Tea tasting on the radio

Last week I received an invitation from Louise Walsh at LMFM to come into their studio and do some tea tasting with presenter, Deirdre Hurly on the radio. It sounded like a great idea but I’ve never done tea tasting on the radio. What could possibly go wrong (apart from drawing a blank on a really obvious question or scalding the presenter with a pot of tea)?

Selecting teas was a challenge though. I didn’t want to start messing with different temperatures so I chose only teas that would need boiling water (i.e. no green or white tea). Myself and a friend spent an afternoon drinking 20 teas and debating the merits of each. We both got jittery from caffeine but decided on one tea and one herbal infusion that the presenter would probably know (earl grey and rooibos) and two teas that she probably wouldn’t (Taiwanese oolong and a pu-ehr).

During the interview I more or less forgot I was on radio, which was great but it also meant that I kept forgetting to describe the various leaves and liquid. Tea tasting involves smell, sight, taste and touch much more so than hearing so I was handing the cups and dried leaves and wet leaves to Deirdre (as I would in a tea tasting) and she described it to the listeners. She was very patient!

I tried to have all the teas brewed beforehand to avoid spillages and calamities but trying to unpack all my equipment and prepare the teas in 80 seconds before the show was a lot of pressure. Next time I’ll brew as I go.

The 20 minute clip (below) can also be downloaded here or the full show from Friday is on the Late Lunch podcast page.

My thanks to Louise Walsh and Deirdre Hurley of the Late Lunch for being so welcoming and fun. No presenters were scalded during the making of this interview ;-).

Japanese Green Teas

I decided yesterday to taste two Japanese green teas together so I could compare them side by side. The first tea, a Sencha, is the most common type of Japanese Green Tea and would be drank on a daily basis in most Japanese homes.  Sencha is harvested in the Spring from the upper leaves of the tea plant that have been in direct sunlight.

The second tea, a Bancha, is also a common every-day tea in Japanese homes. It is made from later harvests of the tea plant or from the lower leaves and stems. It is therefore a coarser tea and it is considered to be a lower quality and less expensive tea than Sencha.

Although Sencha means roasted tea, both Sencha and Bancha are steamed and rolled soon after harvesting. The difference between the two teas is the quality of the leaves used. Where Bancha has come from lower, older leaves it will have less caffeine and less catechin (antioxidant) than sencha. However, where Bancha has come from a later harvest of upper leaves, it could have more catechins. Below is a short video from My Japanese Green Tea of the steaming, drying and rolling process at a Sencha plant

Sencha is considered a fussy tea in terms of preparation. While Bancha is can be prepared with boiling water for 30 seconds, boiling water on Sencha will bring out the bitterness and kill the flavor so Sencha needs a water temperature of ~80°C and a longer brewing time. For my comparison experiment, I decided to brew them both at 80°C for 2 minutes. If you don’t have a thermometer or a thermostatic kettle (I used my new Breville!), you can guess 80°C by waiting for small bubbles to appear on the inside of the kettle.  The bubbles need to be the size of shrimp’s eyes as opposed to crab eyes (85°C) or fish eyes (90°C)!

Looking at the dry leaf, both are flat leaf, emerald green. From the pictures below you can see that the Bancha includes stems. It probably isn’t obvious from the photos but it is clear when you have the leaves in front of you that the Bancha is also less regular and is more dusty. The Sencha has a deep musky aroma with some sweetness while the Bancha is more grassy with a malty sweetness.

Bancha leaves

Bancha leaves

Sencha Leaves

Sencha Leaves

To prepare these teas, I put 3g of tea in a warmed ceramic teapot and add 150ml of water at ~80°C. I steep for 2 minutes. Both give a yellow/green liquor and both are cloudy but the Bancha is noticeably more cloudy. The taste of the Sencha is bright and grassy with a background meaty taste (unami). There is a sweetness at the start that is matched by a bitterness and astringency that comes out later. The Bancha is grassy and malty sweet with less of the meaty flavor and noticeably less astringency. Both are light and refreshing but I would describe the Bancha as milder, gentler green tea.

I combined each with a small pinch of salt beforehand to see how it brings out the sweetness. For the Sencha it mutes the astringency and gives a rounder flavor but I didn’t notice a big difference with the Bancha. Both of these were samples so I don’t know the price but one of my local tea houses has a Sencha for €11/100g and a Bancha for half of that (€5/100g).