手前茶の 口切にさへ ゆふべ哉
temae cha no kuchikiri ni sae yūbe kana
The tea before me, I break the seal, in the evening
This poem was written in 1806 by one of Japan's most prominent haiku poets, Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶. The term kuchikiri 口切 refers to the unsealing of tea in the winter. After the spring harvest, traditionally (particularly prior to modern refrigeration) tea producers would would seal gyokuro (as well as tencha, the leaf used for matcha) in a jar (tsubo 壷) and store in a cool place (underground or in a cave). The storage during the hot summer and into winter allows the leaf to age, allowing any remaining bitter-tasting catechin to degrade, rounding out the flavor. The tradition has become an event and ceremony in Kyoto and other regions.
The term is also used by poets as a seasonal indicator, adding an additional layer of hidden meaning to the haiku. I'm not sure my translation is entirely accurate...I couldn't figure out the significance of the "ni sae" and the nuance of the "kana"...if you are a student of Japanese poetry, please feel free correct me in the comments!
This tea has followed this process, so we are naming it "kuchikiri" in honor of both the tradition and one of my favorite poets, Kobayashi Issa.
What is also unique is the richness of the umami flavor despite the fact that the leaves were grown organically. Non-organic cultivation allows farmers to infuse their tea plants with nutrients, creating an intensely rich umami flavor--a flavor that also attracts pests, and requires pesticides to deal with the pests. Growing organically, most examples of organic gyokuro can't attain a high level of umami due to the need to avoid leaf damage from insects.
"Kuchikiri" is able to achieve a smooth, rich gyokuro flavor due to the skill of the farmer who grew the leaves for "Kuchikiri", and the refiner who both aged the leaf over the last 9 months as well as green-roasting just enough to enhance the sweetness of the leaf.
Finally, "Kuchikiri" benefits from being a single cultivar, utilizing the naturally umami-rich and bright green saemidori cultivar.
Ingredients: Green tea
Region: Kirishima, Kagoshima, Japan
Shading: 3-4 weeks (approximate), direct covering
Steaming: Regular (but the young, tender leaf crelates a result is similar to fukamushi deep steaming)
Certifications: The 250g bag is certified organic according to the Japan Agricultural Standard. Other sizes are not certified organic.