Kabuse in Japanese means “covering”. The world kabuse literally means to cover and a shaded tea means that its cultivation method involves shading the tea plants before harvesting. A way to think about is like this – putting a hat on your head to protect you from the sun. This is directly referring to the cultivation method of Kabuse-cha, where the leaves are covered and shaded from the sun. So, kabuse tea are the tea leaves plucked from the tea bush, which over a period of time, a porous material has been draped over the bush, while the young tea leaves are produced.
Just how it is done…
In the old days the shading was made by natural dry bamboo reeds and rice straws. However, those materials have become less common due to the fact that the reeds and straws needed to be replaced every year and the preparation took a lot of time and effort. Nowadays the most common way is using synthetic black covers that can be applied repeatedly every year.
At first covering the plants was used to protect the tea leaves from frost and cold, until it was discovered that it actually provoked a change in taste. With this method, in fact, direct sunlight on the plants is reduced and the photosynthesis slows down: this causes different effects on the plant. One is a higher content of chlorophyll, therefore the leaves have a much darker and intense green color. The other effect is more of a specific amino acid called L-theanine. Theanine gives the plant a sweeter taste and also a stronger umami flavor; moreover, it is the responsible for a direct relaxing effect on our brain.
Shading also reduces the amount of the natural element called catechin in the leaves and increases the amount of theanine. Catechin is the element for bitterness and theanine is for mildness and umami. Therefore, kabusecha tastes milder with stronger umami than a sencha. Kabusecha’s aroma is similar to that of gyokuro but at the same time it tastes refreshing like sencha.
How long are the tea plants covered for?
It depends on the farmer, really; and the weather usual plays its role. We can say that for kabuse, plants are shaded sometime between 10 and 20 days before harvest.
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