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Tea From the Gods
I have the best job in the world as a Japanese tea hunter and evangelist. Every day is exciting; but I had no idea what was in store for me when I was recently contacted by the Takachiho Japan Agriculture office in the Miyazaki Prefecture of Kyushu!
The request was simple: “Please can you taste our tea, give us your opinion, and send us your photo tasting it?” How could anyone resist such a delightful offer?
I knew nothing about their tea, but I was vaguely familiar with the Takachiho region because of the famous gorge which is highly publicized in Japan and was a two-hour drive from our former base in Oita.
Takachiho is located in the mountainous region in the northern part of Miyazaki Prefecture, where astonishing natural beauty is everywhere you look. Little did I know that this particular area is also steeped in myths and legends that have been passed down through the ages.
This stunning area is said to be where the Japanese gods first descended to earth and created the islands of Japan. This mystical area consists of three towns – Takachiho, Gokase, and Hinokage. Tea from this particularly spiritual area is known as “tea cultivated by the gods.” It is believed that those who drink it are bestowed with fortitude and prosperity delivered by the fresh flavor and fragrance of the tea.
Like Sedona in Arizona, “power spots” abound in this area which has mythical associations for all the shrines dotted throughout the region. With such beautiful forested landscapes and rice terraces, the area was designated as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) site in December 2015 by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in recognition of its unique cultural identity and tradition of agriculture and forestry.
Having just learned all this, I was incredibly keen to get steeping the four kinds of tea sent to me: a Kamairicha teabag, a Kamairicha in powdered form, a Genmaicha teabag, and a black tea also in a teabag.
The history of Kamairicha dates back to the ancient times. The difficult manufacturing process makes it an exceedingly rare tea, accounting for only 2% of Japan’s total green tea production. Tea is not usually grown in snowy regions, but the temperature difference here is what brings out the tea’s distinct sweet taste and the alluring fragrance.
Takachiho green tea is a Kamairicha (pan-fired during the final stages) and was first created to celebrate Tenson Korin: When the gods descended to earth and created Japan. It was given to me in a teabag so I did have a learning curve in steeping it. I also wondered why such high-quality leaves were put into a bag, but realized it was for the convenience factor rather than for the art of steeping. But once I got the steeping right (on my second try), it truly delivered that noticeable fragrance and taste of a classic high-quality, easy-drinking Japanese green tea. It’s a perfect companion to savory dishes, particularly fish; and if you are into Japanese cuisine, it’s great with sushi or rice-based recipes like ochazuke.
Powdered Green Kamairichi
Takachiho powdered green tea (funmatsucha) is the same Kamairicha, except the leaves are milled with a stone mill similar to matcha. This premium powdered tea is packed in an individual stick so you can put it in a bottle of water on the go – which frankly is how folks in the west would use it – but Japanese will also drink it as a hot tea that you stir with a spoon. Because you are eating the leaf, this tea is filled with a big dose of antioxidants and health-boosting goodness; but it’s important to note that this is not matcha, and hasn’t been shade-grown. I loved this in a bottle of water, but I needed several sticks to make it taste strong enough.
Takachiho Genmaicha is the roasted rice and green tea blend that is often served in sushi bars in the west because everyone seems to love it. The Takachiho genmaicha uses rice grown in the same region, and then it is roasted over an open fire to create a roasty-toasty bakery-bread aroma that makes me go giddy with delight! I have been searching high and low for the perfect genmaicha for Chiki Tea so stay tuned as we might have found it…with a bit of a Chiki modification which they said they could do!
Takachiho black tea (Koucha) is carefully grown in the highest altitude of Kyushu where the snow falls in winter and blesses the crops with sweetness. These strong leaves are carefully fermented to bring out the refined aroma that is unique to tea from this area. It is quite remarkable how “English” it is…so I did what any Brit would do and served it with milk. That addition gave a smooth roundness to the brew and I admit to being shocked at myself for doing it. This tea is exceptional as an “English” Japanese tea, with or without milk – but please don’t ruin it with a slice of lemon!
As soon as the regulations are lifted in Japan to allow me to enter, I’m heading straight to Miyazaki to meet my new tea friends in Takachiho! I think we could all do with drinking tea from the Gods to end this COVID craziness once and for all.
(Drop me an email if you would be interested in any of these teas, particularly the genmaicha blend I’m creating with them: [email protected])
To read more about Holly’s adventures trying new Japanese teas, check out her last article: The Japanese White Tea Odyssey
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