I went back a couple days later, intent on trying their tasting menu. Yes, that’s right, a tasting menu of matcha.
I guess this city really likes its tea. We have Silk Road, which is awesome, and a slew of other specialty tea purveyors. But this is the first place I’ve heard of, anywhere, that specialises in matcha.
I take a seat at their beautiful wooden bar and Jared, the owner, starts up a friendly conversation. We share stories: He tells me about how he and his wife Miyuki started the business seven years ago, working directly with growers in Uji, Kyōtō; I tell him about my time in Fukuoka and traveling throughout Japan. It isn’t long before the first cup slides onto the bar, Jared adeptly describing growing conditions, brewing techniques, and tasting notes, his eyes alight with a clear passion.
The first they call ‘Butterfly’, a single-origin. It has a freshness, like grass and melon, sharper on the opening with a sweet finish. Each portion is small and intense, meant to be drunk within a few minutes: one gram of powdered tea to sixty grams of water. Jared explains how each transfer between room-temperature vessels causes a 10˚c drop in the temperature of the water. 70˚ is optimal for enjoying matcha, so he measures 90˚ water into a measuring cup, and transfers that to the teacup in which he brews and whisks the tea.
He demonstrates with the next tea: ‘Dragonfly’, also single-origin, but this one organic, and more complex than the last. It tastes almost like white chocolate, not of the cloyingness but of the cocoa buttery aroma, with a tinge of biscuit. It has more inherent sweetness, especially on the finish: almond, raw cane sugar, fresh sesame.
There is so much precision in the craft, just, it seems, like coffee and wine. For example, good-quality matcha is milled to the utmost precision, yielding grains of uniform 3-micron thickness – crucial for bringing forth the complexity of flavour and aroma in the leaf. Anything less than the best processing can turn premium leaves into sub-par matcha.
The next is an estate blend called ‘Nirvana’. It is exceptionally smooth, to the point where it is all I can ruminate on.
The fourth is utterly unique. It is called ‘Crane Flies Above the Clouds’: cherry blossom on the nose, which turns quickly into a deep savouriness, round and full in the mouth, with something (I swear) like fried bacon on the finish. Just sublime. A matcha experience like none I’ve ever had.
After these four, we get to talking about the differences between usu-cha (薄茶) and koi-cha (濃茶) – ‘thin’ tea, which is what I have been tasting, and ‘thick’ tea. Jared offers to brew me a cup of koi-cha with the Crane. Needless to say I am on board with the plan.
It is simply a matter of ratios. Whereas usu-cha uses one gram of tea for sixty of water, koi-cha uses two grams of tea and only fifteen of water. It yields, instead of the familiar liquid viscosity, a thick, intense substance, almost between an emulsion and a foam.
He serves it to me in a chawan (茶碗), or teacup, over one hundred years old, a gift from his wife’s aunt.
Woah. It is so savoury, to the point of umami. It coats the mouth, lingers, with no sediment but the illusion of it, like a cumulus pressed into one cubic centimetre.
I’m floored. Eyes closing and opening slowly, looking around, leaning back and forward in astonishment. Before I can speak, Jared brings me a final cup, ‘on the house’. It is a special they just introduced last week, roguishly named the Masala Matchai: a matcha latte made with ‘Butterfly’, freshly ground black pepper and cinnamon.
It is the best possible version of a compound drink with maccha. No sweetness except from the tea itself and the steamed milk. The spicy complexity of real cinnamon, not the one-note zing of cassia. The fruity allure of fresh black pepper. So simple and immediate. Walking that sweet/savoury line like a pro.
Benjamin said that “all great works of literature either dissolve a genre or invent one. They are, in other words, special cases.” This is the compound drink equivalent.
I tottered out of Jagasilk gastronomically wowed, graced with new knowledge, content with life and all the wonderful people who had come together in their various crafts to set me into such an enriched, softly caffeinated state of thrill and bliss.