Tea tasting: Shimabara-cha mushisei tamaryokucha (Cosmos Kai Shouken)

Shimabara Peninsula, east of Nagasaki City in southern Japan, is a popular destination for nature and onsen (hot spring) lovers. It is home of the Unzen Amakusa National Park, and also Mt Unzen, an active volcanic group of several overlapping stratovolcanoes.

Many people may not be aware that Shimabara tea was once widely known throughout Japan as a Nagasaki brand, along with Sonogi tea and Sechibaru tea.

That is because it is now considered a “maboroshi” (phantom) tea due to its rarity and at one point, near-extinction.

How so?

Mt Unzen is perhaps most famous for its destructive eruption on June 3, 1991. This eruption, which occurred on one of the highest peaks Fugen-dake, caused the first large-scale pyroclastic flow, killing several people.

A pyroclastic flow is a dense, fast-moving flow of solidified lava pieces, volcanic ash, and hot gases. It is extremely dangerous to any living thing in its path.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, most of the tea fields in Shimabarra were burnt and farmers gave up the idea of cultivating them.

Then, 20 years after that, the acclaimed name of Shimabara tea was revived when a group now known as Cosmos Kai Shouken revitalised the tea plantations near Shimabara City.

It is still rare as production is done in a small scale.

I managed to get my hands on this steamed tamaryokucha, which is commonly made in Kyushu region. It is a JAS-certified organic tea, cultivated without using pesticides or chemical fertilisers. The tea was made with springtime sprouts.

There are 90g of tea leaves in one packet.

Tamaryokucha is known for its curled shape that looks like a magatama (comma-shaped gem).

Based on the recommended brewing parameters, I steeped 3g of the tea with 150ml water of around 80°C for one minute.

The resulting tea had a refreshing leafy greens aroma, and the tea liquor was a gentle yellow-green.

It tasted a little vegetal with mild umami and berry-like sweet note.

For the second steeping, it was a shorter brew of half minute. The resulting tea liquor was darker and more viscuous like soup.

This was still umami and sweet, like drinking pure leafy green soup. There was a slight nutty taste, which I wasn’t sure of.

The tea was good for another two steepings, maintaining the mild sweetness to the end.

Used tea leaves were soft and had a pleasant and somewhat refreshing taste. Chewed a teaspoonful without any condiments. Kind of like over-blanched leafy vegetables. Ha.

Steamed tamaryokucha is basically similar to sencha, except the processing step of rolling the leaves straight. Even the brewing parameters are the same.

The group Cosmos Kai Shouken also produces black tea (wakoucha) and houjicha from the revitalised plantations in Shimabara. However, I couldn’t manage to find those, so maybe next time.

Those in Japan can find this tea in the Furusato Nouzei (hometown tax) system.

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