Is it necessary to remind that the two neighboring towns of Gokase and Takachiho, on the north-west of the Miyazaki prefectures are the two high places of production of Kama-iri cha?
After two kama-iri cha from Takachiho, Mine-kaori and Yamanami cultivars, here are two from Gokase, Minami-sayaka and Mine-kaori again.
Until last year, Mr. Miyazaki used for his kama-iri a traditional Japanese-style Mori-shiki type machine (his Mine-kaori), and a Taiwanese machine, giving less typically Japanese kama-iri (his Minami- Sayaka and Yamanami).
The iri-ki japanese machines (to perform the chaqing, or sassei in Japanese, phase of roasting fresh leaves used to stop oxidation) are composed of two parts where the leaves are heated, first a simple rotating drum, then a fixed half-drum in which the leaves are scattered by rotating arms.
This year, Miyazaki san inaugurates a brand new high capacity machine as well as a whole new adapted producing chain. Despite the increase in capacity, its kama-iri remain typical and interesting. Here is this year a Minama-sayaka and of course the Mine-kaori that I love so much. For the moment I didn’t take the Yamanami, more unusual, because I propose one by Mr. Kai from Takachiho.
On the left, Minami-sayaka and on the right Mine-kaori. There is a clear difference in color, Mine-kaori being more typical. Both are cultivars developed at the Miyazaki research center, but if Mine-kaori is registered as a kama-iri cultivar, Minami-sayaka was originally a cultivar dedicated to sencha.
Minami-sayaka does not show very strong perfume, it is light and gives a milky and fruity impression. On the palate one cannot feel umami, but the aromas are sweet and fruity, a little aniseed. This kama-iri cha is robust, and its after-taste is very powerful, always in a sweet, slightly sour. Lasting very long in the mouth, the aromas evolve towards something milky, also reminiscent of peach. Again, this Minami-sayaka does not show a very typical example of kama-iri cha, and characterizes above all by its power in mouth and its characteristic sweetness.
On the other hand, with the Mine-kaori we have something very much more representative. Although they are less strong than that of Mr. Kai of Takachiho, the aromas of grilled chestnuts typical of Japanese kama-iri cha are present. Then, the typical rice-like flavors of this cultivar are strongly emphasized, this time more than with that of Mr. Kai. The contrast between the very sweet perfume and the dry impression in the mouth is interesting.
Mr. Miyazaki is one of the big names of kama-iri cha but he is also known for his black teas. It exploits a large amount of cultivars and uses, still quite experimental sometimes, cultivars such as Minamai-sayaka or Yamanami for black teas, with results of very surprising perfumes. I would even say too surprising sometimes. For now I prefer to leave aside this type of black teas to concentrate on the real black tea cultivars that are Benifûki or, less renown, Benihikari.
It is precisely this latter which I present here.
Here, among the Japanese black teas that I can offer, it is probably not the best in terms of quality, at least the lack of finish is a insignificant defect (certainly common with Japanese black tea for reasons that I’ll may evoke later). Yet it is a black tea very pleasant to drink, and especially a good example, it seems to me, to grasp the characteristics of Benihikari. I hope to propose a later Benifûki of this producer, for a simple comparison.
While the government was still subsidizing black tea production in Japan in the 1960s (the obligation to import black tea to buy an equivalent value of black tea produced in Japan), Benihikari is grown on a cross between Benikaori (itself crossing with a variety from Assam) and a Chinese variety. Considered of very good quality, it was officially registered in 1969, just before the liberalization of Japanese international trade in 1971, which cuts off all demand for the production of black tea, burying Benihikari before even seeing it prove itself. While a new wind began to blow for Japanese black tea, Benifûki, more recent, with more easy to appreciate by everyone flavors, became the star, placing Benihikari to the rank of chimera. With the development of black tea here, we finally see Benihikari reappear, which gives something very different, and therefore very interesting, than Benifûki.
Far from Benifûki’s fruity aromas, Benihikari gives menthol, camphorated and peppered aromas. There is something sweet, but a sweet spice that evokes cinnamon. Any proportion kept, from far away, one could make the connection with the No. 18 from Taiwan (which I like very much), but less sharp, softer.
More in the background, there are also floral notes.
The impression on the palate is light, not tannic, and very fluid, this black tea is very enjoyable to drink.
If a long infusion (2-3 min, 3g, 150ml) is suitable, one can also make multiple infusions, more concentrated and short in gaiwan for example.