Updated: Aug 5
If you are a Japanese tea lover like me you might have possibly heard these terms before. However, you might not be able to say what do they exactly mean, why are they important or what's the difference from one to another.
It can be a bit confusing. I have also been really confused back in the day, about many things related to Japanese teas, including all these terms. This is the reason why I decided to write a dedicated article about the different ways of steaming the tea leaves in Japan, to shed some light on the true meaning of each of the steaming process.
What do these terms mean?
Asamushi (浅蒸し) chuumushi (中蒸し) fukamushi (深蒸し) refer to the amount of time the tea leaves have been steamed for. The leaves are steamed in order to stop their oxidation process. It is what we usually call killing the green within the tea industry & a method widely used in the Japanese green tea production.
The steaming process is of great importance; not only to stop the tea leaves oxidative process but also to determine the taste & aroma of the tea. Plus it is said that if the leaves were heated without having been steamed first, the quality of the leaves would be dramatically reduced. So steaming seems to help to preserve their quality. The difference between one steaming method to the next is the amount of time the tea leaves are steamed for. Asamushi, lightly steamed tea, between 20 to 40 seconds, the leaves look like large needles, they produce a clear liquor. They are aromatic & keep a sweet taste, typically associated with fine tea production. Favoured by the old & new generations alike.
Chuumushi, medium or moderately steamed tea, 40 seconds to 60 seconds, the leaves look slightly thinner & lighter in colour, their liquor can be described as a mellow & harmonious mix between richness & astringency. A tea for almost every palate.
Fukamushi, deeply steamed tea, 60 to 180 seconds, it contains broken down tea leaves with some tea dust, the leaves produce a deep intense green liquor with elegant sweetness & slightly astringent. The tannins are blown away by the deep steaming which results in a strong yet sweet tea.
The truth is that there is not an official set of guidelines or standards for steaming times. Therefore, the amount of time & also the way to refer to a particular method might vary from region to region.
While lightly steamed teas look a bit greenish/yellowish/golden in colour, deeply steamed teas look dark green with some turbidity. The medium steamed leaves look a bit in between asamushi & fukamushi leaves.
Typically, the production of asamushi tea has been attributed to the Uji (宇治市) area in Kyoto (京都)whereas fukamushi tea production is attributed to Shizuoka (静岡県.) But not all the steaming methods can be used for all types of tea leaves . It is a decision of the farmer or tea master which of the steaming methods to use based on the appearance of the tea leaves. So we can easily find asamushi, chuumushi or fukamushi teas in a number of regions around Japan.
Sometimes, the farmers or tea masters can adjust the steaming methods slightly, these aren't so frequently used such as super lightly steamed. Also they seem to be using the term Futsumushi (普通蒸し regularly steamed) to refer to asamushi interchangeably. Futsumushi is the chosen official word to be used in competitions, by the Ministry of Agriculture, the Japanese Tea Instructors Association & so forth. Extremely shallow steaming is also mentioned some times, tea leaves get steamed between 10 to 20 seconds. The flavour profile of the leaves processed using this steaming method is sweet & astringent, the leaves are solid due to the very short steaming method used. Fukamushicha or deeply steamed tea is also known as specially steamed tea in Japan. It is said that there is a tendency with regards of steaming type preference among Japanese tea farmers; asamushi seems to be favoured by people who live in the mountains whereas fukamushi is a favourite of those who live along the city or by the sea.
The mountainous land is hard & steep for the most part, for this reason, fertilizers aren't as effective since they are diluted away. There are also a lot of trees surrounding the tea bushes which partially blocks some of the sunlight. The tea leaves might come up as fragile & thin, by lightly steaming them the aroma of the leaves gets condensed enhancing the natural fragrance of the tea. Fukamushicha on the other hand is mainly made in flat & land areas. There are barely any trees blocking the light of the sun, fertilizers are more effective. This makes the leaves a bit sturdier & with an umami rich flavour. However, when kneaded they aren't so flexible & they don't look so appealing, deep steaming helps to bring out the taste of the leaves. Also, since these leaves contain more nitrogen it affects their fragrance, ionone & indole aromas can be noticed. Steaming them for longer helps to get rid off undesired smells but also makes tea leaves aroma weaker. This explains why deep steamed teas have a subtle aroma but a powerful taste. It also seems there was a time when light steaming was really popular. However, its popularity faded & fukamushi became the trend until not long ago when some customers were missing the refreshing & delicate flavor of asamushi teas making a comeback. But there were not some many light steamed teas available in the market. A crowdfunding campaign started this year in Japan, claims that if the light steaming process doesn't experience a revival it might be lost within the next 10 years. It seems that industrial processing machines make it easier for farmers to process deeply steamed tea. According to his statement, light steaming processing machines are only made to order since the number of farmers who make lightly steamed teas is incredibly low. How long have been these methods around for?
Until fukamushi steaming process was introduced, asamushi was the method in use. According to what I have found out during my research to write this article, deep steaming is a kind of relatively new process that hasn't been around for so long. It is said that farmers started to use this steaming method around 1960, after years of research.
Four difference tea production areas are currently claiming the invention of the deep steaming process; Kikugawa (菊川市), Makinohara (牧之原市), Kakegawa (掛川市), and Shimada (島田市) yet their claims cannot be verified due to lack of documentation. Regarding to asamushi, word goes around that the way the sencha teas are processed is attributed to Sosetsu Nagatani also known as Nagatani Soen from a wealthy family in Ujitawara (宇治田原町), who spent 15 years trying to improve how sencha was processed in Japan . Initially because he wasn't allowed to shade his tea plants, he wanted to find a method to improve the quality of his teas without the need of shading them.
His teas weren't well received in the traditional Kyoto so he travelled to Edo & visited a number of tea sellers until one got struck by how good it was so he bought the teas & asked him to bring more the following year. Nagatani didn't keep the secret to himself but spread the word around so many more farmers could also benefit from his discovery. There is more to this than just the small paragraphs above. And of course like everything related to past times, it is not so simple. Not many records are found & when available, the information contained in them doesn't always match. What's the reason behind choosing a steaming method?
Apart from some of the reasons already mentioned above. If the tea leaves are steamed for a long time, their cell walls will easily collapse producing a broken down tea with small particles that will be transferred into the brew & consumed by drinking the brew. Since it is believed that around 75% of the components found in the tea leaves aren't extracted when brewing the teas hot, fukamushicha allows consumers to ingest small parts of the leaves in a similar fashion than with matcha. In this way all the beneficial components are ingested contributing to the overall health & well being of those who might choose to drink this type of tea. Using deep steaming to process the tea leaves is considered a rarity around the world & it is used almost exclusively in Japan. If what we want is to retain the shape of the tea leaves & we want them to be needle shaped, using light steaming or asamushi is the way forward. When is the steaming process taking place? The Japanese tea process is pretty much the same for almost of all the green teas with some exceptions, such as matcha which follows a completely different process than the rest of the Japanese green teas. Or pan fried teas which are processed using Chinese style methods. However, when the time of steaming the tea leaves comes, the time is adjusted depending on what type of leaves we intend to process. Japanese green tea processing generally goes as follows:
Primary process (aracha)
2. Fanning & humidifying 3. Steaming
5. Pressing 6.First rolling
7. Rolling & twisting
8. Second rolling
9. Final rolling
Secondary process (finished tea)
Refining As you can see, the amount of time the tea leaves will be steamed for is decided early in the process.
Which one should I choose then?
It seems that lightly steamed teas as highly regarded due to their aroma, it is believed that they represent the true essence of Japanese teas. In addition, the shape of the tea leaves is seemed as beautiful & barely has any residual dust or broken down leaves. So this is the right choice for those who like to enjoy a light & refreshing cup of tea without any residue in their cups. With regards of fukamushicha, it is favoured by those who like to get a quick & deliciously rich brew without much fuss. Also the resulting liquor has an amazing bright green colour & due to its sweetness it is not as easy to feel its bitterness. If you like drinking pretty bright green tea that is sweet yet strong & can be brewed in no time, this is the right choice for you.
For anyone else who like to enjoy the best of both worlds, a chuumushi tea would be the right option since it in the middle between fukamushi & asamuchi. Since there is so much to read about this topic, plus not all the sources I checked agreed in all the points, I might update this article once I find more accurate or updated information. Have you ever had any of these Japanese teas? Which one is your favourite? Please comment below! If you liked this article hit like, subscribe to the blog to get notified each time a new post is out. One new article published each Monday.
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