Tamaryokucha (玉緑茶) is Sonogi tea region’s speciality. In Nagasaki, ‘ocha’ (お茶) which means ‘tea’ is automatically assumed to be tamaryokucha. Ocha in other regions of Japan will usually be assumed to be sencha (煎茶) as it is by far the most prevalent tea throughout the rest of Japan.
For our first themed tea tasting in July, we decided to place our focus on this region’s main speciality, tamaryokucha.
We contacted Ikeda Cha-en, who is a local specialist in refining tea (shiage processing) to ask about their complete tamaryokucha selection. We received samples of 10 different tamaryokucha teas: from their premium ichibancha (spring harvest) teas, to more daily drinker spring teas, to their nibancha (second harvest season) selection and even adding in a tamaryokucha bancha which was harvested in very late nibancha season.
After tasting all these teas, we made a selection of 3 tamaryokucha that we feel are most interesting to compare and show some of the different flavours.
These teas are all produced for local market, where there is not much demand at all for details about harvest date, cultivars, which exact tea farmers the leaves come from. These teas are blends, and it is the wholesaler’s specialist craft to be able to blend a consistent flavour for each tea category throughout the year with different batches purchased from the tea auction.
Although the teas are purchased from the tea auction in neighbouring town Ureshino, which falls into Saga prefecture and is the only tea auction in the vicinity, Ikeda Cha-en purposely chooses to buy teas from the Sonogi tea farmers that they know, thus ensuring that although their tea is blended, it is definitely Sonogi grown tea.
Each company that refines the aracha (crude tea/farmer’s tea) that they buy from auction has their own style in the processing methods that they use. Whilst speaking with Ryo Ikeda, we discovered that after buying at auction, they pre-blend the base for their different teas so that they already approach the final character of each of their different blends. These are then stored in their freezer. When a new batch of tea is needed, they will bring out this pre-blend and then fine-tune it to their exact blend specific taste with other batches. This seems quite an original approach to blending, as we’ve heard more often that blending is done directly in one go.
More about our selection of tamaryokucha:
- Superb (極上), as Ikeda cha-en labels it: an ichibancha fukamushi (deep-steamed) blend of tsuyuhikari, saemidori and yabukita cultivars. This is seen as their top grade tamaryokucha and we have been carrying it in our webshop for a while. The tsuyuhikari and saemidori will yield a deeper green colour, and tsuyuhikari adds a depth of stronger umami to the flavour.
This blend has a bold, round, full bodied and strongly umami character. It is suitable for those that love a powerful tea with rich aroma, thick mouthfeel and has an almost matcha-like creaminess.
- Special (特上): similarly to the Superb blend this tea is an ichibancha fukamushi (deep-steamed) blend of tsuyuhikari, saemidori and yabukita cultivars. The blend has a clearly different character and is both more complex and refined than the Superb blend. Its umami has been toned down, and allows a dance of sweet, round, aromatic notes to come to the forefront. From vegetal notes of fresh peas to lighter floral hints, this elegant tea will keep you guessing at its changing flavours.
- Regular (並茶): a nibancha fukamushi blend of pure yabukita cultivar leaves. As Ikeda cha-en’s name ‘Regular’ indicates, this is an excellent daily drinker tamaryokucha. It is mild and round, less vibrant and powerful than the Superb and Special blends. Regular has a strong vegetal character balanced with a light sweetness and some soft starchy notes of chestnut, blanched almonds and perhaps a hint of marzipan.
We love each of these tamaryokucha teas for their different character. It is great to compare all three and to figure out which tea is your favourite. Do you have a preference for the strong, bold and rich Superb Blend, or do you actually consider the Special Blend to be your own superb choice? Or perhaps the Regular Blend easy daily drinker that doesn’t clamour for attention but just quietly supports you throughout the day is the tea that reigns supreme in your household.