Lets break down the kanji (characters) for tamaryokucha first:
玉 tama = ball, gem, (spherical) jewel
緑 ryoku = green
茶 cha = tea
Just by looking at the characters for tamaryokucha, you immediately know that we are talking about a curly shaped green tea.
The character 玉 can also be read as gyoku (like in gyokuro 玉露) but in the case of 玉緑茶 we pronounce it as tama ryokucha.
The steamed style of tamaryokucha was invented in 1925 for export to Russia. As worldwide export declined, a large part due to the USA favouring Japanese green teas less, new export markets were sought. As Russians liked pan-fired green tea, the Japanese wanted to create a tea that looked like a pan-fired tea (and not needle-shaped like sencha). Due to quality issues in Japanese pan-fired teas, the Japanese government had prohibited export of pan-fired green tea since around 1884. To meet Russian demand, the Japanese decided to create a steamed green tea that had the look of a pan-fired tea.
The production of this steamed tamaryokucha increased rapidly, reaching over 10,000 tons by the late 1930s. In 1932, the Central Chamber of the Tea Industry Association (the predecessor of the Japan Tea Industry Association) set out a naming competition for the newly developed tea style.
The picture alongside is a capture of the Shizuoka Prefecture Tea Industry History Sequel (静岡県茶業史 続篇), published in Showa 12 (1937) by the Shizuoka Prefecture Tea Industry Association Union Chamber.
“The Central Association of Tea Industry decided to add a true name for Guricha to contribute to the expansion of its sales channels.”
The first prize was awarded to 村田政美 (Masami Murata) for the name 玉緑茶 tamaryokucha.
Other names that were considered during the naming competition:
珠緑茶 tamaryokucha, 玉茶 tamacha , 珠茶 tamacha, 玉煎茶 tamasencha, 勾玉茶 magatamacha, 皇國茶 mikunicha, 倭茶 yamatocha, 桜茶 sakuracha, 富士茶 fujicha, 日之丸茶 hinomarucha, 丸茶 marucha
In the above publication you can see that the term guricha was previously used to indicate curly shaped green tea, but since 1932 the name tamaryokucha is the official tea term and the use of the term guricha has slowly declined.
Two different processing styles of tea fall under the official tamaryokucha term:
– mushi sei tamaryokucha 蒸し製 玉緑茶 (steamed style tamaryokucha)
– kamairi sei tamaryokucha 釜炒り製 玉緑茶 (pan-fired style tamaryokucha)
Usually the pan-fired style is simply called kamairi cha 釜炒り茶, whereas tamaryokucha is often used to indicate the steamed style.