby red color, full body, and somehow calming, uplifting energy, this black tea could be compared to a high quality Keemun black tea with a Japanese twist. The dominant aromas and tastes of roses and pine wood are very reminiscent of Keemun, but there is certainly a touch of sea mist in the Hime Fuki that you will never find in a Keemun. The Hime Fuki Organic Makurazaki Black Tea is an aromatic, flavorful, and delectable tea that you need to experience. With this type of high quality black tea coming out of Japan, it is somewhat of a wonder to me that more people are not familiar with it. Without a doubt, this is the best Japanese black tea that I have experienced.

Thank you to the team at Yuuki-Cha for procuring and offering such interesting, high quality, and organic Japanese tea products! Cheers!


Nina’s Japon Green and Black Tea Blend from Nina’s Paris

The second sample that was provided courtesy of Nina’s Paris is called Nina’s Japon. This blend of black tea, Japanese green tea which appears to be a mix of sencha and lightly roasted houjicha, and toasted rice, is enhanced with caramel and vanilla flavoring. For more information on Nina’s Paris, visit their website here. Don’t forget to read my recent review of Nina’s Paris Tigre Blanc Oolong tea.

The sample pack is opened, and a sweet aroma of caramel and vanilla is filling the air. Let the journey begin.

Nina's Japon Dry Leaves
Nina’s Japon Dry Leaves

The dry leaves, being a blend of black tea and two styles of green tea, vary in color from pale light green to greenish-brown to black. There are popped rice grains throughout the mixture. The leaves appear to be a blend of Japanese sencha, Japanese houjicha (roasted green tea, see notes in infused leaves section), and black tea that is difficult to determine the origin, but it may be Japanese also. All tea leaves are rolled, and small to medium sized fragments. The aroma has strong scents of vanilla and caramel, with a toasty scent from the popped rice grains.

Three grams of dry leaves were placed in a five ounce (150 ml) ceramic infusion cup. Purified spring water was heated to 175°F (75°C). The leaves were infused for one minute and thirty seconds.

Nina's Japon 1st Infusion
Nina’s Japon 1st Infusion

The first infusion produced a bright, golden-orange color, clear and transparent. The aroma has scents of vanilla, caramel, and toasted grains. The fragrance is very sweet and smooth. The body is light-medium, with a round feel. The first taste that I noticed is the toasted rice grains, which is quickly complimented by caramel and vanilla. There is a light astringency, and a caramel and vanilla aftertaste. The taste is like a liquid version of caramel popcorn. Each style of tea used in this blend can be felt in light undertones, from the grassy flavor of the sencha to the body and slight maltiness of the black tea. There are quite a few levels to the taste of this tea.

Nina's Japon 2nd Infusion
Nina’s Japon 2nd Infusion

The second infusion produced a liquor that was surprisingly similar in color as the first infusion, having a golden-orange color. The aroma has retained the caramel and vanilla scents, with the toasted grain scent weakening some. The body remains light-medium, and the feel has flattened some. The astringency has weakened, and the caramel and vanilla tastes are dominant. Overall, I am surprised by how well this tea maintained flavor in the second infusion. The natural tea tastes can be still be felt under the tastes of the caramel and vanilla flavoring.

Nina's Japon 3rd Infusion
Nina’s Japon 3rd Infusion

The third infusion produced a liquor with a lighter, golden-yellow color. The fragrance continues to fill the room, with strong scents of vanilla and caramel. The body is lighter. Notes of vanilla and caramel are dominant in the taste, with very light undertones of toasted grains. The black tea flavor can be felt more than the green tea in this infusion. This third infusion certainly produced an acceptable flavor.

Nina's Japon Infused Leaves
Nina’s Japon Infused Leaves

The infused leaves vary in color from the copper of the black tea to the fresh forest green of the sencha. As I look through these leaves, I am having a hard time finding any definite houjicha leaves, making me wonder if what I saw in the dry leaves were simply some unintentionally lightly oxidized green tea leaves. To add to the evidence of this possibility, I see some green tea leaves with slightly red edges (oxidation). Most of the leaves are small fragments, with a few medium sized fragments in the mix. The aroma has scents of vanilla, caramel, and toasted grains, with a slight maltiness from the black tea.

The blend of toasted grains, sweet flavoring, and the natural astringency of the tea gave Nina’s Japon a nice balance of tastes. The aroma was very fragrant, filling the room with a sweet, toasty scent. The liquor was smooth, and the first infusion had a nice round feel. Even if you prefer straight teas, it is difficult not to enjoy sipping on these masterfully flavored teas from Nina’s Paris. If you like flavored teas, definitely give Nina’s Paris a try. Cheers!

NaturaliTea Japanese Black Tea from Tealet Teas (NaturaliTea Co.)

On August 2nd of 2013, I tasted a sample of Japanese Black Tea. This sample was provided by Tealet Teas. To learn more about Tealet Teas, please visit their new and improved website by clicking here.

Tealet has built personal relationships with tea farmers from multiple countries, including Japan, China, Nepal, Taiwan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Korea, as well as the United States, and continues to search the planet for high quality farms to work with. Tealet provides a direct connection between tea buyers and the tea farmers, allowing tea buyers to purchase high quality teas, as well as giving the tea farmers an international platform from which they can sell their teas. Rather than simply seeing a certification stamp for organic teas or fair trade practices and deciding to do business based on those certifications alone, Tealet is committed to farms that demonstrate exceptional transparency in their farming and production practices. Certifications can be expensive, and many small artisan tea farmers are not able to afford them. Therefore, even if they do practice organic farming and fair trade ethics, which many of them do, they may not have the “credentials” to display. However, their teas are often times a very high quality and unique product. Thankfully, companies like Tealet are aware of the reality of the organic and fair trade certification programs, and have decided to do their own homework on tea farms. Thus, they have sources that provide teas that are not like what the other companies often offer.

This particular sample of Japanese Black Tea was sourced from the NaturaliTea Company, in Fujieda, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. According to Tealet’s website profile on NaturaliTea, this small family run tea farm has been operating for about thirty-six years, and uses organic and natural tea farming practices. The Japanese tea industry is best known for their green tea production, but many Japanese farmers are experimenting with black tea production. Knowing that each region produces its own distinct taste of teas, I was quite excited to try this Japanese Black Tea. To view Tealet’s grower profile on NaturaliTea, click here.

Now, on to the review.

Tea Review and Analysis Form

Date:  08/02/2013

Product:  Japanese Black Tea
Purchased From:  Tealet Teas
Type of Tea:  Japanese Black TeaOrigin of Tea:  NaturaliTea Company, Fujieda, Shizuoka, JapanTea Leaf Characteristics Prior to Infusion:

NaturaliTea Japanese Black Tea Dry Leaves
NaturaliTea Japanese Black Tea Dry Leaves
Aroma:   Sweet, malty, lightly cocoa, vegetal.Dryness:  Quite dry. Leaves crack easily, break in to coarse crumbling.Color(s):  Dark brown to black. Stems are light brown. No golden tips.

Texture:  Fairly smooth, twisted, curled leaves.

Sizes and Shapes:  Appear to be all leaf fragments and stems. No full leaves. Average length of 1/3 inch (8.38 mm).

Unique Characteristics:  The aroma is certainly different than black teas from other regions of the world.

Sampling Measurements:

Amount of Water:  8 oz (227 ml)
Amount of Tea:  3 grams

Tea Liquor Evaluation:

First Infusion:

NaturaliTea Japanese Black Tea - 1st Infusion
NaturaliTea Japanese Black Tea – 1st Infusion
Water Temperature:  205ºF  (96ºC)
Steep Time:  3 Minutes and 0 secondsAroma:  Mildly malty, vegetal.Color:  Lively amber.

Taste:  Malty, but not overpowering. Medium body. Vegetal, grassy, some bitterness. Lingering aftertaste.

Comments:  The initial infusion of this tea highlights the region that this black tea originated from. The vegetal taste,  and what I perceived as bitterness, reminded me of a Japanese green tea. Definitely a unique twist on black tea.

Second Infusion:

NaturaliTea Japanese Black Tea - 2nd Infusion
NaturaliTea Japanese Black Tea – 2nd Infusion
Water Temperature:  205ºF  (96ºC)
Steep Time:  3 Minutes and 30 secondsAroma:  Lightly malty, vegetalColor:  Slightly lighter amber than first infusion.

Taste:  Lighter malty and vegetal tastes. Less bitterness. Lighter body and not as strong aftertaste.

Comments:  The taste of the second infusion was overall noticeably lighter than the first. The positive side of this being the reduction of bitterness. This second infusion did not have the punch that the first infusion had. For some tea drinkers, this is an improvement. For those who like the punch, the second infusion will not be as good as the first.

Third Infusion:

NaturaliTea Japanese Black Tea - 3rd Infusion
NaturaliTea Japanese Black Tea – 3rd Infusion

Water Temperature:  205ºF  (96ºC)

Steep Time:  4 Minutes and 0 seconds

Aroma:  Very light malty.

Color:  Orange – light amber.

Taste:  Lighter overall taste and body than the second infusion. Less bitter, less vegetal. Lighter aftertaste.

Comments:  I am not sure if seasoned tea drinkers would consider the third infusion a worthy cup. The taste is quite  light in comparison to the first, and even second, cup. The photo illustrates how much color alone this infusion lost. I  do not believe it is able to produce a fourth infusion.

Leaf Characteristics After Infusions:

NaturaliTea Japanese Black Tea - Infused Leaves
NaturaliTea Japanese Black Tea – Infused Leaves

Color:  Light to dark greens, light to dark brown.

Sizes and Shapes:  All leaf fragments, some stems. No full leaves.

Unique Characteristics:  Looks just like a Japanese green tea looks post infusions, just oxidized. Slightly malty aroma.

Final Comments:  I am always happy to try a new type of tea. This Japanese Black Tea was just that. It was certainly different than any other black tea that I have tried. If you enjoy Japanese green tea, and also enjoy the more common black teas on the market, then I think you will enjoy the Japanese Black Tea, since it resembles tastes from both of those two tea types. Since black tea production is relatively new to Japan, I believe it may take some time before their black teas are as widely accepted and appreciated as some of the more established varieties. However, I expect the Japanese to quickly develop many interesting and tasteful new twists on traditional black teas. Although I cannot say that this tea is an instant favorite of mine, I can say that I will be looking forward to trying more Japanese black teas. Please do give this tea a try, and perhaps you will be introduced to an instant favorite. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to sample this tea, Tealet Teas and NaturaliTea. I am looking forward to sampling your other products within the next couple of days.