Thursday, September 3, 2009

Know your mushi

A comment left by Steven Knoerr pointed out that not everyone reading this blog may know what the different mushi levels are. (Mushi means steamed in Japanese). So here's a brief explanation of them.

Japanese sencha comes in three main categories when it comes to steaming: Asamushi, Chumushi, and Fukamushi.

Asamushi is light steaming. It is most common with shincha in a way to retain the light fresh characteristics of shincha. The leaves are characterized by larger pieces of leaf being intact than the rest as further steaming breaks down the leaves turning them into smaller more particulate pieces. This is not to say that there won't be smaller pieces in the mix, quite the contrary. The appearance of the different levels are all comparative. Asamushi tends to result in a clearer liquor with a light and clean taste to it. It feels more delicate than a chumushi and in my opinion shows the most depth of character.

Chumushi is medium steaming. This is average steaming, and probably the hardest to identify. It is between asamushi and chumushi and has a few characteristics of either end of the spectrum. Most sencha has been chumushi, but it is a changing tide for fukamushi to take center stage. Chumushi is normally what asamushi and fukamushi are compared against. Asamushi is lighter than a chumushi, but a chumushi is lighter than a fukamushi. The flavor is the most traditional of the three and is more of a baseline.

Fukamushi is deep steaming. This is heavy steaming which makes it quite easy to identify the tea. The extra steaming breaks down the leaves further. The leaf typically appears as very small particles with a few long needles mixed in. If you were to place a typical fukamushi tea in a round bowl or the bottom of your teapot and swirl it around, it will have an almost fluid motion to it. Asamushi and chumushi don't do this, the larger pieces don't flow evenly. Fukamushi is supposed to have been developed in response to deteriorating water quality in Japan. Other sources have stated it was due to a decline in the quality of the tea leaves produced. Fukamushi produces a very murky tea liquor as there is a lot of very fine particulate matter that disperses in the tea during steeping. This is most evident after about 1 minute of steeping or on second infusion depending upon how you are steeping your tea. Typically the tea will become a murky forest green color. I find the flavor for fukamushi to be much more up front, after drinking it for a while you can tell that the up front flavor is masking the rest of the flavor that you would see in an asamushi or a chumushi.

Unfortunately even though there are 3 steaming levels, teas are not produced purely as one or the other, the length of the steaming is determined by the tea makers as the leaves come in, so there is a continuum of levels rather than 3 distinct levels. There are teas which are halfway between a chumushi and a fukamushi or an asamushi, or anywhere in between. Because of the lack of distinct levels it can be hard to tell which is which especially between an asamushi and a chumushi. Fukamushi is rather distinctive.


Anonymous said...

This is good to know. Too bad more vendors don't advertise this kind of information for their Sencha here in the states. Perhaps it's because few people could appreciate it. All I know is a good Sencha, to me, can match a fairly good Gyokuro for the enjoyment it offers. --Spirituality of Tea

Kyohei SUGIMOTO said...

Eric, these are the things which even Japanese consumers don't know.

One thing I'd like to add is these steaming levels are determined by tea farmers. And, the flavor you talk in Fukamushi is controled by tea blender/roaster. Some blender/roaster like strong up-front flavor, but some like light and soft flavor. So there is Fukamushi which have very soft flavor just like Chumushi or Asamushi.

jowdjbrown said...

It feels more delicate than a chumushi and in my opinion shows the most depth of matcha powder melbourne