It had been years since I had been so excited for a fukamushi-cha. I propose only few on Thés du Japon, but here is a tea absolutely unique, very particular because of its way of manufacture, but also because it is the cultivar Shizu-Inzatsu 131. It is a rare cultivar but yet very famous, the parent of Fuji-kaori or Sôfû, it is almost a legend, around which the passions have crystallized for several tens of years.
From the Meiji era (1868-1912), tea became an important industry in Japan as an export product. Many efforts were being made by the government to improve the culture of sencha. Thus began the mechanization of production, and from the last quarter of the 19th century began the study and the creation of cultivars. It was at the beginning of the 20th century that Yabukita was created. But before that, the government had set up a project to conserve the genetic variety of plants, and thus tea plants, which led to bringing back to Japan the seeds of many tea – plants from the various producing countries, starting with China, India and Sri Lanka. Thus, the first “inzatsu” variety (abbreviation of “indo-zasshu” 印度雑種 “, or Indian hybrids), crossbreed of indigenous varieties and Indian varieties are developed. These are the” Tada inzatsu varieties ” from Tada Motokichi多田元吉which was sent to China and India to bring back seeds, then to create these hybrids in view of production of Japanese black tea. Benihomare is the most famous, it will be a century later the parent of Benifûki.
But Inzatsu 131 has a different origin. Still in this same quest for diversity, in 1922, a scientist from the Tea Department of the Shizuoka Agricultural Research Center, Maruo Fumio 丸尾文雄 was sent to India, Sri Lanka and Java. He brought back from Assam seeds of the Manipuli variety. If they arrived in Japan, it was not the same for Maruo who died of a tropical disease on the way back in Taiwan.
The seeds were planted at the research center, numbered from 1 to 90. In 1944, from a seed of Manipuli No. 15 is selected and developed this Assam and Japanese hybrid cultivar which will be named under its number at the research center, Shizu-Inzatsu 131, and never received any other name because never officially registered (the registration system of cultivars only begins in 1953, and guess who is the number 1 in the list ? Benihomare!).
The leader of his development is an extremely important figure in the modern history of Japanese tea, a visionary, often misunderstood, Arima Toshiharu 有馬利治 (1912-1999). Although his specialty was primarily the development of cultivars, his passion led him to study fervently all areas of tea making. Beginning in 1938, he was responsible for the development of black tea cultivars at the Miyazaki research center and was transferred to Shizuoka in 1942, where he was still responsible for cultivar development. Besides 131, he is at the origin of the famous cultivars series from seeds of Yabukita, the “7000 series” 7000番系統, known for Shizu-7132, or Yamakai (Shizu-7166). He left the center in 1960 but continued his activity around tea. He had many disciples and followers (notably Morizono Ichiji, the co-developer of Fuji-kaori), and left the image of a very humble and accessible man, discreet but who became passionate about what was being spoken of tea, always ready, on his motorcycle (imagine, this eminent professor of the research center, graduate of the University of Kyoto!), to go to plantation or factory as soon as someone needed his advice.
It is interesting to see that Inzatsu 131 was not developed for potential as black tea, but well as green tea cultivar. Documents from this period described it as a “very hasty cultivar, not very resistant to cold and diseases, having a very special perfume, and adapted to the production of sencha and tamaryokucha”. It seems nonetheless that Arima saw a potential especially for the kama-iri cha at the beginning. Contrary to the tendency of the time, Arima supported the interest of the wilting process. He was also very interested in fukamushi, opposing other scientists as to the reason for the loss of the fragrance of steamed teas, and so on. If he was officially a promoter of Yabukita’s spread, it seems that from a personal point of view, his interest was elsewhere, towards the potential of cultivar like his “baby” Inzatsu 131. The qualities of this cultivar, especially its character, the power of its taste and perfumes were of course recognized, but its perfume was still too special, and it was ultimately rejected by many. Very early, Arima foresaw the Westernization of Japan’s food habits, and for him, tea needed cultivars with punch and powerful aromas to adapt to that. Given the worrying situation of Japanese tea in Japan, we can only agree with him, but perhaps the expected changes were less rapid than he had thought, and that simply Inzatsu 131 and the ideas of Arima have arrived too early (when it begins to distribute cuttings, Japan still depends on US food aid). It is also likely that his iconoclastic ideas were at the origin of his dismissal from the research center of which he became even the director. In the late 1950s, it seems nevertheless that Inzatsu experienced a little success in Shizuoka. But many have introduced it to make kama-iri cha. The father of Koyanagi Tsutomu (in Fujieda, who produces Fuji-kaori cultivar kama-iri cha) also introduced Inzatsu 131 to make kama-iri, which Tsutomu still manufactures today. But in Nearai (Hamamatsu town) Mr. Tarui of Nearaimatsu-Meichaen undertook to make it into sencha, steamed green tea therefore, and even fukamushi-cha. Mr. Tarui is one of those people who have worked with Arima. Faced with the standardization that Yabukita seemed to promise, he wanted to develop teas with personality and get interested in cultivars. Thus, at the research center of which he was still director, Arima presented him Inzatsu 131, Shizu-7132 and Yamakai. It is also on the advice of the latter, to improve the soil of the plantations of Nearai, not conducive to making good tea, that he mixed into the soil green schyst from Tenryû. Arima understood that these minerals could profoundly change the soil. Arima also recommended organic cultivation as well as leaf wilting. But it is not only on these points that the influence of Arima is present in the tea of Nearaimatsu. Arima had first conceived a method of tea rolling/drying operation by passing the sheets between wheels of different sizes exerting pressure, passing through several drying chambers, and then kneaded in a system close to the fourth kneading stage (seijû) of the usual machines. With this method “ichirenshiki” the leaves always advance without waiting to pass from one phase to another. Nevertheless, this method does not allow to give their “traditional” form of needle to the leaves, the project was interrupted. Then, he developed a system of treatment by hot blower of leaves after steaming. This is the opposite of the usual production lines where the sheets are cooled before rolling. Holding the leaves at a temperature of 80 ° C would produce a stronger perfume, while the blower completely removes any excess droplets on the sheets after steaming, thus obtaining a clear, golden liquor. On the other hand, the appearance of the leaves is rather yellow than green. Arima would have liked to combine the qualities of steaming and kama-iri, nevertheless, it also seems that this method did not adapt very well to traditional steaming, but worked well with the leaves spent in the steamer for a long time and with leaves having undergone a wilting (one sees a things link one another). He thought that the essence of tea was taste and fragrance, not shape. A concept used for the development of fukamushi-cha, but not really successful when we see most of the fukamushi today (made on classic lines, originally designed for futsumushi / asamushi), fragrance-free, giving not more than two (and sometimes one) good infusions. This Shizu-Inzatsu 131 cultivar fukamushi sencha from Nearai seems to bear the fruits of the research of Arima Toshihara. Indeed, the line of the factory of Nearaimatsu uses the system of treatment with hot air. Moreover, the machines for kneading the sheets are “Akitsu” type. These machines are no longer manufactured today, but Akitsu had developed a system slightly different from the others (Terada, etc.), working with Arima after he left the research center in 1960. The Akitsu line integrates treatment with hot air, and a continuous circulation of the leaves between each machine from the first stage of rolling and until final drying. In the conventional lines, a given amount of leaves passed a defined time in each machine, but with the Akitsu system the leaves continually advance through the different phases. This system certainly does not integrate vet well the fourth (and last) phase of rolling (seijû) which must give the leaves their needle shape, but after all, this was not an important point in Arima’s work.
This Inzatsu 131 cultivar fukamushi sencha, which seems to be a condensed of the research of our explorer:
One sees leaves a little yellow, and indeed an aspect not very homogeneous, but at the same time it is not powder, only fragmented and rolled leaves.
The perfume is very sweet and floral, but very particular, typical of Inzatsu 131. For me, it is a bewitching perfume. For brewing, start at 80 ° C, it is not a tea (nor a cultivar) which puts forward the umami.
If the liquor obtained does not have the clarity of beautiful mountain teas, it remains much more beautiful and transparent than that of the usual fukamushi. The perfume is there still rich and complex. Of course this unique fragrance of Inzatsu may not please everybody, but at the same time, in this fukamushi its spicy and intoxicating flower notes is counterbalanced by aromas of cooked vegetables like green peas, which gives to the whole a depth in which one would drown. There is no umami here, astringency is soft and not aggressive. There are a lot of aromas, then a finish leaving in the mouth so particular floral impression. Unbelievable for a fukamushi, but this tea easily holds 4 or 5 infusions. The second is the most powerful, fairly tannic, while the third and fourth are much more fluid; with wonderful aromas and floral fragrances.
This tea seems to fulfill all its promises, recalling the fervor of Arima Toshiharu, from the development of the cultivar, to the work on new concepts for the creation of steamed green tea. This Akitsu system has not spread, and these machines are no longer manufactured. They seemed, however, to offer a significant answer at a time when the domination of the fukamushi cha, whereas it is clear that the conventional lines of manufacture are not adapted to it. It is not possible to remake the history, then back to this tea from Nearai, what to say, except that it is exceptional, possessing a unique personality, an incredible force for a fukamushi-cha, but also that it will not please everyone. But it is tea to try absolutely; it is really my tea of the moment. I hope in any case that the reader will have enjoyed to discover a part of the history of Japanese tea that remains a little too much in the Shadow, but shows how the work and passion of a few men has brought so much to this domain, Arima being through Inzatsu 131 and the 7000 series varieties the origin of so many flavors! Inzatsu and then its “sons” Sôfû, Fujikaori, Kondô-wase, or Kurawasa (Shizu-7111) which will gives Kôshun, or Yamakai and Shizu-7132 being the wonderful cultivars we known.
A few years ago, the NHK had created a drama about “Massan”, the historical figure of the Japanese Whiskey, and well I think that we could make a superb saga on Arima.
For this article I refer to the book of Iida Tatsuhiko Inzatsu 131 (2014) (飯田辰彦 『印雑一三一 我、日本茶の「正体」を究めたり！』 みやざき文庫110）