The vast majority of Japanese green teas are steamed, and kama-iri cha (pan-fired like Chinese teas to stop oxidation) are very rare. They are very interesting, and I have been trying for many years to promote them via Thés du Japon and various events here in Japan. It is the southern island of Kyûshû, the Kumamoto and especially Miyazaki prefectures which form now the center of this tradition. In particular, in Miyazaki, the small mountain communes of Gokase and Takachiho are a kind of Mecca of the kama-iri cha.
This year I present for the first time teas by Mr. Kai from Takachiho. Along with Mr. Miyazaki from Gokase and a few others, he is one of the very well-known figures of the genre. From pan-firing to finishing, he performs a very clean job, giving typical kama-iri, while exploiting a large number of cultivars, notably varieties originated from Miyazaki prefecture, such as Mine-kaori and Yamanami that I am presenting today. These two cultivars were developed at the Miyazaki research center, with a Caucasian variety for first and Chinese (Hubei) for the second. Both are considered kama-iri cha cultivars, and although very different, they have strong characteristics.
It is first of all the scent of grilled chestnuts representative of kama-iri cha typical of Kyûshû and the scent of cooked rice representative of this cultivar Mine-kaori which are remarkable, nevertheless, in the background, one finds aromas of Confectionery, sweet and floral.
Although very fluid in the mouth and in the throat, this tea does not lack by presence in the mouth, leaving a pleasant and sweet after-taste sensation. There is no astringency.
There is something in the perfume of the second infusion that reminds me of caramel with very creamy salted butter. The liquor gains in fluidity, more aerial in the mouth, with more aromas “grilled”.
If we are to compare it to the Mine-kaori from the Gokase, I would say that this Takachiho tea gives less emphasis to the characteristics of the cultivar but has a greater aromatic richness and can be more elegant too.
With Yamanami, we have aromas more difficult to define. The tones of grilled chestnuts or sweet potatoes are very light, and we are dealing with fragrances of medicinal herbs, camphorated, almost menthol. However, when it cools, it also feels something sweeter, almost red fruit.
In the mouth one feels astringency, a stimulating sensation that lasts to gradually transform into a sweeter, but still strong, slightly peppery feeling. We also have aromas of leather and old wood.
Here again, the second infusion offers a more calm tea, with still this impression of caramel, but a bit bitter this time.
Generally, this Yamanami is quite different from Mine-kaori, less typical for a kama-iri cha, more unusual, very powerful and long in mouth as well.
Mr. Kai’s teas offer a slightly different style from Mr. Miyazaki’s in the neighboring Gokase commune. A must therefore for fans of the genre.