Tea tasting: Goishicha

Shikoku is really home to many unique teas, especially dark or post-fermented teas.

The mountains in Kochi prefecture are known to be tea-producing areas, with the Niyodogawa region being particularly well-known for Tosa tea production.

However, it is only in one specific town where a rare dark tea is produced.

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Just over half an hour from Kochi City by the limited express train on the JR Dosan Line, Osugi Station is where one gets off for Otoyo. It is a small town in the northern part of the prefecture,  home to Goishicha (碁石茶).

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Goishicha is a tea that goes through the fermentation process twice. It is first fermented by molds and later by lactic acid bacteria. The process itself had sounded very intriguing to me, so being in Shikoku for two weeks, I made sure I buy Goishicha to try. The tea is named such, for its shape that looks like the stones in the boardgame of Go.

I bought only a small packet that contains 30g of tea leaves. I was not sure of what to expect, so I thought it is always best to start off with small portions. I have read ahead that Goishicha has a distinct sour taste and that it could be an acquired taste.

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I used to think that all dark teas are similar to China’s pu erh cha, so I thought Goishicha would probably look and taste similar. First thing I noticed when I took out a small stack of the tea is that it is not compressed like a brick of pu erh. Instead, the tea leaves are actually unrolled and piled up on top of each other to make the thin stack of Goishicha.

The leaves have a very faint savoury aroma, which I normally would associate with umami flavour, so that threw me off guard a little, as I was not supposed to expect umami in this tea. I pushed aside all preconceptions and concentrated on tasting this tea for the first time.

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I  steeped the stack of tea at near boiling water for five minutes. It resulted in a honey-yellow liquor that still had the slight savoury aroma.

The first sip took me aback. It reminds me so much of the lemon tea we usually drink iced, here where I live. It wasn’t as strong as a real lemon tea though. It was discreet and smooth in the mouth, not an intrusive kind of sour.

I took a liking to Goishicha instantly.

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I steeped the tea two more times after that. The taste remained consistent, although by the third steeping I noticed it went to a rather sweet finish with hardly any sour taste.

The steeped leaves came loose and I could see their coarse appearance, very much like fallen leaves caught in the rain. Or something. No, I’m not trying to be poetic here. I personally thought the used leaves smelled like rain-washed leaves. Okay, never mind, just blame it on the rainy weather here today. Everything smelled like the rain.

All in all, it was a very pleasant tea experience! I was told by some tea friends that drinking Goishicha would be a strange experience. However, it turned out to be rather familiar, and thoroughly refreshing.  I look forward to drinking more of this tea. Well, whatever I have in stock, that is.

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