Here are two tamaryokucha from Ureshino by Mr. Ota, a producer with whom I have been working for many years now, and who has the rare peculiarity in this region and with this type of tea of making short steaming, on non-shaded leaves.
The “mushisei tamaryokcha”, sometimes called “guricha” or “mushi-guri”, is a type of tea invented in the 1920s and intended for export (I invite those who are surprised by this to dig into my blog about the history of Japanese tea). While sencha exports were losing steam towards the West, it is a question of opening up new markets to Muslim countries close to the Soviet Union, consumers of Chinese green tea, kama- iri type so. As the tea industry in Japan developed around steamed tea, it was necessary to create a steamed tea that resembles kama-iri cha in order to be able to blend it with Chinese green teas. The idea is to remove the sencha final phase of rolling / drying (seijû 精揉) that needle-shaped leaves and replaced by other phases of direct drying in drum type machines.
As a result, there is a tea with warmer aromas and stronger impressions of roasting.
Nowadays, this type of tea is still rare, mainly produced in Ureshino (Saga pref.), Sonogi (Nagasaki pref.) and a bit in Numazu (Shizuoka, where it is presented as a product of Izu served in many ryokan locally).
Also, most are “fukamushi” type (very broken, it is difficult to recognize their characteristic shape) very often shaded, making them look like shaded fukamushi sencha as we find a lot in Yame for example.
So, to get back to my two teas of the day, this producer’s tamaryokucha may seem quite special even though it probably looks more like the original guricha (whether it’s a good thing or not is not the point). He shade some of these teas, but in my approach, I decided to present this year only non-shaded (for tamaryokucha more in the era of time, I now rely on those of Sonogi, by a another well-known producer).
There is no need to explain Yabukita. On the other hand Sayama-midori is less known. This is Sayama- “Midori”, not the most widespread Sayama- “kaori”.
Sayama-midori is one of the first 15 cultivars to be registered in 1953. Number 5 on this historical list, it comes from a selection in Saitama among “zaira”tea seeds from Uji. It then seems to have had some success before Yabukita begin to dominate in the 60s-70s. Today it is extremely rare.
The small plantation of Sayama-midori of our producer from Ureshino is at the top of a small mountain at 450m above sea level, just next to its plantation of another rare and old cultivar Oku-musashi, which is precisely a cross of Sayama-midori and Yamato-midori (another cultivar from the 1953 list, from a Nara seed).
This Sayama-midori tamaryokucha gives a round impression, sweet, mellow and warm. It is very sweet in the mouth, without any astringency, rather light too. The aromas evoke sweet red fruits like raspberry, but also toast and even a small buttered note. This tea has something comforting and strangely refined. A very hot infusion will strongly highlight a warm roasting fragrance.
Besides that, the Yabukita seems much more sharp. Greener, there are aromas of aromatic herbs, mint, a little grilled hazelnut too. In the mouth, there is a bit of astringency despite a sweet general impression. In the after, we find more vegetable notes of cooked vegetables, but which remain light, very different from what a sencha can offer.
Over the infusions, this guricha offer a more quite impression, very fluid, the astringency seems to fade.
In first impression, the Sayama-midori is much more charming than the Yabukita, yet after three infusions, the latter seems more fluid and refined.
One and the other have a solid length in the mouth, which, without heaviness, leaves a light and pleasant sensation.
This article comes when there is not much stock of Sayama-midori left, which I could only have a few pounds.