Wednesday July 14, 2010 | 4 comments
Shizuoka prefecture is the Number 1 tea-producing region in Japan, followed by the Kagoshima prefecture. Located on Kyushu Island, Kagoshima City is the gateway to China and Korea. Kyushu is also known for Nagasaki, an international port through which the early influences of Chinese culture, poetry, and tea-producing techniques passed. Pan-fried teas – either Kamairi-cha or Tamaryokucha – have been produced in Japan longer than steamed green teas. Japan continues to produce limited quantities of pan-fried – or Chinese-style – green teas.
Kamairi-cha means “tea made in an iron pot.” The Kyushu mountains have the perfect tea-growing weather – warm air mixed with cool breezes. After plucking, the leaves are left to wilt. The Chinese believe that wilting brings out the natural aroma in the leaves. Then the tea is roasted in an iron pot and hand-rolled. Kamairi-cha lacks the bitter taste found in steamed teas. Tamaryokucha means “balled tea.” These teas, which are either steamed or pan-fried, have a flat leaf shaped like a comma and a distinctly sweet and mildly roasted flavor profile.
Limited quantities are produced now because it is too expensive to manufacture. Pan-fried processing requires more manual labor and time than steamed processing. Steamed green tea processing is completely mechanical.
The leaves are plucked in the morning, then laid out to wilt. After wilting, the leaves are hand rolled and tossed in an iron pan. Farmers process the tea in small batches. Because there are no labeling guidelines about disclosing how tea is processed and where it came from in Japan, most tea is sold under a tea retailer’s brand or by region. The value of the special processing is ignored at tea auctions. Most tea gardens sell their tea in aracha form or raw. Tea retailers purchase the raw tea and then refine it to an end product. Tea retailers blend teas from different farms, creating a unique flavor profile for their consumers.
In the Kyushu mountains, villagers own small plots of tea bushes. Each spring, they pan fry their own tea for the year. Unfortunately, the younger generation is reluctant to continue the tradition.
While researching for this post, I found a sample of Tamaryokucha in my kitchen. Drinking it, I appreciated the mild sweet roasted flavor. It is a nice change from the vegetal flavor of sencha. I hope Japan exports more of their pan-fried teas.
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