Liquid Jade No. 1 – Sencha Mandokoro

17,4063,40

Liquid Jade No. 1 – Sencha Mandokoro is in many ways not like any other Sencha… In terms of taste, the naturally cultivated tea from the village of the same name in Japan’s Shiga prefecture benefits from traditional hand-picking and the uncompromised input from the wealth of a natural, biodiverse environment, while the roots of the seed-grown tea plants, reaching meters-deep into the ground, even really bring that wealth to bear.

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Liquid Jade No. 1 - Sencha Mandokoro - trad. Sencha from naturally cultivated, seed-grown native tea bushes in Mandokoro, Shiga prefecture, Japan

Liquid Jade No. 1 – Sencha Mandokoro

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Liquid Jade No. 1 – Sencha Mandokoro

Sencha Asamiya is part of the “liquid jade sencha” series by Tea Crane, a trader specialized in naturally cultived teas by small producers in Japan. The operator, Tyas Sösen, is a Belgian by birth who has lived in Japan since his later adolescence. There, as the youngest officially certified tea master of foreign origin, he learned the tea trade from scratch. His love for traditional Japanese Sencha teas of regional character ultimately culminated in the founding of The Tea Crane. The underlying philosophy is a return to the original Japanese Sencha. This means that the cultivation is free of artificial fertilizers and pesticides and comparably low in nitrogen. In addition, it means processing that is free of the industrial mass processes that are often characteristic of tea production in Japan today. These are the features making also this tea a traditional, naturally cultivated Japanese Sencha tea.

Sencha Mandokoro comes from the village of the same name near the city of Higashiomi, Shiga Prefecture, Japan. In the mountainous region 60 kilometers northeast of Kyoto, the tradition of tea cultivation reaches back to the 14th century. What is truly special about Mandokoro, however, is the unprecedented preservation of ancient Japanese tea culture. For example, all tea bushes at “Chaen Musubi Tea Farm” are seed-grown specimen of a locally native tea plant variety. In addition to the already mentioned principles of natural cultivation, the place of origin also stands out because the tea is still exclusively picked by hand here today. The latter in particular makes Sencha Mandokoro a particularly rare and precious jewel among Japan’s green teas.

Taste and Appearance

Sencha Mandokoro is not a Sencha like any other. This becomes obvious already by the sight of the dry leaves. Because this is far from the even appearance that is otherwise typical of Japanese Sencha teas. Rather, the unusually long, sometimes bizarrely shaped, fir-green needles are reminiscent of a wild steep coast’s rugged cliffs. No less unusual is the appearance of the wet tea leaves after infusing. As this beatifully reveals how the leaf is allowed to be – and remain – a leaf in Mandokoro!

The resulting Sencha tea’s taste benefits on the one hand from the wealth of a natural, biodiverse environment’s input. On the other hand, only the deep-reaching roots of the 60-300 years old, seed-grown tea bushes can bring such wealth to bear in the first place. And last but not least, it’s the cool nights and the snow that covers the tea bushes in Mandokoro every winter that give this tea a sweetness we can hardly experience in any other Sencha today .

Liquid Jade No. 1 - Sencha Mandokoro - trad. Sencha from naturally cultivated, seed-grown native tea bushes in Mandokoro, Shiga prefecture, Japan

Mandokoro – Rare Oasis of Ancient Japanese Tea Tradition

Mandokoro is a small village on the western flank of the Suzuka mountain range near Higashiōmi in Shiga prefecture. At the foot of the mountains is the Zen Buddhist Eigenji temple. And the tea gardens, about 300-400m above sea level, look down on the same. The bushes rely on the water from Echi river, which feeds Eigenji damn before entering Yodo river in Osaka.

In the late 14th century, Zen monk Ekkei Shūkaku, then Abbot of Eigenji Temple, discovered that the water and soil in the mountains surrounding the monastery were excellent for growing tea. As a result, he commissioned the residents of two villages located there to devote themselves to tea production. One of these villages was Mandokoro, and tea from here soon became one of Japan’s most popular brands. A Japanese folk song, which Japanese tea pickers have been singing nationwide ever since, dates back to that time. 2 lines of the song, “Uji is Japan’s tea-manufacturing district, Tea comes from Mandokoro”, provide evidence of  Mandokoro’s prominent role in the history of Japanese tea cultivation.

When tea cultivation elsewhere in Japan underwent comprehensive industrialization in the 1970s, time stood still in Mandokoro… Here, the villagers bucked the modern trend from the very beginning. Instead, they wittingly continued to cultivate their shrubs in a natural way. To this day, not a single farm in this mountain village uses pesticides, artificial or animal-based fertilizers. Accordingly, only pampas grass and, occasionally, the residue from the rapeseed oil production, is added to the soil.

Mandokoro - naturally cultivated tea garden near Higashiomi city, Shiga prefecture - the picking of the seed-grown, 60-300+ years old tea bushese is exclusively done by hand until today

Mandokoro

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The Tea Garden / The Producer – Chaen Musubi Tea Farm”

Mandokoro’s ancient tea tradition culminates every year in the annual spring picking gathering of the community members. Then they help each other picking the tea leaves, which to this day takes place exclusively by hand. However, due to the younger generation’s lack of interest in continuing the local tradition of natural tea cultivation and the associated exodus of young people, the average age of the villagers in Mandokoro is well over 50 years now. This makes Ren Yamagata, operator of Chaen Musubi Tea Farm and in her thirties, the youngest villager of working age. For Ren, preserving the centuries-old tradition of natural tea cultivation in Mandokoro is a matter of passion. Therefore, she has decided to take the preservation of this culture into her own hands.

Ren Yamagata - operator of "Chaen Musubi Tea Farm" in Mandokoro

The oldest tea bush in Mandokoro is over 300 years old. However, there are no really “young” tea bushes in Mandokoro either. This in turn is due to the local tradition of “propagating” tea bushes. The modern method of reproducing tea bushes via offshoots, so-called “clones”, has not even found its way here. Instead,  when a bush is no longer productive, tea farmers here cut the bush off just above the ground. In this way, the original roots, reaching meters deep into the ground, are preserved and can produce new, leafy shoots.

Handpicking in Mandokoro, Shiga prefecture, Japan

Handpicking @ Mandokoro

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Handpicking @ Mandokoro

When the tea bushes were sown in Mandokoro, the method of propagating tea bushes by cuttings did not exist. There were also no picking machines back then, which are standard in Japanese tea production today. Accordingly, the tea bushes do not form even rows here, as would be a prerequisite for machine picking. Instead, from a bird’s-eye view, they appear as irregular dots across the terrain. In addition, the tea bushes in Mandokoro grow on slopes, which are generally difficult to access for modern picking machines. And finally, it is the native Mandokoro cultivar itself, whose special growth pattern makes modern machine picking completel impossible.

Now hand picking may be commercially inferior to machine picking, but qualitatively it is not. This is why even conventional tea producers will usually pick small batches of tea leaves for competition purposes by hand. However, the human eye, combined with human judgment, will generally be superior in selecting tea leaves to be picked. For example, humans pick whole leaves, while we see a lot of broken leaves from machine picking. The difference is by no means only of visual nature. This is because oxidation processes with the ambient air will set in immediately at fracture points. These are undesirable in the production of green teas because they adversely affect the flavor of the tea.

Native Mandokoro cultivar

Native Mandokoro Cultivar

The “Cultivar” – Native Mandokoro Varieties

To understand what a “native cultivar” is, one must internalize what we said above about tea plant propagation. A “clone” is always an exact genetic copy of the mother plant. This also serves to achieve consistent taste characteristics with offshoots growing in the same place as the mother plant. However, if you take seeds from the same tea plant and replant them, the effect is similar to human reproduction: we share many characteristics with our parents, but we are not completely alike. Accordingly, seed-raised tea plants will inherit traits from the mother plant, but may also develop individual traits.

In Mandokoro, there have always been only native varieties thriving. There are several reasons for this. Of these, the most obvious explanation is that other species would not survive the cold winters of this region. Then, the native shrubs of mandokoro grow low to the ground and have extremely pliable branches. That is, when snow piles up on them, their flexibility allows them to give in to the weight without breaking under the pressure. If the weight increases further, it pushes the low-growing branches to the ground, this way preventing them from breaking.

300+ years old native Mandokoro tea bush

300+ years old Mandokoro tea bush

The Processing

The processing of Sencha Mandokoro in principle follows the traditional standard of green tea processing in Japan. This means that the tea leaves are treated with hot steam at first right after picking. This serves to stop the enzymatic oxidation processes in the tea leaf. Then the tea leaves are rolled into the characteristic needle shape in 2 consecutive processing steps (kneading and rolling). This takes place using dedicated mechanical devices, serving to fix the actual state achieved by the oxidation stop. After this follows the final drying, reducing the residual moisture in the tea leaf to about 5%..

Preparation

Unlike the typical modern Sencha, Sencha Mandokoro unfolds its individual flavor profile best at an infusion temperature of 90°C. The recommended dosage is about 2-3g of tea leaves per 100ml of as-soft-as-possible water. The first of up to 3 tasty infusions should steep just little beyond 1 minute. For a second infusion, it is then advisable to shorten the steeping time to around 1/2 minute. A third infusion can then infuse for a good 2 minutes. And if you like, a fourth infusion brewed for up to 5 minutes might still prove worth it!

The following blog article provides an overview of the history and basic types of green tea in Japan:

https://siamteas.com/siam-teabloid-2/siam-teabloid-vol-2015/march-2015-japanese-green-tea-history-and-present-face-an-overview/

For more (unshaded) Sencha teas at Siam Tea Shop, follow the link below:

https://www.siam-teas.com/product-category/tea-from-japan/sencha-tea/

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Weight

25g, 50g, 100g

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