April 2024 Tea Subscription


Thank you for coming onboard Parchmen & Co and travel with us to savour our world in a cup!

We aim to bring tea drinkers into the world of very fine and exclusive teas. These teas used to be inaccessible to commoners in time gone by, but today we are able to bring it to you via our network of sourcing direct from the farms and our friendship with the producers.

In the month of April 2024, we are featuring two green teas and a wulong tea, namely:

- 2023 Enshi Jade Dew + Enshi Matcha green tea 抹茶恩施玉露 10g
- 2023 Saitama Sayama Matcha 'Meisho' green tea 埼玉狭山抹茶明松 10g
- 2023 Phoenix Dancong White Leaf wulong tea 凤凰单丛白叶 10g

The story of Jade Dew is one of tea romance between China and Japan for a millennium. It started when Japanese Buddhist monks came to China to learn Buddhism during the Tang dynasty, and they took part in the daily monasterial routine of tea cultivation and making. The techniques and tea seeds were then imported to Japan by Myoan Yosai (明菴栄西) who in 1202 founded Japan’s first Zen temple in Kyoto called Kennin-ji (建仁寺), in which he was buried. The technique of steaming tea leaves to make green tea has become the default method of tea making in Japan today but is exclusively used in Enshi to make Jade Dew in China. Tea making techniques remained much the same way from the Tang to the Yuan dynasties, with development only in form and style. Rough tea cakes of the Tang dynasty became neatly pressed with auspicious patterns of dragons and phoenixes during the Song dynasty and continued till the Yuan dynasty. Serving styles also became more refined during the Song dynasty with the whisking of tea powder in a small bowl to make a thick foamy beverage instead of directly boiling the tea powder in a pot with salt during Tang dynasty. This also gave rise to the development of paraphernalia for this style of tea whisking which was then exported again to Japan to subsequently become the standard tools for the Japanese tea ceremony.

During the Ming dynasty (since mid 14th century), the royal court outlawed tea cakes and favoured loose leaf tea. Tea steaming which aided in tea leaves sticking together to make tea cakes now became an obstacle to the shaping of individual leaf in the loose form. New methods and equipment became popular, leading to pan-frying becoming the dominant method of tea processing. At this time, while Enshi as a tea region was affected by this new law, the inaccessibility of its mountainous area meant that new techniques and equipment had problems reaching the tribes who made the tea. As everyone advanced to the new style of tea making, Enshi continued their old ways which was frozen in time to become the living fossil of the ancient tea making world. In parallel, Japan was in the stage of refinement of their tea ceremony protocol, with the Cha-no-yu steps developed by Sen no Rikyu (千利休) towards the end of the 16th century. This ceremony was developed for green tea powder. A softer tea was needed to achieve a good flavour, and the steaming method remained important in achieving this. Henceforth from the Ming dynasty, Chinese and Japanese teas parted ways in tea style. While China moved forward with loose tea leaves, Japan was frozen in tea time on green tea powder and steaming of tea leaves. It was later that Japanese loose leaf teas became popular.

The Jade Dew was previously known as Jade Green (玉绿) and changed name to the present form in 1939, and Japan adopted the same name to refer to their highest grade of green tea (gyokuro) made with similar methods. Powdered green tea fell out of favour since the Ming dynasty but is now making a comeback in China in the form of matcha lattes. Blending the tea leaves with the tea powder seems like a cross of styles from the two different time periods of tea cakes and loose leaf tea. Steamed green tea seems to have come full circle with the grinding of Enshi Jade Dew to blend with its own loose leaf form. A creation of the tea merchant Golden Fruit (金果), this tea is only available from them. Enshi is an area rich in the trace element of selenium, which carries a multitude of health benefits. 

We are brewing this tea in our Parchmen Glass Gaiwan, at 3g to 120 ml of 75°C water, for 45 sec. The dry leaves are fully coated with matcha powder. In the brew, the matcha powder gives the weight and brightness while the Jade Dew gives the umami and the sweet nutty notes. The brewed leaves are a galore of sweet chestnuts, sweet potatoes and purple flowers. The brew is greenish, which departs from the usual yellow of a Chinese green tea. In the palette, it is surprisingly bright and refreshing, on a heavier body given by the suspension of matcha powder in the brew. The starchy and nutty sweetness is modulated by the vegetal notes of the matcha powder, combining to give a hint of mango and a fresh green aroma that is neither too pungently green nor nutty. The matcha is not at all bitter but sweet instead. It reduces with each brew, as evidenced by the changing of brew colour from green to greenish-yellow in the third brew. The effect of the reduced matcha could be felt from the weakening body and increasing nuttiness. This tea is also incredibly palatable when cold. We are brewing it at the same parameter with half the water, i.e. 60 ml, and then pouring out the tea over 60 ml of ice. It is an iced tea made for the hot weather of Singapore.    

Following the theme of springtime and green tea, our next tea is a matcha from Japan. Most are familiar with matcha from Kyoto, but of the 47 prefectures of Japan, in fact 44 of them produce tea except for Hokkaido, Osaka and Yamagata. We learnt about Sayama teas when we held a tocha (斗茶) session during COVID together with NPO (Non Profit Organisation) Agriculture Support Team in Saitama. Sayama tea is produced in Saitama Prefecture and the western region of Tokyo adjacent to Saitama Prefecture, mainly at Sayama Hills region. It is a registered regional trademark. Always in the background of the tea industry and mostly unheard of outside Japan, Sayama had made a mark in Japanese tea in the early years of the 19th century by inventing a tea roasting technique known as Sayama Hiire (狭山火入) based on the Kyoto Uji technique. Despite its low profile, Sayama teas holds an honour as one of top three famous teas, the other two being Shizuoka teas and Kyoto teas. As the saying goes: The colour of Shizuoka teas, the aroma of Uji teas, the flavour of Sayama teas (“静冈の色,宇治の香,狭山の味”). 

Sayama teas are located in the northern tea production region of Japan. Having to always brave the cold climate including snow, the tea plants develop thicker leaves which accumulate more pectin and chemical compounds, giving richness of sweetness and a stronger flavour. For the same reason, its production is low and it can only manage two harvests a year - April/May and June/July. The low volume coupled with the existing tea lands located in expensive areas close to cities make high production cost. This explains why low volume cultivation like gyokuro and kabusesencha are avoided. The high intensity of population within Saitama and the greater Tokyo region are a natural market for the tea, making it unnecessary to market the teas elsewhere, hence explaining its low profile in the international tea market.

This matcha is produced by the tea factory Asuka (明日香) which in 2006 was the first matcha factory in the Kanto (関東) region to be established. It is a cooperative 
operated by five tea farmers (Okutomi-en, Yokoda-en, Asama-en, Kubota-en, Miyaoka-en) to produce matcha. This requires the shading of the tea fields for about 30 days before picking, a method uncommon in Sayama. At Asuka, the leaves are steamed and dried without being rolled. During this drying process, a tall brick chimney called a 'tencha furnace' (碾茶炉) is used. At 12m above ground and 3m below, it is indispensable for producing high quality matcha. To make matcha, tencha (碾茶) is first made, and which is finely ground in a milling well containing stone pallets. The freshly ground matcha is allowed to mature for several months before it is ready to be used.

Harvested from the leaves from Yokoda-en (横田園), this matcha is named 'Meisho' - literally translating to bright pine - by Master Minato Sodo, the abbot of Kenninji Temple in Kyoto, to convey his appreciation of Sayama matcha resembling the "bright, dark green color of pine needles held up to bright sunlight.''

We are using a bamboo whisk (chasen, 茶筅) to whisk this matcha swiftly in a ceramic bowl (chawan, 茶碗) to create a foamy and smooth broth, using 5g to 60ml of 60°C water to make a thin beverage called a usucha (薄茶) as well as 5g to 35ml of 60°C water to make a thick beverage called a koicha (濃い茶). Without a bamboo whisk or matcha bowl, one can use a small fork in a mug and stir speedily. The eye is greeted with a delicious bright green colour, just as its name suggests, and the nose sniffs an unmistakable fragrance of seaweed, translating into a bright flavour of roasted nuts and flowers, in a rich sweetness with pleasant astringency and bitterness which dissipate into a clean and nutty afterflavour.

The third tea today is a wulong tea from our usual Phoenix Mountain in Chaozhou, Guangdong. It is curiously called White Leaf, because its leaves seem to lighten after brewing. This is in contrast to the darker greenish shade in the Dark Leaf (乌叶), the straightforward nomenclature an easy way to differentiate the leaves in Phoenix Mountain. Our White Leaf is harvested from trees of about 80 years old, and are cultivated at 600m on one of the spurs of Wudong Mountain like our Honey Orchid. Being a 'dancong' which is a result of field selection, it depicts very unambiguous flavour characteristics. On this note, the Honey Orchid has become a benchmark for comparison across the different 'dancong's. In fact, the Honey Orchid is so prevalent and popular it has its own category in local tea competitions. There is a market saying that a well made Honey Orchid is thus named but a badly made one is called a White Leaf. This cannot be further from the truth. Tracing to its roots, this saying stems from the fact that a White Leaf often follows the processing methods of Honey Orchid. In fact, it is sold as Honey Orchid, which throws some shade into the true meaning of the term 'dancong'. Strictly speaking, Honey Orchid is a product name, while White Leaf is a variety, i.e. a true 'dancong'. 

This White Leaf, as expected, is strong on honey and orchid aromas. It is picked slightly later and underwent moderate fermentation and moderate roasting. A commercial dancong tea is roasted over embers of chopped wood, while a better quality one uses bamboo. High grade dancongs use olive, lychee or longan wood, the latter being used for our White Leaf.

We are brewing this tea in a Parchmen Glass Gaiwan, at 3.5g to 120 ml of 90°C water for 30 sec, for a total of 3 times. The dry leaves are long and slender and smell deliciously of honey which becomes chocolate cookies when you sniff again. After brewing, the leaves are perfumey from hot to cold, releasing generous scents of honey and orchid, foretelling the defining characteristics in the brew. A bright golden yellow brew, the tea indeed fills the entire palate with amazing shades of sweetness ranging from sugarcane, maltose, condensed milk to golden honey as the dominant notes, followed by secondary notes of orchid flowers which cools to chrysanthemum notes, with a hint of rooty herbs like ginseng. The tea is soft, massaging the tongue and slipping silkily down the throat, leaving behind a trail of perfume that lingers for a long time. We believe the first brew is the best of the three brews, although the defining characteristics are clear in every brew albeit slightly weaker with the next. In comparing the two teas, Honey Orchid is light and sweet with a similar aroma profile and even carries tropical fruits like lychee while the White Leaf is more pronounced in its sweet notes but with a deeper tone, and with a lingering afterflavour. 

Thank you for coming onboard Parchmen & Co and travel with us to savour our world in a cup!