Tea tasting: Yamanami cultivar Kamairicha (Miyazaki Sabou)

Wow, it’s almost a month since I last posted anything here. So slack. Hah.

Lately I’m more into kamairicha, even bought a couple of teas that I had previously bought, including a rare one from Shimane prefecture.

The tea I’m talking about today is a kamairicha from Miyazaki prefecture. Actually I have opened the tea two weeks ago, and am nearing the end of its 50g, I think left about 20g now. Just didn’t have the time to put my thoughts into words.

Miyazaki Sabou, the producer of this particular tea, was featured in last year’s Japanese Tea Marathon organised by Global Japanese Tea Association. Even before that, I had tried one of their teas, which was sold by a tea vendor based in Tokyo. It’s good to revisit this tea region and producer.

Miyazaki, in the southeastern part of Kyushu island, ranks fourth in Japanese tea production. The biggest production of kamairicha (panfired tea) can be found here. Tea leaves are roasted in a large pan, as opposed to sencha, which is steamed, to stop oxidation.

Miyazaki Sabou is located in Gokase, a mountainous area located between Miyazaki and Kumamoto, and is well-known for its climate that’s suitable for organic farming.

Miyazaki Sabou is a family-run award-winning organic farm that was started in 1930 and had stopped using pesticides and chemical fertilisers since 1983. It was JAS-certified in 2001.

They have a wide selection of teas made from different cultivars. I’ve decided to get this kamairicha made from the Yamanami cultivar, which was something that I’ve not tried before, after a Japanese friend spoke about its aroma being reminiscent of kashiwa mochi, a type of confectionery made of red beans and mochi rice flour, and wrapped with oak leaves. That somewhat intrigued me.

Yamanami was developed in Miyazaki Research Centre and registered in 1965. Its lineage included seedlings introduced from Hubei, China. It is suitable for kamairicha, which is commonly produced in Miyazaki.

The dry leaves were dark green and curly, typical of most kamairicha.

Alas, I tried to get that kashiwa mochi fragrance that my friend talked about but I couldn’t identify it in the tea leaves. LOL. Instead, what I got was something faintly like the flowers of shiso (perilla)?! It took me a while to remember and find the actual name of that, which is hanahojiso. Basically the tiny buds on a shiso stalk, and often used as garnish or sushi condiment.

Anyway, I brewed 3g of leaves in 200ml water of around 90°C for 1 minute.

The resulting tea liquor was a light yellow, almost like the colour of chrysanthemum flowers. There’s a word for that in the lexicon of Japanese traditional colours, called ‘soga-iro’. Yet another random fact I learnt recently.

Taste-wise, it had a deep sweetness that lingered. It reminded me a little of sweet potatoes. I think there was an almost herbal note but it wasn’t too apparent. It was mostly sweet. There was a slight astringency but that didn’t stay long.

In the second steeping, I got a green, kinda vegetal note, but the sweetness was still there.

I got four good steepings out of the tea leaves.

Well, I thought I detected something like the fragrance of kashiwa mochi in the wet, used leaves but it was very faint so I might have just been conditioned to expect it. That’s the ‘danger’ of talking to others or reading other reviews about a particular tea beforehand, you end up having preconceived ideas and getting all worked up when what you get isn’t the same as others.

Ermm, to be honest, sometimes I get flustered when my tasting notes don’t match with others, but I guess we have to take into account the differences in our respective cultural and gastronomical experiences. Can’t expect everyone to describe stuff with the same vocabulary.

One thing I’ve noticed, most Japanese tea producers and even drinkers, when they describe the teas, use simple/generic tasting terms like ‘sweet’ and ‘fragrant’, but outside of Japan you get specific stuff like ‘honey’, ‘caramel’, ‘marshmallow’ etc etc. Some are rather over the top too, so specific to the point that ‘the sweetness of the tea was like the luscious banana cake with salted caramel frosting last birthday’. Something along those lines. Haha. But it’s fun reading such reviews, and I wish I have more time to go through the many tea blogs and IG posts out there.

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