My last post ( Wild Organic Tea From Shikoku ) was the first of this series on wild organic tamaryokucha from Shikoku. Just to recap, 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.
The next teas I am reviewing from Country Friend Farm are unlike any Japanese tea I have tasted! Last month when I tasted the first four in the set, I really did feel a rather Chinese essence to them. So much so that this month, I decided to pull out my Chinese accoutrements and go gong fu on them! And I wasn’t wrong in my inspiration. Here is what I discovered…
Mori no naka no ocha — which literally translated means “tea from the middle of the forest” — is indeed as the name suggests: The farmers took a cutting from a tea plant in the middle of the forest in Shikoku (though they don’t specify the exact area) and created seedlings from it to cultivate. Allowing the plants to grow wild, they use cedar root and hinoki (white cypress) for the compost in their natural farming technique. The cedar root is what keeps the bugs away and allows the plant to grow wild without harm.
The leaves are plucked, steamed, and then put in an iron pan resembling a giant wok. The leaves are then fully dried under a heat so gentle that the leaves can be tumbled by hand to keep them from burning and adds the curled shape.
I made this tea gong fu style in a tiny ceramic gyokuro kyusu where it yielded a miraculous four steepings before I ate the leaves. A remarkable buttery flavor hit me in the first sip. The robust, hard, and somewhat balled-up leaves gave me a hint to use a higher temperature water and longer steeping time.
I made it using 85°C water for the first steep of 2 minutes. I increased the temperature to 90°C for the next three steepings and kept increasing the time too, just like a Chinese oolong. I lost the buttery taste on the next three steepings (the fourth was pretty lame to be honest) but a lovely, deep floral — almost peppery — quality came through in varying degrees in the second and third steep – a taste I have not seen in traditional Japanese tamaryokucha. Overall, I’d call this a tamaryokucha hingeing on a black tea.
Mitsuranko has been hunted from thickets in the woods. It is completely wild so there has been no human interference whatsoever. The ground in this particular wooded area in Shikoku is heavily mineralized with rocks and gravel in the soil. I was half wondering if it would taste like a Wuyi Mountain Red Robe…A tea grown straight out of rock on the side of one of three mountain faces on Wuyi Mountain in China.
The farmers who make mitsuranko say this mineral-rich, rocky soil is what contributes to the pronounced honey or nectar fragrance in the liquor – but I’m taking their word on this!
After hand plucking, the leaves are slightly wilted in large flat bamboo baskets overnight to oxidize the tea slowly. It is then pan-fired in an iron wok-like pan just like a Chinese oolong.
Using a Yixing pot for this second tea tasting transported me straight over to China. I’m glad I opted for this tiny clay pot which no doubt affected the taste, much like a Tokoname pot enhances a sencha or kabusecha.
I have to be honest here…I nearly fainted when I tried mitsuranko! If I had a blindfold on, I would have put money on the table for betting it was a seriously high-grade Taiwanese Te Kuan Yin! Smooth as velvet, highly floral in comparison to a sencha, and a lingering sweetness on the backend of this tea. Nothing peppery or that classic iron wok flavoring so common with a tamaryokucha.
( I’m half wondering if this is simply a Japanese oolong but the Happy Country Friend Farm didn’t have the gumption to call it an oolong! )
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