Producing area of tea, essentially steamed tamaryokucha, Higashi-Sonogi, in the Nagasaki prefecture, often remains in the shadow of its very close neighbor Ureshino (Saga prefecture) also primarily producer of tamaryokucha. If the “Sonogi tea” is less known than that of Ureshino, it is of course because it is a producing area that has developed recently, after the war. But it is also because Sonogi’s tea is mostly sold on the Ureshino market, and then sold as Ureshino tea. Indeed, while the demand for tea increased significantly for domestic consumption in the 50s and 60s, Sonogi developed as a support for the production of Ureshino. It must be said that Sonogi is facing the sea, south of the mountains that separates it from Ureshino, and from this fact, Sonogi enjoys a milder climate, and earlier harvests. Today, in the Ureshino market, Sonogi teas tend to be more highly priced than Ureshino ones!
Also, these two regions have in common a clay soil, reputed difficult for tea, and it is easy to understand why these regions have adopted mostly shaded and strongly steamed teas, ie not only to follow market trends, but also to adapt to this terroir.
Mr. Matsuo is one of the region’s well-known producers, collecting awards in recent years. Exploiting several cultivars, I was surprised to find Samidori! Indeed, this tea plant varietal, developed from a zairai tea plant of Uji, is widespread in Kyôto for high-end gyokuro and tencha (matcha), but is very rare elsewhere.
Despite strong steaming, the soup of this tamaryokucha is still clear, the leaves are well kneaded and rolled, not just reduced to powder.
This tea has a very strong scent, mainly from firing (final drying hi-ire) strong, but extremely well controlled. We then have very warm scents, fruity, vanilla, coconut.
In the mouth, the tea is of course very present, but has fluidity, without too much thickness, this tea is strong but not overwhelming. The overall impression is fruity, with an important umami, but again not overwhelming. On the after taste there are green notes evoking cooked vegetables but also aromatic herbs.
The hot and sweet dominant tendency in first infusion decreases a little on the following infusions, leaving more room for the green notes, where one then feels aromas evoking the conifer.
This type of tea long steamed and shaded is not very present in my selection, but I must bow before the mastery of the work of this producer, so I would propose other for the 2018 season, his tamaryokucha offering examples of quality teas of this region (Sonogi, Ureshino), and making a point of equilibrium with my Ureshino’s tamaryokucha by Mr. Ota who works in a very different way, rare, probably more old-fashioned.
Finally, I will talk about it again soon, but I have just launched a series of traditional regional bancha.