Tamaryokucha, also called guricha for its distinct curled leaf, is a processed tea that is hand-tossed in a large wok-like iron pan under a gentle heat to give it a deeper taste and fragrance.
After a few years of searching, Chiki Tea started carrying a tamaryokucha called Samurai, so when I stumbled across a box of 8 individually-wrapped 3-gram servings, each with a different label, I honestly didn’t think they would be THAT different.
Well, rules are meant to be broken and the folks at Country Friend Farm in Shikoku have put their own spin on this old favorite, originally made famous in Ureshino, Saga prefecture in Kyushu.
These lovely farmers are more like hunters and gatherers. The tea is WILD and by wild, I mean the way it is grown or hunted. All of the tea is from the mountains in Shikoku, one of the four main Japanese islands, northeast of Kyushu.
Using hotter water than for sencha (80 – 90 C) and longer brewing time, the tea can yield up to 4 steeps and then the leaves can be eaten.
Below I will identify the name of the first four teas I tried (stay tuned over the next two months for the other four!) and how it was produced to give you an idea as to how different they can be.
FURANKOU is produced from a seedling that has been planted and watched but not fussed over. It is considered wild because they simply watched it grow after planting and did nothing else to it.
During harvest season, the leaves are plucked and then placed in a bamboo basket in order to shake and bruise them slightly but not break the leaf membranes. Bruising is done to produced a slower oxidation while a broken membrane will allow for a heavier oxidation. The leaves are then kept in the bamboo basket in a dark area overnight to micro-oxidize by allowing the enzymes to mildly wilt the leaves and start fermentation.
In the morning, the leaves are placed in an iron wok under a gentle heat and hand tossed to stop the oxidation. This gives the tea depth and character and produces a noticeable fragrance that smells like orchid.
Japanese tea is not meant to be oxidized so this is the first and main difference this tea has from traditional Japanese tamaryokucha. This tea is highly fragrant and has a very “Chinese” essence to it. You can identify the oxidation in the steeped whole leaves by the slight redness on the edge of the leaves.
To be concluded in Wild Organic Tea From Shikoku – Part 2
Images provided and copyright held by author