WILD Organic Tamaryokucha (2)
- Holly Helt
My last post 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 accouterments and go gong fu on them! And I wasn’t wrong in my inspiration. Here is what I discovered…
Mori no naka no ocha, or 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, thought 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 steeping 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 hinging 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!
About Holly Helt
Holly is American and grew up in Japan drinking Japanese tea from age-three. She has studied two methods of tea ceremony, Urasenke and the lesser-known Yabunouchi, which has a direct lineage to Sen-no Rikyu (known as the father of the tea ceremony) ; it's also the school of practice for samurai. In 2012 she founded Chiki Tea - an online retailer of Japanese green teas, all sourced directly from small farms in Japan. Splitting her time between Japan and her home in Texas, Holly strives to bring the best teas from Japan to as many people as she can find to share in her life's passion.
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- JOHN TOOMEY
- 2 Oct 2020
- 9:40 pm
Hi, Holly, You are doing a great job in helping readers understand tea better. Your is the kind of blog that many of us have waited to see. Do you know the Bangkok Tea Enthusiasts Blog (you can Google them), here in Thailand? Members send in their tasting notes and other details, mostly of Chinese teas. I think in the future they'll be doing something about Korean and Japanese sencha. I sure hope that they discuss Korean tea from Mt. Chiri-san soon, as it'smy favorite. It's a tea that grows wild, with a fragrance redolent of the sweet green forest. Korean method also uses hands directly into the wok to tumble the tea, which is rolled by hand 3 times. Very labor intensive (I have done it myself at a tea factory at Chiri-san); so, of course, it is quite expensive, but one of the best of all the green teas, including all other countries. About "Senke" 千家: I have a nisei に性friend whose mother taught Yabunouchi Senke tea. Yes, they did use Senke in the name and told me it is the style of the Imperial family. Perhaps they've dropped the Senke? There is also an Edo 江戸 Senke ryu which a dear friend still practices in his retirement to Santa Fe. I also visited, by invitation, the Edo Senke Hombu in Kamakura and was served tea by the head. They don't use the term Iemoto. Keep up the good work of spreading the way if tea. I will share your articles with the brand new Ura Senke Midorikai for beginning tea practitioners in Bangkok. Though I'm 75, I also joined their LINE Group, for sharing information. Recently I shared with them several of my articles on tea ceremony which I had published in the "Bangkok National Museum Volunteers Newsletter" over the years. I had helped the young Thai sensei of the group by teaching him some tea procedures beyond the fuamental じゅろか書, so that he could do my tea ceremonies for me, as I now have vascular insufficiency and so can no longer sit on the floor. He comes every Hatsugama to do our first tea of the New Year, using the formal black-lacquered stand (I had it made in Korea when I lived there) and the Thai matching set of cha-dogu 会茶土具, in a Thai design of the rice ball with the monk's preaching fan decorated with gold. Looking forward to your next articles. お元気で, 後気げんよ！ じょん, 層富 (tea name Sofu) Toomey 富 (kunyomi of this Fujisan no Fu is also Tomi).