What is Asamushi Cha（浅蒸し茶）
When green tea is the topic, it’s most likely that Japanese green tea is the one being discussed. While green tea originated in China, the Japanese have long embedded the import into their culture, making its identity more closely associated with their country.
Of course, China still produces green tea and remains the largest global source of the product. Still, there’s just something about green tea from Japan, as well as the traditions and ceremonies accompanying it, that is very appealing.
Except for Matcha, this is the usual processing sequence Japanese green tea goes through:
- Fanning and humidifying
- First rolling
- Rolling and twisting
- Second rolling
- Final rolling
What is the green tea steaming process?
Japanese green tea is distinctive from Chinese green tea in that it is steamed, whereas the latter is pan-fired (in most cases) to fix it. “Fixing” or “killing the green” is the term used for the process of halting the leaves’ oxidation and fermentation with the use of heat.
Steaming is paramount to the production of Japanese green tea. Not only does it “fix” the tea leaves, but it also determines the various qualities – such as taste, aroma, and color – the end tea drink is to have.
Steaming methods vary depending on their duration. These are the terms used to differentiate them from each other. Steaming time may differ slightly, depending on the source.
- Asamushi (浅蒸し) – light steaming, between 20 to 40 seconds.
- GokuAsamushi （極浅蒸し）- extremely light steaming, between 10 to 20 seconds.
- Chuumushi （中蒸し）- moderate steaming, between 40 to 60 seconds.
- Fukamushi（深蒸し） – deep steaming, between 60 seconds to 180 seconds
What is Asamushi Cha or lightly-steamed tea?
When people mention Asamushi Cha, the general assumption is that the tea leaves involved are Sencha, the most common type of green tea, but asamushi can be done to other kinds of tea leaves as well. Still, it’s not to be assumed that the different steaming methods are suitable for all types of tea leaves. The choice largely rests on the tea master, based on the tea leaves’ appearance.
How did Asamushi Cha originate?
These days, the happy medium Chuumushi Cha is the standard. So when you buy Sencha without any accompanying qualifier, the assumption is that it’s Chuumushi Cha. Nonetheless, it was the light steaming method that had been in use as the standard fixing process for hundreds of years. That’s why the term “Futsumushi Cha” or “regularly steamed tea” is also used to refer to Asamushi Cha, although some distinguish it as tea that is steamed along the longer end of the asamushi spectrum, around 30 to 40 seconds.
The custom goes back to 1738 in the late Edo period. One Soen Nagatani in Ujitawara-cho in Kyoto Prefecture established the asamushi way with the goal of steaming at a minimal duration just for the purpose of stopping the enzyme function. This way, the original taste and aroma of the tea leaves are retained as much as possible.
While being allowed to preserve as many as possible of the original qualities of the leaves is mostly a good thing, it’s important to note that this could include some less than desirable traits. For instance, if there were problems encountered during cultivation, they could manifest as greater astringency or bitterness in the flavor. Of course, the leaves will continue to bear this quality even after steaming, but, for the most part, Asamushi Cha is all about reflecting the desirable, unique characteristics of the cultivar. Examples of cultivar-specific traits are aromas tinged with mountain or seaweed-like scents, flavors with clear sweet or umami tastes, etc.
While asamushi was the common practice early on, there isn’t an official standard for steaming times. It typically varies from region to region. In terms of the Asamushi Cha, its production is most closely associated with the Uji area in Kyoto, where it originated. The general belief is that Asamushi Cha is favored by those who live in the mountains. Its opposite, Fukamushi Cha, is preferred by those who live in the city or by the sea. Fukamushi Cha is also known as specially-steamed tea and is more common in Shizuoka. You can read more about it here.
What are the characteristics of Asamushi Cha?
A lot of Asamushi Cha comes from mountain tea leaves. Since the land in the mountains is often hard and steeply inclined, fertilizers are less effective due to being easily washed away. In addition, there is often an abundance of surrounding trees, casting a shadow on the tea bushes. These typically lead to thinner and more fragile leaves, which are best fixed through light steaming.
The same can be said about valley tea. Following the same rationale, tea bushes grown in a valley area don’t get much sun exposure, leading to narrower and more delicate leaves, making asamushi the most suitable method for steaming them.
No matter from where its leaves originate, the following are the general characteristics of Asamushi Cha.
Original tea essence
Asamushi allows the leaves’ aroma to be condensed, enhancing the tea’s natural fragrance.
Better-preserved leaf shape
A light steaming keeps the leaves more supple, allowing them to keep their shape and preventing breaking or pulverizing and creating residual dust.
Clear yellowish tea
Asamushi Cha provides a clear, light green drink, closer to yellow than actual green.
Asamushi Cha presents as a light and refreshing drink. It is also slightly tannic, tending to be a bit more astringent. The taste is similar to fresh grass or green vegetables.
How is Asamushi Cha brewed?
Since the leaves keep a uniform long and narrow shape, any teapot is suitable for brewing Asamushi Cha. The recommended water used for making green tea is either spring water or filtered water. Here is the brewing suggestion for Asamushi Cha:
Gram (tea) per 1 oz or 30 ml (water) ratio is .6. In simpler terms, use about two teaspoons of tea for about 12 ounces or 365 ml of water.
Brewing time is one and a half minutes or 90 seconds at 175 degrees Fahrenheit or 80 degrees Celsius.
They say that Asamushi Cha gives a more elegant, refreshing drink. If you particularly enjoy a strong aroma in your drink and prefer to experience the true essence of the leaves used, this is the kind of green tea you’re sure to appreciate,
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