If in the official classification gives “mushisei tamaryoku-cha” (= steamed tamaryoku-cha) and “kama-iri tamaryoku sei-cha” (= chinese style roasted tamaryoku-cha), more generally, when speaks of “tamaryoku-cha” (or “guri-cha”), it refers to the steamed version, then the roasted version is simply referred as “kama-iri cha.”
While the kama-iri cha is very old, more than sencha, the tamaryoku-cha is much more recent, created in the 20s for export to the countries of the Middle East in order to make a steamed tea (to use the existing infrastructure) whose appearance and taste approach Chinese green teas enough to allows to be blended with.
Today tamaryoku-cha is mainly produced in Kyushu, especially in Ureshino (Saga Prefecture). It seems difficult to clearly define its characteristics in comparison to sencha, and clearly, they do not have much similarity to kama-iri cha. It must be said that most tamaryoku-cha producted today are shaded grown like “kabuse-cha” and often ‘’long steamed’’, succumbing to the trend of “fukamushi.” One often finds himself facing a tea which is gustatory speaking nothing really different from “fukamushi sencha” (which does not mean they are not good).
The new tamaryoku-cha by Mr. Ôta I present on Thés du Japon is clearly different from this. I have already presented two kama-iri cha by this producer from Ureshino, but Ôta-san is primarily a producer of tamaryoku cha.
Leaves colors vary from dark olive green to deep emerald green, but without the gloss of “academic” steamed Japanese green teas. They are not dull, color is vivid but with something more dry. In fact you could almost believe it is a kama-iri cha (there is now a lot of very “green” kama-iri cha, both in the aspect and taste, that looks like steamed green teas).
Fragrance has a kind of freshness which is more in the register of aromatic herbs with a touch of mint, rather than in fresh grass aromas register. It is steamed in green tea, with a light sweet floral touch. However, mineral and roasting flavors remind kama-iri cha.
What emerges from the first infusion (70 ° C, 70s, the leaves are still slightly open) is primarily a dense scent of roasting and “sugar”, close to the aromas of some kama-iri cha. Then come in the nose and mouth aromas of herbs and peat. The liquor has a strong presence on the palate with an immediate attack, sweetness and lots of length.
Let’s speak about the leaves themselves. This tea is composed of three different cultivar. First of Yabukita shaded grown at low altitude (about 150m), then, Yabukita and Sayama-kaori grown without shading at higher altitude (about 500m). In an obvious manner, the first bring the mellowness, while the others will bring the perfume, but also the depth and relief. Most importantly, Ôta-san is working on a traditional steaming.
If the peated and roasted side fades on the second infusion, there is slight vanilla and floral notes. As this brew coma with hotter water, Sayama-kaori characteristics appear more forcefully. In the mouth it is still very soft, with a dry and mineral texture that would resemble to kama-iri cha or some sencha brown without chemicals. By the way, Mr. Ôta is working with no chemical.
The mellowness is persistent on the palate, very nice, not thick.
The third infusion appears (finally) a little bitter (rather than astringent, this tea is nothing like tannin feeling). The density of the first two infusions gives way to something more stimulating and refreshing. Thus, the contrast with the sweetness of the after-taste is very delectable.
With this green tea, I feel (I may be wrong) to touch what was really originally tamaryoku-ch (or guri,-cha).
I don’t want to say it is an intermediary between kama-iri cha and sencha because it would be reductive and simplistic, but its aromas have a lot in common with kama-iri cha, especially the very “green” ones.
Conversely, the density of the liquor (which may turn into heaviness with this tea if too strongy brew ; I see the influence of the shaded part that composes) is very different from very classic kama-iri cha and their airy and clear liquors, confirming it completely in the family of steamed Japanese green teas.
However, it seems very important to me with this excellent tamaryoku-cha, rich and enduring, is that it shows something more “authentic”, making tamaryoku-cha as a genre in itself, and not as a sub-genre of sencha.
The absence of astringency is often cited as characteristic of tamaryoku-cha, but it seems to me quite wrong in front of many less traditional guri-cha very close to broken “fukamushi sencha”, but with this tea by Mr. Ôta, this checks very well. We also see good endurance, at least four infusions (we could also start with a first infusion warmer and longer as advised by the farmer) difficult to achieve with a sencha in this price range
(* Let’s remember what’s differs from sencha process. The final phase of rolling/kneading, very strong, which gives the sencha their needle-like shape is not performed. However, before the “drying “, leaves pass through a drum-shaped machine where they are rolled and dried by rolling friction between them. Moreover, as the kama-iri cha, the leaves are more difficult to dry thoroughly, so the drying phase is more difficult).
In any case, this tea from Ureshino shows density, endurance, and many possibilities on the modes of infusion. It is a tea to discover to get a better idea of authentic tamaryoku-cha, but may destabilize usual “modern” tamaryoku-cha. I needed a little time to understand it, and writing this article helped me put my thoughts in order, while making me appreciate even more the qualities of this superb tea.