Kama-iri cha is a type of Japanese green tea which is now very rare, but also much older than the famous sencha. What most clearly distinguished it from all other types of Japanese green teas is how the oxidation of the leaves is stopped: while all other Japanese green teas undergo a steam treatment, the kama-iri cha is treated by heating on a hot surface, in a sort of large pan somehow. It is therefore a green tea whose oxidation is stopped according to the Chinese method.
It is believed it would have appeared in Japan in the late 16th century. It is the tea called tô-cha 唐茶during the Edo period, which had a hit with the literati of the time.
Its decline began in the late 19th while production of sencha (steamed) is encouraged.
It is now commonly called kama-iri-cha 釜炒り茶 but the official name is kama-iri-sei-cha tamaryoku-cha 釜 炒 り 製 玉 緑茶 (‘’kama’’ designating the kind of pan that is used to stop the process oxidation). It is sometimes called, rarely kama-guri 釜 ぐ り. A true traditional kama-iri cha has olive green leaves, without luster, pulling slightly on white. Its liquor is a beautiful golden yellow, completely translucent. It is a light flavor tea, very refreshing, which focuses on its sweet scent. The term ‘kama-ka’ (釜 香) designate the characteristic scent of kama-iri cha, but in reality, kama-iri cha which clearly present this perfume are now rare, and kama-ka is often confused with green tea firing scent (due to final drying).
(Kama-iri cha from Kumamoto, available on Thés du Japon here)
Kama-iri cha is almost only produced at Kyushu. Although the image of Ureshino (Saga Prefecture) is high, it is actually the Miyazaki Prefecture, especially in mountains of Gokase and Takachiho that one produces the most, followed by the Kumamoto Prefecture. When the oxidation stopping process was done by hand, we distinguished Ureshino (嬉野) method in the departments of Saga and Nagasaki, where the ‘pan’ is place vertically, and the Aoyanagi (青柳) method in the departments of Kumamoto and Miyazaki where the ‘’pan” is placed horizontally.
Manufacturing kama-iri cha
1. Heating freshly picked tea leaves in a machine called iriha-ki (入り葉機), to stop the oxidation. This phase is quite important for quality tea. There are several types of machines, but in the case more current, the temperature of the surface on which the leaves are heat is 300-350 ° C in the first phase. This temperature is lower in the following two phases.
2. Kneading & rolling
The leaves are rolled and kneaded in a machine called jûnen-ki 揉捻機 (also used for sencha).
2.2. This phase is now sometimes followed by an additional kneading/rolling phase in a machine called chûjû-ki 中揉機 (also used for sencha)
3. Prime drying in a machine called suikan-ki 水乾機. There are two types, direct heating, resulting in a more authentic kama-iri cha with its distinctive fragrance, and drying with hot breath, which gives a more greenish tea, closer from steamed Japanese green teas.
4. Second drying phase in a machine called shime–iri ki 締め炒り機.
5. Final drying phase in a machine called kansô-ki 乾燥機. Kama-iri cha is more difficult than sencha to thoroughly dry, thus the temperature is 60 ° C, hotter and longer than for drying sencha.
In fact we see significant differences in the production lines of different producers. The manufacture of kama-iri cha has never been standardized like others Japanese teas like sencha. This is its charm, but also the shortcomings, making the techniques could not improve as much as for sencha, and other types of Japanese tea (steamed). For example some producers introduce a phase coarse rolling/kneading (sojû 粗揉) before jûnen rolling/kneading as for sencha.
It is now very common to see very greenish kama-iri cha, with shiny leaves as sencha, and whose taste tends towards the much umami mellowness, far away from ‘real’ and traditional kama-iri cha. The influence of competition standards is not for nothing that trend.
To infuse, in cases where it is a daily tea (in Kyushu, it is drunk in the same way that is drunk hôji-cha in the rest of the country) one can use very hot water, 95 ° C, but with higher quality first harvest kama-iri cha, 80 ° C for the first infusion is a good basic.
Kama-iri cha is a type of Japanese tea which is too rare and little-known, yet very interesting that deserves to be (re) discovered.
Categories: Types of tea